Thursday, November 29, 2012

At the Intersection of Faith and Politics - 11-29-2012

Part 1 of 2

Now that I have declared myself a Progressive Conservative, Christ follower first, some have expressed concern with the word “Progressive,” thinking in terms of socialism or humanism they believe this word connotes.  Yes, “Progressive” is often associated with Liberal politics, as well as Liberal Christianity. It is also associated with music from folk to metal to hip hop. Words have a way of being co-opted, and attached to various agendas that might actually not communicate the true meaning of the word. I am a staunch believer that words have meaning that need to be understood and embraced (I love the word embraced because it speaks to something more than simple understanding with respect to ideas), so I want to begin to explore this word "progressive" in this blog post.

As Christians, we need to think well about what we believe. Underdtanding what gives life meaning, why and how to live that out daily is important. I do not believe we, as Christians, need to dismiss ourselves from the political process, politics simply being the activities associated with governance. Although some consider it a subject to be avoided and others insisting on seperation, I find no reasoned basis to do so. My devout catholic mother did, especially at the dinner table. When the family got into the political debate over supper it could get loud and Mom would get upset insisting that religion and politics were not polite dinner conversation. I am not sure where that idea originated but it's one of those tradition aphorisms. At our table everyone had their point of view, and the discussion could get heated but we still loved one another. Oh, if that were only true of our divided culture too.

Here's the thing I am wrestling with, I believe that modern Conversative values, alone, may not be the best political ideas to live as Christians. Not that we abandon the good that is in Conservativism, and there is some, but there are many issues that need rethinking. That is the purpose of this weekly blog section. I confess I don't have all the answers but I'm willing to do some of the thinking and ask some of the questions, and I invite you to come along to think with me. Did you realize that as Christians it is good to questions our own faith (2 Corinthians 13:5 )? Why then would we not also do so for our politics? As Christ follower we need to consider the intersection of faith and politics, for we live in the world, and living sent today is our intersecting point. 

To begin, let's consider what the word "progressive" means and why I would use it in terms of my political thinking, while remaining conservative in many respects, yoking the two ideas together.  The main dictionary definitions of "progressive" are:

·         of, relating to, or characterized by progress
·         making use of or interested in new ideas, findings, or opportunities
·         moving forward or onward
·         favoring or advocating progress,  change, improvement, or reform, as opposed to wishing to maintain things as they are, especially in political matters: a progressive mayor.
·         making progress  toward better conditions; employing or advocating more enlightened or liberal ideas, new or experimental methods, etc.: a progressive community.

Now how does the word "progressive" connect with conservative ideas?  While these two words are not widely accepted together, yet, they represent ideas that are not diametrically opposed and can in fact work together well, when we are properly focused and putting Christ first in our politics. Conservativism is defined as caution or fear of change from the traditional. In the world we live in such concern is certainly prudent and our progress should not lead away from Biblical values. Conservativism should be rooted in Judeo-Christian "traditional values" and established on Biblical truth. Properly understood, our Christians values should flow from an understanding of the cosmic story the Bible tells (see blog posts for Mission of God's People).  

Conservativism is good, as far as it goes, if we understand what values we affirm for what they are, not what we want them to be, but must not allow fear to guide how we live. Putting Christ first in all things, it is one thing to be a cautious Christian, discerning the times, it is quiet another to be a fearful Christians. Caution can lead to a deeper appreciation, that can be expressed in love, whereas fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate. There is no room for hate in the life of a Christian. While seeking to maintain Biblical values we must make sure our thinking is in fact representative of the whole Bible story. I don't think we can say that about any politic today, certainly not the Left-Right of 21st Century America, which is why we should rethink what we believe and why on a myriad of  issues. Then we need to recalibrate our politic around those Biblical values.  
Jesus says to those he sent out: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16 ). The three images here tell us three things Jesus is communicating: First, Jesus, as the Good Shepherd,  is speaking to his followers (sheep) who know his way, heed his word and follow his lead (John 10:27 ). Jesus is our leader and calls us to follow. Second, Jesus calls us to be shrewd as the world (e.g. snakes). That is we are to be sharp, perceptive, insightful and discerning, operating with a measure of Godly wisdom. Yes, Jesus is speaking to God’s mission, instructing His disciples in the art of witnessing but Jesus understood the whole story he was in and again we must do likewise. Through our mission and witness, I firmly believe that Christians are called to be thought leaders and culture shapers, who live the whole Gospel. Third, Jesus calls us to be "innocent as doves" - blameless and guiltless, above reproach - which clearly requires living counter-culturally. We should not live by the world's standard in any part of our lives, including our political life. Why then do we so often live in the world as the world does? 
Answering that question is beyond our scope here but one influence affecting our thinking I do want to address here is dualism. Dualism separates  the sacred, which simply means connected with God, and secular, which are things that are not regarded as religious. The prevalent idea of seperation of Church and State is based on dualistic thinking that insists we should compartmentalize our lives to keep religion out of politics, This usually comes from those who oppose religion, and misapply the 1st Amendment. for their own agenda. But dualism affects how we see and live in the world. It keeps us from seeing all of life, every facet, as sacred, and it is. Dualism keeps us from perceiving progress through the lens of a God who is at work in history. That is not to say that all things glorify God in our world but that God is able to work all things together for his global purposes - even the evil man does (Romans 8:28).  But do we embrace that truth?

What if we truly believed that 'The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it" (Psalm 24:1)? What if we saw progress as part of the  continuing work of God in history? What if technological and medical advances were God inspired ideas that are part of his story, regardless of where they come from, if they serve the good of humanity?  There is no doubt mankind has a tendency to corrupt what God designs but what if the great achievements of the 20th and early 21st Century were really for the purposes of God’s glory filling the earth?  How might that change how we view progress, our politics and live in the story?

I think it would make a huge difference in our culture and our world. Not that it would change how the world thinks but it would help change how Christ followers think and how we live today, or at least it should. Eliminating dualism brings all things subject to Christ, in our worldview, as they should be. Knowing all things are sacred, though presently spotted and blemished, will lead us to embrace human progress as part of God's work in history. Again, there is more here than a single blog post allows but I invite you to take the time to watch these two videos and understand the progress that has been made (watching both will take about 30 minutes):  

Scott Todd: The Church Will End Extreme Poverty 

Can you say - glory to God!? Isn't it amazing what our God has done? God wants to do even more and will, as we partner with him in his plans. As you think about the the progress of the human condition we must be careful not to think as the people of Babel, that of making a name for themselves. Progress is not about human fame and fortune but God's glory and his purposes progressiving onward. Next time we'll look more at this idea of progess but I'll  condude here with this short poem that speaks to a proper attitude toward progress:
An old man going on a lone highway
Came in the evening cold and grey
To a chasm yawning both deep and wide.
The old man crossed in the twilight dim;
That swollen stream was naught to him.
But he stopped when safe on the other side
And built a bridge to span the tide.
''Old man,'' said a fellow traveler near,
''You are wasting your time in labor here;
Your journey will end with the closing day,
You never again will pass this way.
You've crossed the chasm deep and wide.
Why build you this bridge at eventide?
The laborer lifted his old grey head:
''Good friend, in the way I have come,'' he said,
''There followeth after me today
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm which has been naught to me
To that fair youth may a pitfall be.
He too must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him.''
Author Unknown


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