This is pretty long. No apologies, read or do not read, as you wish. It’s a sort of a “mea culpa”, and also a challenge to myself and others. I’m OK with that apparent contradiction.
My interest in American politics has been quite a polarising thing amongst my friends (and family). Some of my opinions appear to be anti-Republican, which brings out the worst in my dear Republican friends, and their many friends, who do not know me but assume, usually incorrectly that I am anti-Republican and that I am judging them. Their very vociferous name-calling and abuse is centred on my apparent disagreement with their political position (and occasionally with my errors).
For the record, I lean towards neither Republican nor Democrat. It is unacceptable for me to be one or the other because I am not politically interested in either standpoint. Both are inadequate. I have no interest in winning any debates (true, but probably surprising. If that makes me a troll to some, so be it), I do not particularly care who is right or wrong, right or left. I am not “political”. I am reminded of Bertrand Russell’s sardonic but insightful comment that “War does not determine who is right, only who is left” In a slightly less “final” way, political disagreement will also never reveal who is right. It will simply reveal what motivates people and what their core values are. This is where my interest lies.
My hope is – always and only – to draw fellow believers to a closer examination of whether their political views, and comments and positions taken up publicly are aligned and synergistic with the Scripture we share and claim to be subject to.
Let me be clear, my interest in American politics has nothing to do with my position on any political spectrum. I simply do not have one. On any particular issue, it is possible to say I resemble a democrat, or a republican, but I think independently and here in New Zealand, I am neither national or labour, but my perspectives can at times and on specific issues resemble either. And both. And neither.
I have one compass, and one North Star that guides me. The Word of God. I am not perfect, and so my perspectives are an approximation of what I can see and understand of Scripture. And in this regard, I am simply it’s servant, not its self-appointed protector. Some may say “So what?” and they might be right. But others may say “It’s important that someone asks questions, and it’s OK that you do that.” They might also be right.
My conscience, and my position as a Christian, leaves me with no choice, in this sense only. If someone who calls themselves a Christian makes public choices or takes up a public moral – even an intellectual – position that does not resonate with Scripture (as I understand it), I want to debate this for a number of reasons, and if I do not agree with it after careful consideration, I WILL call it. As a Christian, I have a responsibility to be my best self, and (as accurately as I can), represent Christ and to call others to their best selves in their own walk:
– One, I am flawed and being exposed to other perspectives and being shown how and why they accord more with scripture than mine, is fundamental to my growth and spiritual maturity. Not only do I test preachers and teachers as per the Bible’s clear instruction, but I test myself regularly as well!
– Two, the other person is also flawed, and I expect the same rigour from them as they journey towards Christlike-ness. This is Biblical, as I understand it.
– Three, each of our perspectives has an impact on the world around us, as we touch those close to us with our thoughts and actions. With Facebook, Twitter and the like, our reach is exponential. It is unthinkable that the opinion of the average Joe could reach the POTUS, or the Dalai Lama, or the Pope, but since anyone can tag or hashtag them, it is possible. Our opinions may not carry much weight, but they certainly have reach. And to some they DO have weight. We must therefore be considered.
– Fourth, Most people are driven by a desire for comfort, and an appeal to base emotion, less so than intellect or even their moral compass. In that regard I treasure and respect the discipline of philosophers who deny themselves comfort and rest as they seek truth. I wish that more Christians denied themselves similarly and searched as hard for truth. It would add deeper integrity to their perspectives.
So I am drawn to the American political situation for the following reasons, and no-one has to agree with me or even respect it.
– It has exposed a deep divide in the interpretation of scripture. The same Scripture that I read.
– It has exposed a deep challenge in the link between, or the division between “Church” and “State”.
– It has exposed parts of the Christian faith in America as a political tool for votes.
– It has exposed the political ideal of America (democracy) as a malleable tool where the vote is subject to the power of money and influence, and it is thus more an oligarchy than a democracy. There are hidden, manipulative power bases in American politics, which no doubt exist in every democracy, but they are increasingly and more unrepentantly and blatantly on display in America. Manipulation is, in my opinion, very very evil. Sadly it seems part of the church has taken up a role in this evil.
– It has exposed what appears to be a deep hypocrisy in the American Church (if we read the same scriptures) in that the pursuit of social power seems to have become an end in itself and they appear to have sacrificed scriptural integrity to attain this power.
– It has exposed the danger that Americans do not vote for their future but for their past, (I think Trump correctly called this as a key element in his victory) and in America’s past, the plight of the oppressed, the weak, the widow and orphan and the foreigner amongst them, were not regarded highly, were not protected and they were discriminated against and exploited. (to be fair, this is a universal condition, but we (I) do expect more of a culture and society that regards itself as iconic). My understanding of Scripture prevents me from ignoring this, where ever I find it.
– There appears to be idol worship in the Republican expression of faith, and it centres around the worship of the constitution – a man-made, and provably flawed document. Amendments to it are also worshipped, but have been shown to be flawed too! Idolatry is generally agreed to be somewhat “un-Christian”.
– It has introduced a ”the end justifies the means” mentality into the American expression of faith, where neither the end nor the means can be found in Scripture.
I seek to explore these ideas with Christians in America who differ from me. I do this because I love Scripture, and I love Truth. And I love compassion, and kindness, and gentleness, and generosity, and I EXPECT the same from Christians everywhere. Not just towards ones who are like them but to everyone and especially to the different, the disempowered, the weak. I expect differently from non-Christians as they do not subscribe to the same authority Christians do. I expect non-Christians to be the best they can be in their world view, and absolutely Christians do not have a monopoly on these good values. We do however share a common REASON and rallying cry for our values, and that is the Word of God.
So there. To repeat: My hope is – always and only – to draw fellow believers to a closer examination of whether their political views, and comments and positions taken up publicly are aligned and synergistic with the Scripture we share and claim to be subject to.
Hi Vaughan … there’s a really interesting resource that could be worth adding to your list of resources / blogs – Sojourners. I first came across Jim Wallis and Sojourners in about 2006, while living in the States. Recently I have been drawn to them once more as they grapple with the Trump presidency and what it says about us as Christians – this article in particular may be an interesting one for you – https://sojo.net/articles/dear-christians-please-recuse-yourself