I have been wrestling with how a church best does political engagement lately. As one of the new leaders of our church’s social justice team, this is a big question for me. To politically engage or not engage? How much? How? I was challenged recently by my friend Dave and his post, and by Greg Boyd and his post. You should read both, or this rest of this won’t mean much.
First off, I agree with most of what both of them said. I really liked what Greg said here:
Sadly, instead of confessing our greed and ungodly divisiveness and sacrificially pooling our resources to serve the poor, we tend to rather point the finger at government while positioning ourselves as people who are smarter at spending public funds and solving tough issues and more righteous in caring about the needy. I suspect the American Church has been so divided, so influenced by American greed and thus so impotent for so long, most can’t even imagine it being otherwise. Related to this, we’ve relinquished so much responsibility for caring for the poor to the government for so long, most American Christians can’t picture the Church itself, without the aid of government, taking responsibility for this.
And notice this: all the while we’re wading through these issues and fighting over what we think Caesar should do, we’re still spending 97% of our wealth on ourselves and not getting anything done for the Kingdom.
If you have read his blog post, I totally agree with his analysis on that particular situation. It makes sense that the church do something themselves- why wait around for politicians to do it? But how about this. I really really believe that we should give up, for the most part, car culture in this society. I also know that won’t happen until we burn up all of our oil and it becomes insanely expensive to own a car. So what I would love to see is higher gas prices that reflect the environmental mess that burning gas makes, or I would love to see much higher miles per gallon standards for cars. But what could Christians do in the face of our environmentally damaging culture? Even if you totally disagree with my opinion, aren’t there issues, like this one, that Christians can’t solve outside of politics? I want to see us care for God’s creation, not consume it for our own personal benefit. Sure a church could all bike everywhere, care for a local park, garden, buy forest and preserve it, be careful that their lifestyles doesn’t do environmental damage… but that just delays the inevitable. Shouldn’t we engage politics, too? Or just do our best outside of politics?
Read Dave’s post, then read my reply.
This post has been bothering me, especially as I am moving into my new role as the leader of the social justice team at my church. What is the best way, as Christians, to create change? What should our involvement in politics be? This post challenges me, as have other things you have said about politics. I am not quite as disenchanted of politics as you, (I still hold out a hope that change can happen through politics), but I do appreciate your challenge of putting our hope in politics.
I guess I have two questions. Does it have to be an either-or? Does it have to be either doing something ourselves or petitioning someone else to do it? Shouldn’t we do both? Change our own lifestyles, convince those we know and have influence with to change theirs, and then petition those in power to do the same, to change policies? I agree that we shouldn’t wait around for our government to change the world (if we do we’ll be horribly disappointed) but at the same time I think it needs to be part of the whole answer.
Second question: If Christians don’t participate in politics, aren’t we being separatist? As much as we may think that politics doesn’t work or is corrupt, shouldn’t we still try to challenge the system for the better? Isn’t opting out of political engagement just ignoring the systems and the powers at work in our world ? Isn’t opting out of the systems that we live in making us isolationist? I may hate the way that politics work, but if I chose to simply ignore politics and not be engaged, how is the Kingdom of God ever supposed to touch the political realm?
Either way, I don’t think that Christians are very good at any of this… we aren’t very good at addressing the world’s problems, either through personal lifestyle changes, through Christian communities deciding to live differently, or through engaging politics. I think we should learn how to do all three well.
Or we could just sit around ignoring the world, and wait to go to heaven.
Please please please tell me what you think. I really want opinions. Stay out of politics and try to build the Kingdom, or engage in politics as part of bringing the Kingdom? If my church wants social justice, how should we get it?