I’ve done my best to avoid politics (not that I think that is a virtue), but tonight’s post will approach a political blog.
First, a context. I was largely apolitical in high school and college in an era that was preeminently political (read: Vietnam) at a school that was preeminently apolitical. My concentration was studies and basketball. I followed the issues at a distance, but when I went to TEDS in 1976 I became increasingly more interested in things political and, so far as I can see, it came from three influences: (1) the Sermon on the Mount, which was my constant source of study for the years I was at TEDS; (2) the book by Ronald Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger; (3) the growing increase of interest by fellow students in things political. After spending 2 years in England, immersed in Matthew studies and in reading anabaptists like John Howard Yoder, I became a convinced Anabaptist, which for me meant that following Jesus was more important than political partisanship: I took an independent line and saw problems with Regan as well as his counterparts. I still think reading both sides is valuable, so I read both Commentary and the New York Review of Books.
When I came back to TEDS in 1983 to teach, the student body had shifted from a post-Jim Wallis political (very mildly) left activism to a radical right pro-Reagan type agenda. One of the first Student President’s (or whatever they were called) often wore a military uniform. Abortion seemed to the only game in town. I found the economic agenda far more important — was it Christian for Christians to vote because it was good for the economy? A student in one of my classes stood up and called me a liberal once because I was against war, and another student shouted at me when I said I thought racism from slavery had caused more problems for our nation than abortion (even though I have always been consistently pro-life, to use Sider’s expression). I shouldn’t have gotten into the game of “which is the worst sin of all” but I did. I was young. It made for quite a discussion. It also gave me a reputation as a liberal, which I wasn’t and never have been, but in my vanity it was nice being seen as something other than a typical Evangelical (which we had plenty of). As I said, I consider myself (and still do) an Anabaptist. Which means that I want to test every moral stand over against the teachings of Jesus. So much for the context.
Second, Evangelicals by and large and Mainline Protestants by and large are in bed with Republicans and Democrats. The recent article in Books and Culture by four authors with lots of letters stastistically report that this is the case (even though political rags and wags often say it without support). [I don’t know if the study is online; it is called “Onward Christian Soldiers?”]
This leads to a question: are Evangelicals Republican from biblical arguments? Or are they Evangelical because they are Republican? Are Mainliners Democratic from biblical arguments or are they Mainliners because they are Democrats? The authors of the B&C piece ask some pretty sophisticated questions.
Third, I am finding among the emergent folk a genuine political independence if not some cynicism about the way the game is played, an independence that I find nearly identical at times to the Anabaptist views so many of us have been advocating for so long. So, some of them like Hauerwas and they like Yoder and they like Sider and they like Wallis (who for me, in spite of his claim to be independent, is more of a liberal Democrat than he cares to admit). I like them too, most of the time, but what I like about them (these authors) the most is that they get to political views on the basis of Scripture and theological/church arguments — when they are at their best.
They don’t say, “I’m for war, by god, because it is American!” They say, “I don’t see how Jesus could have killed someone made in God’s Eikon or who had not yet had the opportunity to enter the kingdom.” Or at least they ask what Jesus would have done. They don’t say, “I’m for free enterprise because it is from the Bible” because they know (or should know) that such a thing never existed in any of the kinds of governments known to the world while the Bible was being written and Christians were learning their “story.”
Whether you agree with me or not is of little concern on this issue: what I hope you take away is that a Christian is obligated to dwell in the drama of Scripture or the story of Jesus and if the Christians doesn’t go there first for everything he or she does, well then, they are being idolatrous. Strong words, I admit; for strong times such as these.
What I was saying is that the emerging crowd doesn’t give a hoot that Evangelicals are in bed with Republicans or that Mainliners are in bed with Democrats. What I hear many of them saying is that they want to be in bed with Jesus and the drama of Scripture and let that story become their story.
Now, that my friend (if you are still with me), is genuinely post partisan and I hope more assume that position and start performing that sort of gospel wherever they go.