Progressive Revival

Progressive Revival

Politics and Good Friday

Like Paul, I grew up in a tradition that didn’t pay much if any attention Good Friday, or see anything terribly ironic about the adjective “Good.”  I’ve come to see that omission (and with it the implication that the crucifixion didn’t really happen on any meaningful level, or represented sort of a magic trick played on Christ’s executioners) as very dangerous, and certainly subversive of the basic Christian doctrine of the Incarnation. 

If the Incarnation means anything, it’s that God became man in this world, and the world proceeded to kill Him.  That death–that very real death, as real as the resurrection, and certainly more distinctly illustrated in the Scriptures–is what Christians, or anyone who wants to understand Christians, should be thinking about today. 


It means a lot of things to me personally, including my own responsibility, along with the Romans and the Sanhedrin and anyone else you want to name, for Christ’s murder, for a crime that is far greater than any moral merit or demerit that I or anyone else could ever earn. 

But here at Progressive Revival, a religio-political site, I’d like to offer some brief but perhaps provocative thoughts on what the crucifixion means in terms of how I think about politics (using the broadest definition of that term).   

To put it simply, the death of the Incarnate God, and the nature of His resurrection, rule out, once and for all, any idea of us humans building the Kingdom of God on earth.  If Jesus Christ couldn’t accomplish that, and indeed, was murdered for even proclaiming the Kingdom, then his disciples won’t, either.  Yes, I pray that His “Kingdom come” several times each day, but this is because “His will be done,” not because of anything that you or I can do.  Perhaps we contribute in an invisible way to the Kingdom by living as Christians, but frankly, I fear it is demonic to arrogate to ourselves the divine power to make this world into The Other. 


This dualism about the Kingdom of Man and the Kingdom of God, along with the faith that God will ultimately reconcile them, has always struck me as central to what I understood of Christianity.  It is not, needless to say, a point of view that has always prevailed among Christians, but as a Protestant, I recognize no authority that can tell us all precisely what God’s Will involves when it comes to the operations of civil society or politics–except that we should resist secular demands that we treat its own authority as God-like. And that is why Christians can and must fight totalitarian movements that demand unconditional allegiance to any nation, caste, class, emperor, tribe, or family, or indeed, to any particular system of morality or economics, beyond what is necessary to let us love and feed one another.  Christians will obviously differ on political choices that don’t involve such disloyalty to God, but within certain boundaries. 


The only thing worse–far worse–than accepting the idolatry of unconditional secular belief systems is to confuse them with the Kingdom of God.  And that’s equally true if you think the Divine Will involves unilateral disarmament and ownership of goods in common, or the sanctification of so-called “family values” such as patriarchy, heterosexual marriage, or interference with the reproductive prerogatives of the gender which God has exclusively entrusted with that responsibility.  

To put it another way, I don’t dislike the “Christian Right” because it’s “too religious,” but because it idolatrously worships an entirely secular brand of cultural conservatism and then has the audacity to claim it for God Himself, usually via an highly selective recourse to scriptural inerrancy (or as Catholics sometimes call it, “Bibliolatry”) that betrays its real motives.  But the last thing I want to do is to fight the “Christian Right” with a “Christian Left” that equally seeks to dress up it secular preferences in religious garb and claim the Kingdom for itself. 


Where does that leave this Christian?  Well, for one thing, it makes me strongly support the separation of church and state on religious grounds, which used to be a pretty common attitude among Protestants in this country.  And it also tends to make me a “liberal” in the American meaning of that word, if only because political principles like diversity or equality should come naturally for Christians, and also because “conservatism” has too often involved the tendency to semi-divinize too many things of this world, from race, class and country to The Market.  That may just be a prejudice, and I may be wrong about all sorts of individual political judgments I make, just like anyone else.  That’s why we have political debate and political parties and elections.  But please don’t tell me that God demands that I vote for your candidate or support your “Christian” political cause. Unless you are willing to claim the role of Prophet, with the spiritual dangers that involves, you shouldn’t even go there. 


If these ruminations offend any readers, or seem a ridiculous extrapolation from a meditation of the crucifixion or Good Friday, I apologize. But when I survey the wondrous cross, I see a world that has killed the living Word, and does so every day, and that can only be redeemed spiritually, not by those carrying crosses who confuse Christ’s resurrection with the appropriation of divine power to their own earthly causes, however well-meaning. And this Holy Week is as good a time as any for Christians active in politics to seriously reflect on how Christ seeks to shapes our activism with His loving hand–even as we nail it to a cross.   

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posted April 11, 2009 at 4:20 pm

These are great comments – thoughtful and well communicated. I agree with all of it except this: I would say that Jesus was not interested in “building” the Kingdom of God on earth, because he was already realizing it every day, and the reason (in my opinion) that He came was to show us, as is said in the Gospel of Thomas, that “the Kingdom of God is spread among you but [you] do not see it.” That is the Good News.
The Kingdom of God, again in my opinion, has nothing to do with who’s ruling who on this earth, but in gaining the new eyesight necessary to see all the world and everything in it as Thomas Merton did – as “shining like the sun.” Jesus’ act of redemption came in that he was willing to keep trusting God (even as he struggled with that) and walk all the way through his experience to his death by crucifixion because he knew that despite all appearances to the contrary in the “surface world,” God is still in charge, and we will know that when we can see the “other world” right here amongst us. This is what empowered Jesus to heal, to say “Thy will not mine,” and to “forgive them, for they know now what they do.”
When we are willing to walk through the refining fire necessary to burn off what is not holy within us, when we are willing to truly follow Jesus through baptism into the deep water of the unconscious and die there to be reborn again as individuated, whole people who are free to love as wastefully as Jesus loved, then we will experience the Kingdom of God.

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Michael Peterson

posted April 11, 2009 at 4:29 pm

You Wrote:
>[I dislike the Christian Right] because it idolatrously
>worships an entirely secular brand of cultural conservatism
>and then has the audacity to claim it for God Himself,
>usually via an highly selective recourse to scriptural
>inerrancy (or as Catholics sometimes call it,
>”Bibliolatry”) that betrays its real motives.
Yours is, frankly, a silly post. No such organization as the “Christian Right” exists. However, orthodox Christians (note the small ‘o’) of all traditions do exist. Their doctrines are defensible because the reflect 3000+ years of theological reflection and articulated in today’s public square by a host of Biblically informed scholars of unimpeachable creditials (see below).
How about a little intellectual effort on your part: Are you even familiar with the writings of such contemporary Christian and Jewish scholars, theologians, and clergy as, for example:
Richard John Neuhaus
Edward Oaks, SJ
Joseph Telushkin
Dennis Prager
Avery Cardinal Dulles
Timothy George
Gilbert Meilaender
Russell Hittinger
Paul J. Griffiths
Leon Kass
Patrick Henry Reardon,
Russell D. Moore
Philip Turner
… and on and on and on…
What a simplistic, intellectually vacuous, straw-man argument you make when you hold up a few public personalities as your models of Christian theological reflection.
Do some reading.

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Ed Kilgore

posted April 11, 2009 at 8:48 pm

It seems to have escaped your notice that this is a weblog about religion and politics, not a theological journal, and if you think there is no such thing as the “Christian Right” which has influenced the political views and activities of conservative Christians, then I don’t know where you’ve been the last forty years. Maybe you should re-read your Neuhaus.
I frankly don’t understand what you’re so angry and contemptuous about, if I’m criticizing something that doesn’t exist and am not even aware of what does exist.
In any event, peace, and have a blessed Easter.

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posted April 12, 2009 at 12:48 pm

Just want to know that Michael’s references are all to guys — and I suspect there is meaning in that.
A Blessed Easter to all.

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The Dissident

posted April 12, 2009 at 4:10 pm

I disagree about “not being able to bring about the kingdom of god,” In “The Last Week”, Borg and Crosson make the point that the writer of Mark’s gospel saw the kingdom as both already present and yet to come. The definition of that kingdom is a rejection of the way the empire(Any empire) does business, the domination system used to keep the poor and outcast in line and underfoot, a system in which both religious authorities and secular authorities collaborated in. Yes, those authorities crucified Jesus, as they crucified Martin, Gandhi, Bobby-it is a reflection of what happens when someone really bucks the system and dares to cross the artificial boundaries that keep us apart from each other-but it is also not the end of the story. Easter was God’s Yes to what Jesus stood for and God’s No to the powers that be,(Their words) God’s Yes to a way of Justice and Compassion and No to the brute force of empire, the status quo. The Way Things Are does not have to remain The Way Things Are-Borg and Crosson say Easter is a very subversive holiday, and I have to agree. Even though i’m no longer christian the day retains that powerful meaning for me.

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posted April 14, 2009 at 6:33 pm

@the dissident: unlike jesus, martin, gandhi, and bobby were not crucified by the authorities they were shot by lone madmen acting outside the pale

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