I’m scared I’m going to make a lot of people mad with these.
Everyone who knows me knows I’ve been in this re-evaluative angst recently concerning the place of Christianity in the public sphere. It happens every four years. I go crazy for a bit going to various extremes only to get burnt out on politics in general and put it down for another 42 months or so. I just recently moved to Philadelphia and of course, it being around the 4th of July, the place is going nuts with uber-patriotism. Everyone and their dog (all joking aside) are decked out in their reds, whites, and blues. Skyscrapers are graced with like-colored lights strobing across their faces and re-enactors fill the sidewalks dressed in felt imitations of 18th century garb.
Another strange thing happens every election year: the American Evangelical Religious Right machine awakens from its slumber and begins to mobilize, proselytize, and evangelize the world with God’s politics, scientific theorems, and social views as they see them. They speak and perpetuate ideas as if they are God’s laws and create a stigma to all those that fall out of those bounds. They have created a new Orthodoxy based and founded upon ignorance, pragmatics, extremity, and commercialism and are not afraid to brand as heretics (or worse yet, “liberals”) those thoughtful Christians that seek other possible views.
We have the Scots to thank for this by the way. And the Second Great Awakening. The ideals of the Scottish Enlightenment (pragmatism and the innate inalienable rights of all men but blacks) so influential on our founding fathers and the motivational power of emotionally-driven decision-based religiosity led to this whole “God-merica” thing, so you then found patriotic documents using religious language and religious documents using patriotic language. It’s really very strange if you think about it. Biblically speaking, when God had the chance to declare his own socio-political structure for Israel, He established the Church authority and Civic authority as SEPARATE spheres between which there was little overlap. The religious leaders were not supposed to be the civic leaders and vice versa. God was the real founder of the idea of separation of church and state. Politics were never meant to be a religious issue! Theological? Yes. Bit not religious. I’ll explain in a later post. Probably Part 3.
So what does it mean to be Christian in a political world? Would Paul include “God Bless Rome,” and “My Empire ‘Tis of Thee” in the hymnal of his day? Would Jesus put a yellow “Support Our Troops” ribbon-magnet-that-ruins-the-paint-job-of-your-car thing on his vehicle? (by the way: really, a ribbon magnet? why don’t you either wear a ribbon or use a magnet?).
I want to invite people into my wrestlings right now so they can use these thoughts to form their own ideas. The outline for these posts will be: (1) what Evangelicals want to change/keep the same; (2) why they want these things these ways; and (3) how they go about changing them. I want to talk about how we see each of these these worked out in both modern America and the Bible.
First off, some introduction: first century Rome was everything that Evangelicals (both conservative and liberal) are so scared of America becoming. (Starting with the conservative fears,) Entertainment was based on the ready availability of sex in the streets and the gratuitous violence of the coliseum. Homosexuality was absolutely tolerated and actually encouraged in some philosophical circles as a higher or more beautiful form of sexuality. The devalued human life to such a degree that various classes or types of people were seen as disposable based on convenience. (Now to the liberals: ) Rome was a power hungry Empire seemingly unaware of the ramifications of its own actions, or just not caring. Fear and power were their primary agents of political influence, both domestic and abroad. The socioeconomic class disparities were large enough to fill the streets with poverty.
Though this was the case, you don’t see ANY New Testament writers bemoan the ills of society and tell Christians to try and change it NOR redeem it! Really, think about it. Can you remember any passage saying anything but pay your taxes (giving to Caesar), live peacefully with authorities that are around you, and obey the laws. Think about what this means for religious political activism in the public sphere. What does this really mean for us?
Next post: Going through the things that get Evangelicals so mad at politicians and explaining why they shouldn’t. Things like homosexuality, entertainment, taxes, war, evolution, prayer in public schools, and even abortion.