Saturday, May 31, 2008

It's the Theology, Stupid

I was going to wait until November to write a political post, but I couldn’t resist. It came to me, so I wrote it down. Maybe I’ll re-post in November with some reaction to comments, assuming you’re out there somewhere.

I’ll let the cat out of the bag early. If you didn’t know, I’m a conservative and not a liberal. You’ll notice I didn’t post anything under Political Views on my facebook profile (if you go there) and you’ll hopefully understand why after you read this. I don’t like the terms conservative and liberal because I think they are horribly misunderstood and poorly used. As a conservative, when I hear someone say they are liberal, I unfairly judge them as being rebellious, and perhaps ignorant to the foundational values and structures that built our country. This may or may not be the case when someone says they are liberal. And this is really not the true definition of “liberal”. But that is what I, and perhaps most conservatives, initially think; so tolerant, so progressive, so willing for change, that they lose the core. Therefore my personal opinion is people should be very careful identifying themselves as liberal, especially if what they really mean is that they side with the Democratic Party on most political issues. All Democrats don’t have to be liberals, just like all Republicans don’t have to be conservatives (though most are). Stick with me here.

You see, I care very little about politics (though I follow them closely) and care much more about theology. That might sound strange so let me explain. What I basically mean is that I care much more about God, and specifically Jesus Christ, and much less about human political structures because I know that God is ultimate and political systems are not. So I think it is much more important what you think about God than what you think about politics. And when someone says they are liberal, theologically speaking, this pretty much is a bad thing. This means that they may deny, or rebel against, core theological beliefs that are essential to orthodox Christianity, and dare I say, essential to saving faith; i.e. authority and inerrancy of Scripture, exclusivity of Jesus Christ for salvation, God as Trinity, etc. To be liberal theologically, flirts with embracing heresy that may inevitability put you outside of the Christian faith. To be conservative theologically means you defend and embrace the traditional doctrines and teachings of Christianity and do not waver from them. So, when I hear the word “liberal” politically, I worry whether the person using that word to identify themselves really means how I would interpret it theologically: denying or rebelling against the traditional values and structures that our country was founded on.

I think in most cases, Democrats unfairly get identified as liberal when that is not what they really are. To be a Democrat does not mean you are rebellious against the principles our country was founded on, but just “on the left” of certain issues, that, let’s be honest, could go either way (immigration, health care, government spending, taxes). Very intelligent people, and good Presidents, have argued successfully on both sides.

Now, to show my hand, I believe the real problem is when theological issues get wrongly characterized as political issues. I will mention three. There could be others (stewardship of the environment), but I will focus on these three.

1. Sanctity of Life
2. Care for the Poor
3. Traditional Marriage

These are fundamentally theological issues and not political issues. In other words, the importance, priority, and implications of these things reveal the character and the interest of God Almighty, and so we do not have the liberty to let our opinions supersede His authority. God created us in His image, and to destroy His image-bearers in the womb, especially, is an abomination and “morally outrageous”. There has to be a better way than killing the babies, as John Piper would say. We should defend the unborn not because it is our political obligation, primarily, but because it is a command from Jesus. God has a special heart for the poor, as clearly seen in Scripture, and He measures the integrity of our faith by how we respond to the poor, as Ron Sider would say. If we are wealthy from oppressing the poor, or if we don’t share with the needy, we have a problem. We should fight poverty and injustice not because it is our political obligation, primarily, but because it is a command from Jesus. God ordained the concept of marriage as between one man and one woman and established it as a union that would, above all other things, be a representation to the world of Christ’s love for the Church. We should define and defend traditional marriage not because it is our political obligation, primarily, but because it is a sacred covenant established by the God of the universe.

Now these statements will no doubt frustrate, and potentially anger, certain women, staunch capitalists, or those who consider themselves homosexual. That is unfortunately unavoidable. But what I would say to those people is that I don’t want to debate about politics, but about theology. I don’t want to argue about what politicians care about (or what you may care about) but what God cares about. I don’t want to talk to you about Barack Obama or John McCain but about Jesus Christ. And if we get Him right, I believe good politics will follow from there. If we don’t get Him right, then we have much bigger problems.

I think the Democratic Party has been unfairly identified as the pro-choice, pro-gay marriage party, and the Republican Party has been unfairly identified as the party who doesn’t care about the poor (or the environment). But in reality those are theological issues – Republicans and Democrats should both defend the right of the unborn. Republicans and Democrats should both care about the poor and look out for them. Republicans and Democrats should both defend traditional marriage. No exceptions. In a country that was founded as one nation, under God, it is actually ridiculous that they don’t.

Alas, this is not a perfect world. But when we vote, we should try to think about what is important to God, and what the marks of His character are, and carve those issues out separately from what we consider our political affiliations. And then as we disagree on the economy, immigration, health care, defense, and many other political issues until Jesus comes back, we should trust our convictions and trust that God is sovereign and that in the fullness of time, America is a blip on the screen; the kingdom of God and the reign of Jesus Christ is everlasting.


Samuel said...

Joey, wow. I'm going to have to re-read that over the course of a few days to fully digest it. Amber and I reading Obama's book and McCain's book for night time reading over the next few weeks. I'll tell you what I think then.

dottie said...

Thanks for posting this, Joey. You bring up a lot of great points that are certainly worth mulling over.

Here's a blog from Jim Wallis (the guy I was telling you about from Sojourners) that I think is well-articulated (albeit very brief). There's a link at the top of his post to the blog he's responding to. You know, just some light, summer reading.

Jason said...

Hey, Joey. I got pointed to this via Laura via Dottie. It's an interesting post, since I like talking both politics and theology. I think you're right on that the political scene in this country is portrayed as a great battle between two ideological groups that disagree on everything. Personally, I think the media does much of the work to force this perspective. In practice, I don't think people are really in agreement with "their" political party as much as they'd like to admit. Or at very least, people take the party position on the issues that would be otherwise marginal to them because of the need to feel like they're really behind their politician of choice.

For example, Christians who are Republicans can feel like they're in a weird spot when they're faced with the issue of welfare/entitlement spending. The Republican position is to keep it to an absolute minimum, if not get rid of it altogether. But the Christian position is to be compassionate and help those who are in need. I know I've had to think about this one, since I was raised in a Republican household.

For me, the interesting question has become this: Do the principles I believe in because of my faith in Christ require me to lobby my government to codify Christian morality as (secular) law? In other words, as a Christian, is it my duty as a follower of Christ to make sure the country I live in doesn't legalize [insert sin here]? Christians have certainly tried to keep America in line with "Christian morality" on some issues. In the past it was prohibition and, more recently, abortion. Nowadays it's same-sex marriage.

My opinion on the matter is as follows. We can't expect our secular culture to adhere to a moral code it doesn't accept, and attempting to do so by passing laws to that effect is essentially futile. As Christians, we know where our true citizenship is, and we know the laws. Within our own community, we are responsible to make sure those laws are followed. Outside of that community, I'm not sure what our responsibility is with regard to morality. We're certainly called to bring others into our community, but I'm unconvinced of the effectiveness of Christians' attempts to impose Biblical morality on a secular culture.

So, I apologize for what was probably incoherent rambling, but I'm a sucker for a political/theological discussion. I'm interested to hear more of your thoughts about the role of Christians in secular government. Thanks, Joey.