Paul L. Caron

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Christians Do Not Fit Into The Two-Party System. And That's A Good Thing.

New York Times op-ed:  How Do Christians Fit Into the Two-Party System? They Don’t, by Timothy Keller (Founder, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York):

What should the role of Christians in politics be? More people than ever are asking that question. Christians cannot pretend they can transcend politics and simply “preach the Gospel.” Those who avoid all political discussions and engagement are essentially casting a vote for the social status quo. American churches in the early 19th century that did not speak out against slavery because that was what we would now call “getting political” were actually supporting slavery by doing so. To not be political is to be political. ...

[M]ost political positions are not matters of biblical command but of practical wisdom. This does not mean that the church can never speak on social, economic and political realities, because the Bible often does. Racism is a sin, violating the second of the two great commandments of Jesus, to “love your neighbor.” The biblical commands to lift up the poor and to defend the rights of the oppressed are moral imperatives for believers. For individual Christians to speak out against egregious violations of these moral requirements is not optional.

However, there are many possible ways to help the poor. Should we shrink government and let private capital markets allocate resources, or should we expand the government and give the state more of the power to redistribute wealth? Or is the right path one of the many possibilities in between? The Bible does not give exact answers to these questions for every time, place and culture. ...

Another reason Christians these days cannot allow the church to be fully identified with any particular party is the problem of what the British ethicist James Mumford calls “package-deal ethics.” Increasingly, political parties insist that you cannot work on one issue with them if you don’t embrace all of their approved positions.

This emphasis on package deals puts pressure on Christians in politics. For example, following both the Bible and the early church, Christians should be committed to racial justice and the poor, but also to the understanding that sex is only for marriage and for nurturing family. One of those views seems liberal and the other looks oppressively conservative. The historical Christian positions on social issues do not fit into contemporary political alignments.

So Christians are pushed toward two main options. One is to withdraw and try to be apolitical. The second is to assimilate and fully adopt one party’s whole package in order to have your place at the table. Neither of these options is valid.

In the Good Samaritan parable told in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus points us to a man risking his life to give material help to someone of a different race and religion. Jesus forbids us to withhold help from our neighbors, and this will inevitably require that we participate in political processes. If we experience exclusion and even persecution for doing so, we are assured that God is with us (Matthew 5:10-11) and that some will still see our “good deeds and glorify God” (1 Peter 2:11-12). If we are only offensive or only attractive to the world and not both, we can be sure we are failing to live as we ought.

The Gospel gives us the resources to love people who reject both our beliefs and us personally. Christians should think of how God rescued them. He did it not by taking power but by coming to earth, losing glory and power, serving and dying on a cross. How did Jesus save? Not with a sword but with nails in his hands.

David French (The Dispatch), The Spiritual Blessing of Political Homelessness:

Your spirit rebels against the imperative to be a team player, to not call out clear injustice on your own side—to focus exclusively on your opponent’s sins. You remember Christ’s warning about noting the speck in your brother’s eye, when there’s a log in your own, and you wonder—can that apply even to politics?

Eventually, you might even reach a breaking point. Perhaps someone on your “team” does something terribly wrong, and it’s just too much. Or perhaps you see a profound injustice, but only the other side truly seems motivated to address it. You’re pro-life, and that’s a reason why you want to join a throng of thousands and say words that are necessary and true—“Black lives matter.”

But the instant you do, you get the questions and critiques. “Are you a cultural Marxist now?” “Don’t you know about Critical Race Theory?” “Have you read the official BLM website?” When all you wanted to do was stand against racism and brutality, a cause that is unquestionably just.

More and more, thoughtful (mainly young) Christians say to me, “I’m pro-life, I believe in religious freedom and free speech, I think we should welcome immigrants and refugees, and I desperately want racial reconciliation. Where do I fit in?” The answer is clear. Nowhere.

And that truth is a blessing, if you embrace it.

Late last month, Tim Keller, founder of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, created a stir by specifically resisting the political imperatives of negative partisanship. In the New York Times, he wrote that neither party aligns perfectly with biblical commitments to justice. ...

As our culture becomes increasingly secular, there is no reason to believe that either party’s political agenda will closely match the demands of biblical justice. And even if the parties were united in achieving biblical goals, then the means of pursuing those goals would still be subject to debate.

So, what should we do when contemporary political alignments do not match Christian moral imperatives? Declare independence. ...

[Y]our commitment to Christ is permanent, eternal. Your commitment to a party or a politician is transient, ephemeral.

On the surface, this feels like a hard road to walk in a highly polarized time. And it can be. There’s an immense comfort in a sense of political belonging, especially if you live in a deep-blue or deep-red region. It can be personally difficult to chart a different path. 

But there are deep rewards.

First, it liberates you from uncomfortable and destructive associations and arguments. While the Bible promises Christians that they’ll face challenges and sometimes-fierce opposition in their lives, it is vastly better to face opposition for the things you actually believe and the values you actually hold rather than being forced to align with an ideological and political “package” you do not want to purchase. 

Second, it opens up opportunities for unlikely friendships and unexpected relationships. It changes your posture towards the world to one that welcomes allies case-by-case. It cultivates a posture of openness and fellowship. ...

Third, it can increase your knowledge. ...

Fourth, in an interesting way, openness can increase influence. ...

I used to vote straight-ticket Republican. Now, every candidate has to pass the same two-part test. First, does this person possess the character necessary for the office he or she seeks? And second, do they broadly share my political values? Fail either prong, and you don’t get my vote. I’ll vote (or write in) someone who does, regardless of party.

I like how National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru and Princeton’s Robby George put the choice: “To vote for a candidate for president is to have an infinitesimal effect on the outcome of the election, but to wholly determine whom one wills to be president.” That’s what a declaration of independence looks like, and a declaration of independence is the first step to melting the idols of political allegiance.

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