Saturday, November 08, 2008

Politicized Christianity

As someone who grew up in conservative Evangelicalism and in a politically conservative home, I took it for granted that a basically conservative Republican perspective on voting was synonymous with a Christian one. As I got older, especially into my twenties, I began to question this due to a number of factors. After many years of wrestling with these issues I have come back around to a reclaimed conservatism with some leaning towards what might be called Christian anarchy. I do not think any earthly political party has a monopoly on Christ or is synonymous with Christ's kingdom or agenda in the world, though I do think it possible that one or another political party may be more closely aligned with a Christian perspective on things or more correct on issues of fundamental import.

In recent years, there has been a movement of many evangelicals, especially younger ones, towards the political left. I suspect that there are a number of reasons for this move, some of them better than others. One of the reasons, which seems to me to be a good one, is that many Christians have grown tired of the over-politicized Christianity of what is called "The Religious Right," and the narrowness, ugliness, and shrillness sometimes associated with it. Many of us have grown tired of seeing God's name too closely associated with a particular political party or agenda, and the often angry, defensive spirit that seems to accompany that association. We have been concerned about the way in which this politicized Christianity has been a turn off for many that has prevented them from seeing Jesus and which has made it more difficult for many Christians to love their neighbors, whoever they may be.

This brings me to the point of this article, however, which is the fact that a swing to the political left is not really a move away from a politicized Christianity. It is simply exchanging one set of issues or agendas for another, and then aligning our Christianity with them. The shape of the container remains the same, only the contents have changed. I fail to see how this is an improvement.

With the election of President Obama, there is much talk in the air of "change." While, on one level, I can understand the hope and excitement this has generated, I am, for the most part, extremely skeptical about this talk and wonder what it really means at a substantial level. I am particularly concerned about the life issues and the extremely liberal position Obama takes on abortion, which I view as fundamental to many other issues. If the weakest, most helpless and innocent among us are are not protected, and perhaps the most fundamental human relationship of dependence among us is viewed as essentially expendable, then on what basis can we argue for human obligations towards anyone else? This is just one example of how a swing to the political left among Christians does not seem to me to be an improvement over a too close association with the political right.

My point here, is that despite all the talk of "change," a swing to the political left, does not really strike me as a substantial change in any way. It still leaves us just as vulnerable to the dangers of a politicized Christianity, perhaps even more so, because there is the dangerous illusion that, having moved away from the politicized Christianity of the past we have somehow escaped it, when in fact all we have done is trade one task-master for another. Furthermore, as the abortion issue illustrates, it still leaves us just as vulnerable, again, maybe more so, to the dehumanizing forces at work in late modern Western culture. It can also become just as much of a constricting legalism and a possible hindrance to loving our neighbors as the Religious Right did.

What do you think?