Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Lenten politics

I retrieved this from the Sojourners newsletter:

"[Lenten] fasting is also needed in politics - a fasting that allows those who hold power to purify their intentions and their individual or national egoisms. A fasting that allows leaders to see and understand not only that they are mandated to serve and save but also that all human beings, in all nations, are also created and loved by God."

- Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Michel Sabbah
(Source: Zenit )

I can't help but wonder whether the Episcopal rector who frequently looks up to see the President of the United States among his flock has been able to get this idea across to his "member."

Now after that glancing blow: Is it appropriate for religious -- bishops, pastors, laypeople -- to call on the civil orders to organize themselves or to develop policies and projects in ways that the religious think are consistent with the gospel?

I want to post on that question -- especially about the controversy that inspired it -- in a day or so. But I put it out here to get you thinking.

Grace and Peace.


Anonymous said...

Dwight, are you taking so many words to ask us to debate whether faithful people should involve themselves in politics?

Yes. They should.
Thank you.

Jennifer said...

I think Dwight is asking something a little different. Not just should the faithful be involved in politics (and I believe the Christian gospel is by nature political), but should government policies and program reflect gospel values? The latter is what the Christian Right and Left are both involved in - whether it's seeking to advance pro-life causes or anti-poverty programs.

Andy said...

I heard Dr. Mary Jane Haemig of Luther Seminary give a talk on this very topic recently. Her take, based on the classic Lutheran "two kingdoms" approach, was that Christians should take our Christian values into the political sphere, but that we shouldn't imagine that because we are Christians we automatically have better insight than non-Christians. That is, we should call on politicians to act on certain values because these values are Truth, not because they are Christian. And so we should be able to align ourselves with all people of ethical concern, whether they are Christians, Muslims, Jews, atheists or whatever.

This approach has a lot to commend it, but the last election showed the political expediency of identifying a cause specifically as Christian. The way we frame the debate is often as important as our content.

Maurice Frontz said...

When I heard Jean Bethke Ehlstain speak on this in January, she seemed to say much the same as Dr. Haemig of Luther Sem. Christians can and should approach politics by building consensus and using language that is crafted to build consensus. So "caring for the helpless is a moral necessity" or "written into the fabric of creation is preferable to "caring for the helpless is the express will of the God of the Bible." But in certain critical situations (status confessionis?), she said, Christians will need to articulate their positions directly from the tradition.

One of the pitfalls with using God-language directly is to equate one's own necessarily ambiguous political position with God's perfect will smacks of hubris. That is why it is smart to try and build consensus. A little humility before the Lord never hurts.

On another note, reading the comments of Bob Edgar, et al. who wants to replace "progressive" language with "prophetic" language - I think that this is a recipe for disaster. Americans are necessarily an optimistic people. When conservatives were in the role of "negative nellies," they lost elections. The last major Democratic wins, Johnson and Clinton, were both optimistic campaigns. The civil rights movement itself was a campaign of optimism, whereas the reactionary movement in word and deed was clearly such. Democrats, and, by extension, Democrats of faith have to find a way to build an optimistic consensus rather than simply stoke the fires of moral outrage.

Jim said...

Luis Leon is a Cuban refugee, and has specialized in urban ministries. He is the "episcopal rector" that the shrub must confront when he visits St John's Lafayette Square, in DC. I don't think anybody thinks of Leon as a conservative or a pushover. On the other hand, the shrub has resisted logic and intellect all his life. Why should anyone be able to change him now? Anyone who can call a 2% squeak-by victory a "mandate" surely is not going to be swayed with rational argument.

The people with whom the shrub has surrounded himself are even more one-way than he is: trampling US constitutional rights with the Patriot Act, endorsing torture, rendition, and other shady acts, taking the economy right down the tubes, creating a record deficit, creating a millionaire-friendly bankruptcy provision, ad nauseam.

The current administration does seem to be trying to legislate the first great commandment, but I think they're having a lot of trouble with the second and Jesus' subsequent modification to it.