I usually remain silent about things like politics. This is usually because I’m not too well read on all of the issues or because I don’t want to offend anyone. I’ve shared from time to time my admiration for Sen. Obama (but not necessarily his politics) and my curiosity about Sen. McCain’s moderate conservatism. I’m not bringing the election up now to tell you who I’m going to vote for. I just wanted to share this note with you from Chuck DeGroat, one of my professors at RTS. I very much identify with what he has to say in it.
Sometime last week he posted a Facebook status update about the election that elicited a good number of responses. Here’s how he responded…
Status Update: A Brief Expansion on my McCain Comment
by Chuck Degroat
It’s amazing how a status update on politics can generate such intensity in response and reaction. To those of you who did, thanks for writing…even if you disagreed. I’ve wondered if it might be appropriate to elaborate and I’ve thought about how to respond. Sara and I were talking, as well, and she asked once and for all, “Who are you voting for anyway?” Here are some brief, not-so-finished thoughts about politics and the upcoming election.
First, yes…I am a Christian, even though my status update was a bit critical of McCain (Lord, forgive me!). Second, no…I’ve never been a conservative, and don’t think being a Christian necessarily requires conservative politics. But, neither am I a liberal. I am, first and last, a follower of Jesus, attempting to discern between the competing voices. And I hope all Christians would slow up, and take the time to ask harder questions of both sides, regardless of their claims of faith.
I suspect Jesus had to do this in his day. After all, confronted with the militaristic strategies of the Zealots, the political expediency of the Sadducees, the moralistic Jewish patriotism of Pharisees, and the political escapism of the Essenes, Jesus rejected all the options on the table. He came, instead, with a different kind of Kingdom, built not by military might or political expediency or nationalistic patriotism, but by justice and forgiveness to those somehow lost in the system – the poor, the widow, the weak, the sick. He exposed the idolatry of the others – the false security of the militarist, the misguided loyalty of the patriot, the addiction to power of the Sadducee, and the cowardly withdrawal of the Essene. Perhaps the reason Jesus came to establish a New Israel Kingdom, and not a nation, is that nations build Empires, and then do everything they can to self-protect…often losing sight of the “least of these.” Constantine, the self-proclaimed Christian emperor, may be the poster boy of this kind of Christian power politics.
As I watched both conventions, I could not help but see so many of these false strategies (idolatries?) exposed. Before Constantine ascended to power in Rome as the first Christian emperor, Christians were known for their radical commitment to those the Empire seemed to miss, and even discard. In fact, their priorities (if embodied today) would reach across party lines. They were radically anti-abortion, saving the babies (particularly, the discarded little girls) of families who would only keep male children and those in perfect health. Christians also buried the dead, even pagans. They supported the destitute, the widow, and the orphan, taking in unwanted children. When people saw Christians, they remarked about the profound love for one another, their hospitality, their compassion, and selflessness. They admired their commitment to marriage, with incredibly low divorce rates (now, our rates are the same as everyone else). Pliny the Younger (62-113), a Governer in his day, wrote about these Christians to the Emperor, looking for advice on how the deal with the “menace” of Christian compassion. In his letter, he accused the Christians of forming a “political club.” He lamented their compassion crimes, their elevation of women to leadership positions, and the fact that the Romans were looking to Christians as men and women of virtue and humility rather than power and self-interest. The Athenian philosopher Aristides adds another outrageous observation. Christians, he wrote, would fast for two or three days to provide food for someone in need. (God, give me that kind of courage when, most of the time, I mock the needy.)
Sadly, I don’t think this kind of radical Christian compassion is the case today. Some on the right hope that help will trickle down to the poor, while others on the left simply empower a continuing victimization. Given this, I’m equally troubled by responses on both sides of the aisle. The politics of power, greed, military intimidation, self-interest, and a kind of blind patriotism that mocks anyone who questions America rings to me as the politics of Empire, not Jesus. I recall a quote by another military man, Dwight Eisenhower, calling attention to the dangers of an increasingly complex world where might is matched with greater might. He wrote, “There is no way a country can satisfy a craving for absolute security, but it can easily bankrupt itself, morally and economically, in an attempt to reach that illusory goal through arms alone.” Conservatives talk about a culture of life, but the Unites States spends 2 billion dollars a day on the military. Talk about big government! Bread for the World contends that only 4 billion a year could cut African hunger in half by 2015. And yet, we spend more on military than the next fifteen nations combined, most being U.S. allies.* To some, perhaps this is not a moral issue. But to me, a Christian can respond by seeing that our fear motivates military spending. Of course, we need a military, and some kinds of war are just. But, might we re-think some of this? Liberals talk of advocating for the “least of these.” Yet, Bush inherited Clinton’s escalated spending amounting to a military budget which was 41% of the total budget. Clinton ignored the cries for help from Rwanda. And perhaps no other politician has been as expedient as Bill, a man who continues to play the victim.
That said, there are a range of issues that ought to concern us as Christians, and they reach across parties. I wish I could have a pro-life candidate who’d fight for educational choice. (By the way, I voted for Bush in 2000 because he pledged he would, and even with a Republican Congress he didn’t get it done.) I wish I could have a candidate concerned with genocide and AIDS as much as he is with his legacy. (I voted for Clinton in 1992, and it regretted shortly after. However, though Bush is ignoring genocide in Darfur, he has done courageous work for debt relief.) And what should we think about immigration? Health care (as a right or a privilege?) Stem cell research? And shouldn’t we, of all people, speak with a voice that is wise and humble, not arrogant and elitist? In other words, it’s not about simply buying the old Moral Majority platform, or the Christian left social justice platform. We’ve got to think harder, and perhaps we’ll eventually need another party that represents the full range of Christian concern.
Most of all, I have a problem with deception. Somehow, it becomes more palatable for us, as evangelicals, if it’s a Christian deceiving us. Paul David Tripp in his helpful little book Whiter Than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy, says that the DNA of sin is deception, blinding us to the truth about ourselves and others. I think about the political expediency of elections, and I’m immediately aware of the deception we’ve seen from almost all of the major players. In particular, because many of my evangelical friends have embraced McCain/Palin, I’ve been focused on the choices they’d make for political expediency over honesty. Back in 2000, I was for McCain, in part, because I sensed that he was the most honest of the candidates. He was, indeed, a maverick back then. But the maverick didn’t win. So, he has re-created himself in the image of a conservative. He’s changed positions as much as Kerry in 2004. I’ve lost respect for a man who used to tell it like it was. There are times that McCain looks like a deer-in-headlights (or a moose-in-headlights?). In those moments, I suspect he’s the kind of man who has enough integrity to wonder how he got sucked in to all of this in the first place.
This kind of political expediency is not new (Read a biography on Abraham Lincoln!) But it is just the kind of thing Jesus warned the Pharisees and Sadducees about. And sadly (I don’t mean to burst your bubble, Facebook Fans), Palin is doing it too. Now, sensationalist media types went after dirt on her pregnancy, and that’s just bad. But others are just doing their job. And now they’re finding video…of her support of the Bridge to Nowwhere, or her claim that the Iraq War was God’s will. And they’re finding data, like the fact that she has led Alaska to the largest earmarks per capita of any state. And they’re finding stuff that simply lacks integrity, like claiming per diem’s for times when she was actually staying in her home and eating her own food. I say this with all due sobriety – she is no reformer. She is an expedient politician who claims Christ as her Lord, but who seems to have been sucked into the frightening and deceptive world of political leadership.
I say this, in part, to remind my evangelical friends and family members that we’ve got to be a bit more critical of our own at times. Back in the day, it served Constantine well to call himself a Christian. He got the support of the Bishops, who became his tax collectors and began a slow journey toward corruption. And we all remember that Stonewall Jackson believed wholeheartedly that God was on the side of the South. When I see a video of Palin saying that God wills a war in Iraq, or Obama stuttering through an interview where he claims that faith informs everything he does, I want to pause and ask some harder questions. And that’s all I’m asking you to do. First, we were blinded by Obama’s celebrity. And now, it’s Palin’s turn. There were nice speeches about how America is God’s last great hope for morality, and claims made about political records that don’t hold up. In other words, there is idolatry all over the place. And anywhere we see it, we ought to ask some tough questions, and demand more.
I’ll end with this. I’m scared to death of leading. When I do, I’m always prone to a number of things. I’m concerned about people’s opinions of me. I’m apt to present myself in the best possible light. I’m prone to find ways to protect myself from attacks from others. I’m tempted to “adjust my resume” to delete the failures and screw-ups, and accentuate the nice things. Like you, I’d like to believe in someone. Some say Obama will redeem the Democrats. Others say Palin saved the Republicans. But only one man came to redeem and save. And His way was a way that was far from expedient. His reputation wasn’t a priority. Military might was shunned for radical forgiveness and mercy. He turned the priorities upside down – justice for the downtrodden, and condemnation for the privileged. And today, while the palaces of Rome are in ruins, we still keep time by the birth of a very different kind of Kingdom-builder. All other allegiances pale in comparison.