Monday, October 25, 2010

Christians and Politics

This piece in USA Today addresses one of the pressing issues for Christians in our current cultural climate – the relationship between the faith and the cut-and-thrust of politics. The author is concerned with how it seems that the involvement of religion in politics hasn’t lifted political life, but seems to have soiled religion. In a lot of ways, I think he is right. We have probably tied ourselves too much to political figures and victories (to the left and the right) instead of speaking and living the truths of the Christian faith in our world.

Politics are important and have serious real-world consequences, but Christians need to remember their first and deepest allegiance to Christ.

The article is hit and miss. He is concerned with the loss of civility in our public discourse, and I think we can agree on that. He, however, cites Jim Wallis of Sojourners as a seriously civil voice. That’s a joke. As long as you are willing to avoid any principled or absolute stands on faith or morals, Wallis is civil. Wallis is a cut-and-paste religious relativist and if you are to the right of him, politically and theologically speaking, you are a target for ad hominem attacks. Just ask Olansky of World Magazine.

Even in his conclusion, Krattenmaker gets some things right, and others wrong:

The wise course is not withdrawal from public life. The task is to find and hold an appropriate distance, a place from which faith can exert principled influence and inspire the body politic's best instincts and intentions.

Especially these days, politics as usual seems to drag all who play right into the gutter. That's no place for religion.

The Christian needs to recognize that faith should inform and influence politics, not the other way around – we should not withdraw from public life. But the Christian should never accept the position that faith belongs as an “appropriate distance” from public life. Our public life needs a core that only the Christian faith can provide.

Christians are called to do something that I’m not sure anyone else is doing: contend for the truths handed down to us while leading the way in civility and reasoned discourse. Do that now, and you will stick out like a sore thumb – in a good way.


Dan said...

Given that President Obama is a Christian I'm surprised that Krattenmaker didn't site his caustic gutter play. But then again, that kind of highlights the problems with this article. Anyone could cherry pick from any group of people and write an article like this holding that group accountable to its touted principles. Telling however, in a good way I think, are the examples Krattenmaker had to cherry pick in Vitter, Limbaugh, and Wood. Given that many on the left side of the Isle claim Christianity as their faith, and given that the strategy on the left side of the isle this season is one of muck racking, Krattenmaker’s true intentions in this article are revealed in that his only three examples for his case were drawn from the right side of the Isle; and they were three bad examples at that.

Vitter was perhaps his best case, but it was a weak one, especially compared to Vitter’s opponent. Wood was guilty of nothing that substantiated Krattenmaker’s point. Most telling is the bate and switch of throwing Limbaugh in the mix. Since when has Rush Limbaugh become an Icon for evangelical Christianity that he would be held up for as an example of conduct uncharacteristic of a Christian in his “slap down” of Karl Rove? In this paragraph, along with his warm words for Wallis, Krattenmaker becomes the very thing he decries in his obvious support of Castle over Christine O’Donnell whom, he says, has “undeniable problems”. This is cherry picking in its own right for what politician doesn’t have “undeniable problems”? Can we assume that Castle and Coons have deniable problems?

As is typical with this kind of opining, truth, as you noted, has to be laced in. But by lacing it in at the end, as he did, he is telling a lie. The casual reader reads these truthful conclusions and leaves the article thinking that Christians are not living up to their claims and are in fact misbehaving. He does this after failing to make even a poor case that this is actually happening. But that doesn’t really matter for very few people will read this articles that critically, and it will simply become another small brick in their house of confirmation biases. That’s one thing. But when Christians read articles like this, and are fooled by them into believing a lie about the Body of which they are a part, (not a claim I’m making about you) that, I think, is a tragedy.

Phil Steiger said...

I do think you are right that his personal leaning are pretty clear in the examples he picks. And I hadn't thought about the assumed relationship between Limbaugh and the evangelical movement.

Thanks for the comment.

Assault On Ambivalence--Marcus Robinson said...

Phil, great analysis of this article.

I would say there can be no doubt that Christians in America are usually thought of as radical, right-wing conservatives. We are often "guilty by association" because many believers use Christian language to put the stamp of approval on their party. This camp does include Limbaugh, Rove, Palin, Dobson, (the late) Falwell.

I don't consider these people as speakers for my Christian faith in politics. I agree with them whole-heartedly on some issues and vehemently disagree with them on others. I received a taped call from Dobson during this political cycle that turned my stomach. The essence of the call was "Christians, you need to vote in this election and it is clear which candidates represent our faith."

Speaking for myself, it is increasingly unclear. Everyone seems to want civility when their side is in power (Republicans wanted it under Bush and now Democrats call for it under Obama). Even Jon Stewart is hypocritically calling our nation to civility in a rally this weekend. Hard to imagine that happening four years ago.

You say Christians should "contend for the truths handed down to us while leading the way in civility and reasoned discourse." Absolutely. I believe this means we must not resort to rhetoric when fellow Christians disagree about which truths to champion and which candidates champion those best.

Hmmm. Does such a statement make me a "moral relativist" like you characterize Wallis?

Phil Steiger said...


Far from being a relativist, I think that makes you thoughtful! Christians, I think, have largely exchanged the priority of their theology for politics. At the very least, we understand the political landscape much better than we understand our own theological landscape, and we end up taking the politicial to be what informs the theological (implicitly or explicitly).

I don't think I have enough info on Wallis to consider him a moral relativist, but I am pretty confident in his religious relativism - I think he is pretty uncomfortable with the uniqueness and sufficienty of Christ.

I like your thoughts!