Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A few updated thoughts on faith and politics

I was very happy to read an interview that Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, did back in February with The Atlantic’s Eleanor Barkhorn, shortly after the release of his most recent book, The King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus. I was particularly gratified by his answer to Barkhorn’s question, “How does Redeemer respond to the difficulties of being a church in a place that is skeptical of religion?” Referring Robert Putnam’s new book, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, in which, according to Keller, Putnam observes “that in the end of the '60s, the mainline liberal churches got very politically involved with liberal politics. They identified with liberal politics. And that put them way out of step with the mainstream. And there was actually a real reaction against it, and people left the mainline. It just turned them off.” In further explicating Putnam’s book, notes “that in the '80s and '90s the evangelical church did the same thing, except with conservative politics. Because it identified so strongly with conservative politics, that also put them somewhat out of step with the mainstream. The mushy middle is kind of moderate about politics, really.” He notes that this alliance has led to a backlash against Evangelicals. An example of this backlash appeared just yesterday in an article for by David Sirota, Are evangelicals a national security threat?”.

Keller goes on to note that he has witnessed this backlash firsthand in New York City during his 20 years there. He says that “because of the identification of orthodox Christianity with conservative politics, there's actually more antipathy here than there was 20 years ago.” He attributes the success of his church to the fact that they’ve always put the Gospel first, saying, “We're about Christianity, not politics. And we know that your Christian faith is going to affect your political views. We know that—we're not saying that won't happen. But we also don't think that your Gospel faith necessarily throws you into one party or the other.”

One point I feel the need to make periodically is that while faith certainly forms and informs the politics of any Christian, we should take care not to reduce our faith to politics, thus making it an ideology. For me personally, I do not belong to any political party as a matter of conscience. I readily admit to voting for far more Republicans than Democrats, but I have never voted a straight-party ticket. While I vote most of the time and have voted more regularly as I have gotten older, I have not voted in every election for which I have been eligible. While voting is a right, as Peter Hitchens pointed out recently, it is not compulsory. I agree that when there is no serious candidate worthy of my vote I can either vote for an obscure third-party candidate, which I have done, or not vote at all. I will no longer vote for third-party candidates merely as an act of protest, which is something I have done a few times in the past, reasoning that if nothing else it may assist a third-party achieve the necessary 10% to qualify for federal matching funds, the idea being that we need more political diversity (an idea to which I still adhere). So, any third-party candidate for whom I might vote must be as worthy of my vote as any major party candidate, perhaps even more so.

I used to feel otherwise. I have written on this very blog that voting is a moral obligation. I would say now that it is not an absolute moral obligation. Not voting, as long as it is a conscientious act and not merely an exercise in laziness and/or apathy, is certainly morally justifiable in certain circumstances. And guess what? If should I choose not to vote, I have not thereby surrendered my right to complain or comment on the state of governance.

It is right and good for a Christian to render to God what is God’s and to Caesar what is Caesar’s, which implies knowing to whom you are ultimately loyal. As the psalmist remarked long ago: It is “[b]etter to take refuge in the LORD than to put one’s trust in mortals. Better to take refuge in the LORD than to put one’s trust in princes” (Ps. 118:8-9). Too often we act and interact as if everything depends on politics, when, in fact, everything does not, not by a long stretch.

1 comment:

  1. I had always considered it an obligation to vote if only to honor the memory of those that gave their lives so that I could have that right. The very thought of young men charging into a hail of gunfire during the Normandy invasion was motivation enough.

    The idea of not voting as a conscientious act that might respect that sacrifice just as much had never occurred to me. You have given me something new to think about and I thank you.