“Christian” Politics Reconsidered
I want to reprise parts of a blog I did this past spring asking whether there can be such a thing as “Christian politics”? Last week I wrote a piece titled, “An American Kingdom?” in response to a Washington Post article on a Fort Worth, Texas church, Mercy Center, identified as as the point of the spear of new or renewed Trumpist “Christian” movement.
While I felt the WaPo article was biased, there is a larger issue here. Namely, the way that for some Christians today their way of being involved in politics looks more like Herod than Jesus. Herod, as featured in a recent Sunday gospel lesson, executed John the Baptist because that prophetic preacher spoke truth to power and called Herod to account. Herod’s politics are familiar: the politics of self-interest and self-protection.
Picking up the thread from that earlier blog . . . which was inspired in part by the excellent book by Daniel K. Williams, The Politics of the Cross.
“What does Daniel Williams mean by “the politics of the cross”? Putting the interests of others (particularly the poor, the vulnerable and those who been victims of injustice) ahead of our own.
“He draws on the crucial Christological passage from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Paul speaks of the way of Christ and the way of the cross. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2: 3 – 4) Paul goes on to speak of Christ “he, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be exploited, but emptied himself . . .” (vs. 6 -7).
This doesn’t means being a doormat for other people’s selfish agendas. Quite the contrary. You may need to oppose power grabs in order to protect the most vulnerable. Positively, it means that you are willing to make sacrifices for your country and for the good of others.
Now here’s Williams:
“What if instead of being known as a political interest group, evangelical Christians in the United States were known as the people who cared enough about the nation and the well-being of their neighbors to sacrifice their own interests at the voting booth and cast ballots primarily with the good of others in mind?
“‘But, in fact, white evangelical Christians’ political behavior has generally not been characterized by this attitude.’ Most often their political action has been galvanized around an alleged ‘moral outrage’ like same-sex marriage which is portrayed as a ‘threat to our way of life.'”
Williams, who teaches at West Georgia University, is talking about his own team here. He identifies as an evangelical Christian.
What I like about Williams’s book and approach is that he doesn’t think “Christian politics” means choosing one side or party, and acclaiming it the Christian one. Christianity can and should critique all sides and parties while offering a an alternative to both, an alternative rooted in the cross and resurrection. Williams does exactly this as he takes on four pivotal issues: abortion, sexuality, race, and poverty.
So, you might say, “Isn’t what you’re talking about ‘social justice’?” Yes, but there’s something to be said for Williams’s simpler framing. It is not an abstraction, which “social justice” often becomes. Abstractions tend to get filled with all sorts or agendas and to be turned into slogans. William’s “politics of the cross” is closely tied to Jesus, he who “emptied himself.” His clear connection to Christ is critical.
If there is such a thing as a “Christian politics” it is marked by a priority on the larger social good and the well-being of our neighbors, especially the poor and the vulnerable, and not a pursuit of self-interest baptized as “Christian.”