It was interesting that I never knew the man's party affiliation. It never came up in discussions. He's always been a straight arrow dealing with financial and legal issues facing the church. Politics just never came up in most conversation.
I share this because I am reminded by a post by Episcopal blogger Fredrick Schmidt about American Christianity and where it intersects with today's politics. More and more, I want to be like this gentleman that I know, keeping politics out of the life of the church.
I'm not suggesting that the church should just not be involved in caring for the poor or speaking out when need be. But I am saying that our involvement in politics has not as much elevated the body politic as much as it has brought the church down the to level of crass partisan bickering that we see so much of on TV and on the web these days. The church is mimicking what we see on Fox News or MSNBC and acting accordingly.
Schmidt is not amused and he calls for Christians to be willing to pursue the truth no matter where it leads:
Christians are no better at navigating the American political landscape than anyone else. The name-calling among them may have a religious ring to it, but it is depressingly similar to the tribal incivility on display everywhere else. And, sadly, when we are commenting on the larger political drama we drop the religious language and we are as nasty and unreflective as the talking heads on Fox or MSNBC. Some of the epithets I have watched Christians use in political observations on Facebook aren't even fit to reprint here.
For that reason, I am not at all sanguine about Christians transcending the terms of the current debate. That doesn't speak well for the rest of the claims that Christians make and that's deeply troubling.
Christians will necessarily commit themselves to a point of view, but they should all be committed to the pursuit of the truth, wherever it leads. They should be tenacious about gathering the facts. They should be scrupulous about avoiding distortion. They should be committed to civil and incisive debate about the issues. They should foreswear name-calling and character assassination. And they should be capable of considering solutions to the problems that face us that lie outside the ideological parameters on both the left and the right. If we can't do that, we really add little or nothing to the public debate.
But the problem facing the churches is the same that is so common in our society today: our insistence on being right instead of being loving. Conservative and liberal Christians are sure that they have the answer to public policy questions and the other side is not only wrong, but probably not Christian. Conservative Christians mimic their big brothers and advocate against tax increases and supporting what they see as "big government." Liberal Christians follow their siblings, calling for taxing the rich and for the continuation if not enlargement of the welfare state. Each side finds a few Bible verses to justify their side and condemn each other.
That said, we also face a far bigger problem: we want to believe that God is on our side and ours alone. And there we definitely reach for our Bibles as weapons. Schmidt says we can't expect the Bible to justify our position:
First, there is probably nothing in the Old or New Testament that can be applied directly and unequivocally to the debates that we are having. Ancient Israel was a theocracy with a king. The early Christian community was a church, not a country. The early church described in the Book of Acts was a minority movement within its own world. Its members did not exercise responsibility for shaping Roman policy. They did not issue currency and they did not elect representatives. So, we live, work, and vote in a completely different environment than those in which the books of the Bible were written.
We can debate the merits of big government, the size of federal budgets, the structure of the tax code, and the advisability of creating a welfare state. But the early Christian community described in the opening chapters of the Book of Acts, in which "all things were held in common and no one suffered need," is not a model for nation-building and it is not a model for creating a thriving, modern economy. To suggest otherwise is to rely on sloppy exegesis and anachronism. It is logically misleading and romantic nonsense.
What I wish to see in the modern American church is not a bunch of "red" and "blue" churches, but communities that seek to follow Jesus and are engaged in thoughtful discernment of public issues. I want to see churches think about how best to help the poor, or spur economic growth, or what should be the scope of American foreign policies than just parrot what Rush Limbaugh or Rachel Maddow said that day. I want to see communities where liberals and conservatives can talk about these issues knowing they don't have all the answers. I want to see a church where we are humble about our political beliefs and willing to rest on God's grace and mercy instead of the Democratic or Republican party platform.
In the end, I'm not asking that Christians never talk about politics or their ideology. I am asking that we model a different way of being in the world, that we learn to be Christ to each other instead of demonizing each other the way the "pagans" do.
In some ways, this has made me an uncertain trumpet. I'm not as willing to sound the horns for battle like I used to. Yes, I have my opinions and as a political blogger, I do express them. But as a Christian, I want to exhibit something a bit different. I want to be about community and love, instead of being right. Life is about loving our friends and fellow Christians even if we can't agree with them. It's about loving as Jesus love. That's a trumpet I want to sound anytime.