Disclaimer: This is ending up much more radical than I intended. I’m still working through this, so I apologize for any inaccuracies or misrepresentations.
To what extent should Christians engage in politics? Should we be Republicans or Democrats, or disavow such labels? These are big questions, and I tip my hat to my pastor, Toby Sumpter, for dealing with these issues here and here. However, I was unsatisfied with some parts of his answers to those questions. What I have written here is not directly a response to Pastor Sumpter, but I have addressed some points where I disagree. First, I encourage you to read Pastor Toby’s second post on the subject, part of which I have excerpted here.
My post is obviously meant to lean toward the right. That’s not because right wing positions are all biblical. But because I’ve become convinced that it’s easier to fight right wing idolatries than left wing idolatries.
I’d rather duke it out over foreign policy and economics with people who are committed to basic Christian morals than join forces over labor laws in Indonesia with somebody who murders babies. As my dear baptist [sic] grandmother would say, that’s bassackwards.
Though my “let’s play fair” instincts have made me reluctant, I’ve become convinced that it takes more and more of an intellectual/moral backbone to stand for biblical positions on abortion and sexuality. Other positions held by the right may be unbiblical but are often at least held honestly. You have a much greater chance of talking to a person who unfortunately has a wrong headed view of the US military than you do when talking to a card carrying liberal robot. There are still going to be problems on the right, you’re still going to have people following in the crowd, giving thoughtless “correct answers”, but they have to put up with a lot more hatred to be there over time and the logic of their positions is likely to be far more biblical.
Christians need to radically disengage with the left/right political dichotomy, in the same way that Jesus didn’t identify as a Pharisee, a Sadducee, or an Essene. People may have mistaken Jesus for a Pharisee, but perhaps it’s because of this that Jesus attacks the Pharisees so harshly. He, like them, cares about righteousness and believes in resurrection (unlike the Sadducees). But he, unlike them, believed that righteousness comes from humble faith, and not from just being clean on the outside and praying loudly in the temple courts.
It is perfectly fine if, for the moment, politically active Christians are mistaken for right-wing extremists because we are Pro-Life to the hilt and think limited government is still a good idea. But to self-identify as “right wing,” to identify more with pagan right-wingers than pagan left-wingers, is missing the point. As Pastor Sumpter says, there are Christians who want to be apolitical and “just do ministry” but are missing the point of the Gospel and won’t die for Jesus when it counts. But there are probably more Christians who care more about politics than about doing missions, and…that’s worse, right?
The idea that right-wing ideas without Christ are better than left-wing ideas without Christ is predicated on the idea that conservatives are preserving Christian-influenced traditions and Christian-influenced institutions (like the traditional family and the constitutionalist state) that the Left abominates. But how far does that go? Sure, there are more faithful Christians “on the right,” but there are also a lot of people who have pretended to love Jesus all their lives and gone to church for stupid, selfish reasons. These whitewashed tombs are more inoculated to the Gospel, in many cases, than the transgender lefty tattoo artists who at least don’t claim to be right with God.
So which side is better? Which side, to use Pastor Sumpter’s words, are we more comfortable being mistaken for? The answer, I would say, is neither. We don’t have to choose! Christian men should have their own, Biblical standards for holding political views, and it isn’t a coincidence if their ideas just happen to dovetail with libertarian orthodoxy at every point, and they spend more energy shouting about those ideas than on picking up their crosses and following the conquering Christ. They’re following good men like Rand Paul or evil charlatans like Glenn Beck more closely than they’re following Christ. My brothers, this should not be!
Furthermore, to say that there are more “people” on the right, rather than robots, is the kind of hasty generalization that undermines the serious and helpful parts of Sumpter’s essay. There is nothing about Christless right-wing doctrine that makes people more likely to be “people” in Pastor Sumpter’s sense than Christless left-wing doctrine. To cite one of many, many examples, there are a lot more interesting and intelligent, non-mainstream, and free-thinking liberal magazines (The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Utne Reader, The New Republic) than there are conservative magazines who go beyond aping GOP doctrine (The American Conservative, National Review on a good day).
I’m sorry to disabuse anybody of any misconceptions, but aping libertarian orthodoxy unthinkingly is just as Christless as aping Marx’s children on the New York Times editorial board. Of course, libertarian thought appeals to me more than Marxism, but I’m not going to say that my view is the only Biblical one, and I’m not going to unthinkingly associate with people who do.
If Christians are on the right, they’ll have to compromise with people who don’t give a fig about Christ. It’s the same on the left. So shouldn’t we reevaluate our commitment to either side? Just because the right pays more lip-service to Jesus doesn’t mean we’re truly welcome there. More and more frequently right-wing politicos tell the establishment that it just isn’t strategic to keep shouting about abortion and gay marriage. The electorate wants us to shut up about social issues. If we bank on being “accepted” on the right because we share their views, and assume we’ll be “mistaken” for right-wing extremists by those on the other side, well—it may not be too long before Christians stand nearly alone on issues like abortion and gay marriage, and that will really show the sheep what the right-wing goats have been up to, won’t it?
It will turn out that even if you genuinely think gun rights and libertarian philosophy are of Biblical importance, the guy at the rally who agreed with everything you said is going to clam up when you start talking about gay marriage, because without Christ why should he care? There are extremely good selfish, secular, right-wing reasons to be a libertarian, many fewer to be pro-life.
I think Pastor Sumpter’s question, “So who are you willing to be mistaken for?” is not the one we should be asking. His answer places too much importance, I think, on what people think, whether we’re mistaken for libertarian gun-nuts or co-op hippies. Why do we have to pick? Why don’t we be honest about our love for Jesus—how it makes us protest at abortion clinics protest godless corporate selfishness. Why are we content to be identified with the false left/right dichotomy? I’m just a dude with skinny jeans, a shotgun, with Dwight Yoakam and Bon Iver on the stereo. I read novels and socialist tracts and conservative magazines, and I love Jesus. Paradigmatize me, I dare you!
What I’m saying is that we shouldn’t be content to be mistaken for anyone besides someone who’s all-in for Christ, whether right-wing or left-wing. And if we think about the Gospel first, we’ll come back with a lot of questions with political answers instead of dogmatic statements like Private property good, Collectivism bad. News flash!—private property and communal property are both in the Bible, so to dogmatically reject one or the other seems a little…unbiblical. We can’t retreat behind any political banner to avoid thinking about tricky questions, like wait, Jesus wants me to give up my guns, too? I thought I could take them with me!
Rush Limbaugh? He’s a crank. That dude on MSNBC who gets a tingle up a leg when he thinks about Obama? He’s a crank too. So Limbaugh and his fourth wife oppose killing babies. Who cares? Does that really make them our allies? Corporate greed is real and it’s keeping millions in poverty—Barbara Ehrenreich opposes this, but that doesn’t make her one of us.
Stop disappointing yourselves! There have only been three “born-again Christian” presidents in the modern sense. Two of them were Democrats, and one of them was George W. Bush, who may well be a faithful man but wasn’t a particularly good president. Why do we get our hopes up, every election cycle, that someone with Mike Huckabee’s Christian principles and Ron Paul’s fiscal sense will be nominated? The party doesn’t want a Christian candidate who really walks the walk because that would make the Christian Pharisees uncomfortable. So, without becoming Democrats, let’s acknowledge the fact that the Republican party is not a natural home for Christians, and our association with it is often brinksmanship. How close can we get to Republican orthodoxy before we dishonor our Lord?
But wait, this is crazy talk. We actually agree with most of the Republican platform, right? So isn’t it okay to be right-wing? Yes, but in a very limited, circumscribed sense. “The right wing” is not part of Christ’s body, so any identification we have with it is fleeting and temporary, and not an identification with any of the Christless spin doctors or the acquisitive, aging haute bourgeoisie in the party ranks and their contributions to national policy.
The only standard we should bear is Christ’s. Sure, we can be Americans and vote for Republicans. We should thank But we should not be content to be mistaken for people who are Americans or Republicans or Democrats first. We have a higher allegiance, to a greater king, in a better kingdom, than any here on Earth.