Politics and Christian Faith
Here in the United States, we seem to have entered an era in which political campaigns are continual and ongoing. I can remember the time when, after elections, the parties came together in their various legislative and executive settings and governed. Obviously, there were continuing differences of opinion, some of them strong; and legislation that came into being was not always ideal or even good. But everyone could tell that there was a difference between campaigning and governing. That difference seems to have evaporated. Governing (and by that I mean going through the motions of acting in one’s office) is just another name for attempting to gain a political advantage in a particular way.
I have my own beliefs about what individuals and/or parties are the most responsible for this current state of affairs, but that is not what this article is about. This article is about my understanding of how the Christian faith intersects with politics. With the very different religious affiliations of some of the people running for office in the next few months (Tom Barrett – Roman Catholic, Governor Scott Walker – non-denominational evangelical Christian, President Barack Obama – mainline Protestant [formerly UCC], Mitt Romney – Mormon, Tammy Baldwin – I don’t know, but she’s pictured with a First Cong group at a Fair Wisconsin event!), we are going to be inundated with various politicians, pundits and political commentators pontificating on how politics and Christian faith relate to each other. The following two quotations will give you a clue about how I think they relate.
The first is from Gary Dorrien, who teaches at Columbia University and Union Seminary in New York City. It’s from an article in the April 19, 2011 issue of Christian Century.
Economic inequality has accelerated dramatically in the U.S. since the early 1980s. One percent of the U.S. population holds between 34 and 39% of the nation’s wealth; the top 5% hold between 66 and 72% of the wealth; and the bottom 50% hold 2% of the wealth. The share of America’s income held by the top 1% has more than doubled since 1980; while the bottom 90% has, since 1975, coped with flat wages and mounting debt.
How could a nation possessing a strong tradition of middle-class democracy allow the middle class to be eviscerated? How could a democratic electorate support policies that turned American society into a pyramid,… decimated public schools and, until recently, been willing to leave 40 million Americans without health insurance? Faced with corporate flight to low-tax and cheap-labor markets, why would Americans support tax incentives for corporations to ship jobs overseas?
The second quotation is from Jesus. (It’s actually three quotations, taken from different places in the Gospel of Matthew.)
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God…. Then they will ask him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”… You cannot serve God and wealth…. Strive first for the Kingdom of God and his righteousness….
It is actually fairly easy to find many places in the Gospels where Jesus takes the side of the poor, the outcast, the downtrodden, against some figure or figures of the establishment. He holds up the poor widow in comparison with all those who gave expensive gifts. In the Kingdom of God, he reverses the positions of the poor beggar Lazarus and the rich man. In Jesus Christ, Christianity is on the side of the poor and those in need, and it expects those who are well-off to do what is in their considerable ability to help the former ones. A politics based on Christian faith will understand this and will be based on helping the poor.
Posted on May 15, 2012 at 10:42 am in Featured Content.