Saturday, June 30, 2007

Your will be done on earth ... God, politics, and sinners

Here in the good old U.S.A., a number of Christian traditions have experienced church divides along liberal v. conservative lines. The differences in political views typically coincide with a number of theological differences. I have read Christian bloggers who identify with one or the other political agenda, who seem completely unashamed about expressing open contempt for Christians on the other side of the liberal/conservative divide, with no visible recognition that hatefulness and spite might be sinful rather than God-pleasing. When something is dear to our hearts and someone belittles it, there is always a temptation to bitterness and malice.

I would not for a moment tell people to ignore the world in which we live. We pray daily for God's will to be done on earth as in heaven. And in every political cause, there are those who earnestly believe they are working for exactly that: for God's will to be done on earth. Up to that point I have no objections, but more of a caution: certain types of laws do little good merely by being encoded in the law books. Trying to change hearts by mandate or to change lives by force generally breeds resistance and resentment, even if the cause is good.

Have you ever considered what happens when a politico-moral agenda becomes someone's top priority, their defining goal in life? It splits the world into pro and con. Before long, "good" is agreement with the agenda and "evil" is disagreement with it. It can become something very close to institutionalized enmity.

For example, consider what happens when women's advocacy groups and infant's advocacy groups clash over abortion. The women's advocacy groups do not see infant's advocacy groups; they define what they see in terms of their own agenda, and see mysogynists and oppressors instead of infant's advocates. The infant's advocacy groups do not always recognize the extent to which the abortion-on-demand camp is not trying to be anti-infant at all. A sensitive look at the wording used by the abortion-on-demand camp would notice that they really avoid acknowledging any infant at all, which is surely not a sign of hatred of the infant, but more likely of a deep-seated acknowledgment that if this really proves to be an infant, abortion-on-demand would be morally unthinkable. By being pro-woman (ignoring the infant) or pro-infant (ignoring the woman), we put beyond our reach any full-spectrum solution of the type that might actually work for everybody. And we cannot afford to miss the fact that it is the separation into antagonistic factions that puts a better solution out of reach.

Having strong views is not sinful; but we are sinful. There is a temptation to demonize the opponents. There is a temptation to ignore when they have a point lest it be seen as weakness and concession. There is a temptation to take the easy way out: to take our good motives as a guarantee of good perspective and good judgment. There is a temptation to miss the realities that every politico-moral agenda sets us up for both self-righteousness and enmity.

Christ was not shy about right and wrong. But he listed enmity itself as one of the things that had to go. The world (apart from Christ) has no resources to call on for reconciling between enemies. At best, the world only redefines the group considered to be the enemy; it does not oppose the general principle of enmity. But as Christians, we must oppose the general principle of enmity while holding onto the realities of right and wrong.

I wish that our conversations across the political divides did not start by assuming bad faith. I wish that each side would honestly ask the other, "Why is it you think that is the right approach to take, or the right priority to have?" and actually listen to the answer. Even if we don't agree, some good might come of the mere act of setting aside enmity and listening to each other.


Heather W. Reichgott said...

Very interesting thoughts, especially this distinction between enmity and the real differences that exist between people.
Do you think that being nice and backing down from one's own convictions is also "taking the easy way out"?

Weekend Fisher said...

Oh, I suppose it depends on the personality of the person involved. Some people are natural doormats, so that would be a real temptation for them. Other people would rather eat glass than back down ...

I've also seen people for whom politics is primary, and principles are bargaining chips.

Keeps things interesting, that's for sure.

Take care & God bless

SaintSimon said...

I very much like your balanced approach to this especially your analysis of the abortion debate. This has made me pause to look again at how I express my own thoughts on this topic.

However, I confess to cynicism, feeling that there will never be sufficient people thinking this way to achieve the critical mass required to get this approach to negotiation to work in practice.

Weekend Fisher said...

Simon, I really sympathize with the cynicism. Then I tell myself, "All it would take is for the leadership to lead and this could become much closer to the norm." And after I've thought that for a few minutes, about 70% of the time I end more cynical than I started. :)