A Christian’s Conundrum of Politics And Theology

What is a conundrum? For the purposes of this post I’ll go with “a confusing or difficult problem or question”, according to Dictionary.com. It’s what happens when weighing two options, both of which have benefits and costs. The goal is to determine what will have the maximum benefit with the least amount of costs.

I have a some conundrums, both in politics and theology. The conundrums create tension, especially in light of competing views. Politics first. I’ve long since been a registered independent because my convictions concerning governance of the economy and society have never squarely fit into a partisan system. I’m a believer in the free market and understanding the significance of capitalism as the engine of the economic sustenance. Government intervention is needed as a regulator of the capitalists enterprise. Otherwise, greed would undermine the benefits of the capitalist system.

But on the other hand, government does have the responsibility to all of it’s citizens. Optimum government occurs when the economic engine has the maximum benefit for all society.  Here is where I turn socially moderate and deem some social programs necessary for the sake of the whole. I’ve worked in the non-profit sector for the past two decades on behalf of low-income, disenfranchised and poorly skilled citizens. The superficial remedy of employment is tremendously challenging for some for a variety of reasons that are sourced in disabling conditions. Now that is more than just physical ability but socio-economic factors that are deeply rooted in cultural fabrics.  Government intervention is needed to maximize what is beneficial for the whole of society.

I suppose you can call me a compassionate capitalist. So I have a conundrum both in my philosophy and it’s reception. How do we maximize capitalism for the benefit of the economy and care for the needs of all it’s citizens?  Unfortunately, our society is partisan and polarized. One one hand, you have conservatives who support capitalism, small government, minimal social programs and strong rights of citizens. On the other end of the spectrum, you have liberals who support benefits for all citizens, government intervention and provision of social programs, which may impede on free rights

Sometimes it is difficult to express conundrums. If I speak of social programs and benefits for the poor that are government backed, the liberals smile while the conservatives balk and might even label me liberal. If I speak of government taking efforts to fuel the economic engine, such as tax cuts, the supporters of all the work I’ve been engaged in the past two decades look at me funny. Then you throw citizen rights into the picture, and its’a mixed bag for me there, too. So what to do?

Now looking at politics and public policy through Christian lens, creates more challenges.  My conviction grows that Christians of all people should have a heightened sense of the Imago Dei, that mankind is created in the image of the one who loved the world so much He came to rescue us. When we see people, we should see who and what God cares about. We also should care about society as a whole, since it comprises the people God cares about. We should care about humanity and God’s creation.

I’ll save conservative vs. liberal for the next post.  But I’ll confess now that I am somewhat dismayed on how we conflate conservative theology with conservative politics, so that support of small government and free rights actually produces a lack of care and concern for God’s creation. In fact, I am often appalled at the way issues of immigration, health care and poverty are often addressed amid conservative Christians. We should not sound like heartless bigots, but often we do.  I don’t know why it is believed and practiced that free rights trump love that we are to show to our neighbor. And yes, the immigrant, the welfare mom, the struggling uninsured worker, and the homeless bum we walk past every day and  are our neighbor to which Jesus provides a blanket prescription to be concerned about.

On the flip side of the equation, I do question how Christians can give wholesale endorsement to liberal policies and politics.  Some things are just antithetical to a Christian worldview and ethics. I also think at some point we have to question the absurd spending spree we’ve seen in the last few years, which is extreme even by Keynesian standards. I surely get that society benefits when the least common denominator is raised, but at what expense? We have a future to think about.

It seems right and fitting that we Christians care about how our country is run, that we care about policies that are detrimental to Christian principles and that we care about how the government ensures for an optimal free market and support of constitutional rights. But it also seems right and fitting that we care about the people it impacts that goes beyond our right to whatever. In fact I think that can be somewhat hypocritical for extreme supporters of free rights.  To think our right to free (whatever) is ok but someone else’s right to (whatever) is not. Another hypocrisy? Sanctity of life. That means caring as much about the human after he or she gets here than before they were born.

Like I said, conundrums. Am I right in thinking this ought to create a conundrum for the Christian?

3 thoughts on “A Christian’s Conundrum of Politics And Theology

  1. hd August 4, 2012 / 9:50 am

    This is going to be all over the place…

    This is indeed a conundrum. What the bible says about how we engage with civic entities is… pay your taxes. Now as Christians we know that freedom of speech doesn’t affect our relationship with God. That relationship is personal. However as human beings we know that we like having the freedom to say what we want to say. As Christians we want others to be comfortable and content so we would want that for others (because of the love of God that we should have for others). So our political or even social engagement can be propelled by our Christianity. Our finger wagging is not because of our faith. That’s just us wanting people to be like us. It just sounds good to attribute our bossing people around to God, because you kinda win the argument when “God said it”.

    Sooo…. Christians are not automatically conservatives. They aren’t automatically liberal. Human beings with strong desires, likes and dislikes have political leanings. By confusing political ideology with Christianity, we are confusing the world about who God is. At this time in history, Christians are the biggest deterrent to salvation.

  2. ljrobinson August 4, 2012 / 10:23 am

    Hazel, great comment. Love this line “Our finger wagging is not because of our faith. That’s just us wanting people to be like us. It just sounds good to attribute our bossing people around to God, because you kinda win the argument when “God said it”.” We can’t question motives but it does make me wonder.if protests are motivated by God’s love or our comfort. Indeed, there is confusion.

  3. hd August 4, 2012 / 5:42 pm

    My third grader processing :o)

    About the whole Christian thing. How did the saints in the bible engage with the world, authority and even civic entities? Noting that the way these people behaved changed the world; ignited a fire which resulted in millions coming to Christ.

    Stephen: A man who had been appointed to feed the widows… admittedly, a tough act to follow. But he’s the example in the bible. Acts 6:13a “Some men agreed to tell lies about Stephen”. I’m guessing (I could be wrong though) that his character is not to be viewed with popcorn and coke in hand, for the dramatic climax and entertainment of it all. We are supposed to learn how to be Christian from this guy. Firstly, Stephen spoke a very strong message of divine judgment, however it was motivated by a loving and gracious spirit. Stephen was “full of grace”. An interesting point is that Stephen is talking to people who KNOW scripture. He quotes scripture as his sermon. He indicts them based on the Word that he knows THEY KNOW. He is also not defensive. Lastly, he knows what the outcome of his stance will be. While it isn’t fare, just or democratic, this is what the Christian did. Now Stephen the citizen may have been able to lay out a good legal defense for himself.

    The conundrum is greater because of the belief that we are a Christian nation. We believe that “Americanness” compels one to know Christ. We speak very strongly the message of divine judgement, quoting scripture to those that don’t know scripture. It may also be said that we do so with an ungracious spirit. We also do so not expecting the worst outcome. Because we have rights, cause we are Americans. :o)

    Paul: Knowing that its not going to go his way, he returns to Jerusalem. Acts 21:28b “This is the man, that teacheth all men every where against the people, and the law, and this place: and further brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath polluted this holy place.” Us against them? Later when Ananias orders him to be hit in the mouth Paul says “God will hit you. You sit there to judge me by the Law of Moses. But at the same time you order men to break the Law by hitting me.” He then acknowledges his own breaking of the law when he says “Oh! I didn’t know he [Ananias] was the high priest. The Scriptures do tell us not to speak evil about a leader of our people.” What we begin to learn about Christianity is the mission, telling people about salvation in word and deed. We learn that no matter what goes on around us, BEING in accordance with God’s word, is paramount. It felt right to smack Paul because he appeared to be doing something outside of the law. But the law was against the smacking of people :o). It felt right for Paul to call Ananias out but the law was against him doing so. So why is this in the bible? We are not operating under the law, right? We learn how to be Christian; how being transformed looks like. It will feel right to react or respond to the things that seem to be against how we interpret the Word. But what does the word say about how we should respond? As those that were saved by GRACE, how should our response ALWAYS be like?

    If we really want to SHOW THEM (the truth), we could dare to be courageous by demonstrating Christ. We could dare to be humble, no matter what. We could dare to be forgiving, no matter what. We could dare to confess our transgressions, no matter what. I don’t know though, that doesn’t feel good. It’s actually really scary. Good luck with that saints of old?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s