A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Monday, October 03, 2016

Christians and Politics: It's Time to Be an Anabaptist

I am United Methodist committed to Wesleyan theology and an Anabaptist understanding of politics. That makes me, I suppose, a high-church Wesleyan Methodist Mennonite.

David Swartz in a recent post speaks for me when it comes to Christians and politics. Frankly, it is my considered opinion that Christians on both sides of the political aisle have become too close and wrapped up in nation state politics and it has undermined our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ.

Below I briefly offer David's points, but you can read the details here.

First, American political discourse tends to conflate the purposes of the nation with those of Christian faith. Republicans and Democrats alike entice Christians to follow a common script of nationalism. Each nurtures a strong attachment to the nation and willingness to use a strong state to press its Christian agenda: the populist Right in support of the military, sexual morality, and consumerism—and the populist Left in support of social justice, tolerance, and, again, consumerism. Each side trumpets a script of American exceptionalism. If you think the Republicans are more egregious offenders, check out this year’s Democratic National Convention.

Second, both sides practice realpolitik to accomplish their goals. Anything goes in the attempt to win. Parties enforce platforms, leaving little room for dissent, and they coerce adherents into following culture war scripts. They encourage the demonization of the enemy.

Third, both sides also support an unbridled consumerism. In his book The Unintended Reformation, Notre Dame historian Brad Gregory takes stock of the Reformation’s legacy. He concludes that it sparked Western social incoherence and secularization. What now binds the West together is money. Everyone agrees to produce and purchase as many goods as possible. Gregory writes, “We have substituted a life defined by the good with a life defined by goods.” The consumptive patterns normative in American conceptions of retirement, eating habits, leisure, and the use of time are legitimated by Christians who uncritically accept existing political and economic structures.

Finally, and there are variations here, but Anabaptists generally follow a consistent-life ethic that opposes Christian participation in war, abortion, and the death penalty. But practicing a consistent pro-life stance is nearly impossible in today’s two-party system and political climate. Perhaps it is more possible to participate electorally while not trumpeting nationalism, culture war scripts, and neo-liberal consumption. But there are very few examples of this.

...Greg Boyd notes, acquiring political power is the very temptation Jesus resisted when tempted by the devil. It would have been easy for Jesus to accept Satan’s offer to reign over all the governments of the world (Luke 4:5-7), but he declined the offer.

So welcome! It’s a good time to be free from the constraints of a two-party system grounded in realpolitik. It’s a good time to invest in a robust theology of shalom. It’s a good time to be an Anabaptist.
This high-church Wesleyan Methodist Mennonite says there's room for everyone who follows Jesus. I hope all my Christian readers will consider joining us.


Andy said...

I'm with you.

Chris Eyre said...

I have a huge amount of sympathy with your view. I was originally brought up Methodist (although I don't think much of it "stuck" as I was an atheist by the time I was 9), but on my return chose CofE as being the only broad enough organisation to accommodate my rather nonstandard theological views.

No Mennonite connection, therefore. However, as I've continued to study the gospels (particularly the synoptics), I've become increasingly convinced of pacifism, of a rejection of consumerism and financialised free market capitalism, and of the concept that Christians and Christianity should stand against the "Powers that Be".

This perhaps ironic, as I'm a member of the church which Henry VIII nationalised, which is possibly a step beyond politicians claiming Christianity as "theirs" - though I don't see politicians doing that much here, if at all, and recent Archbishops of Canterbury have not infrequently "spoken truth to power", so it's not as bad as it could be.

My problem with the traditional Anabaptist non-involvement in politics is the adage "in order for evil to triumph, it is merely necessary that good men do nothing", and the democratic process offers the "approved route" for good men to do something. I did in fact act on this, and spent well over 20 years as an elected representative at a local level (for our third party). Part of why I chose them was that they weren't the vast party machines which were tarnished by being funded by capital on the one hand and organised labour on the other.

However, even the main parties are made up of individual people, and as such can be redeemed. Our Labour Party, for instance, has recently gone through what might be a quiet revolution, in which its membership expanded massively and it thus did not remove Jeremy Corbyn (our version of Bernie Sanders, perhaps); he is a pacifist and against consumerism and big business, so is rather closer to the Anabaptist view than anything we've seen heading a main party for at least the last 30 years, and probably during my lifetime.

It remains to be seen whether electoral success can follow. But there's evidence there that it can be done, even in the other country which most nearly approximates the US situation. However, it's been done by people involving themselves, not by non-involvement...

bthomas said...

Read the article. Read your comments. Agree with you. Problem is... we are confronted with the reality of a terrible evil and a lesser evil, the consequence of a political process that began with FDR, was exacerbated by the failed Great Society and all its subsequent supporters. At present the Republican Party offers a politically inexperienced businessman as it's candidate. The Democrat Party offers a candidate acknowledged to be a criminal who is only unindicted because that party controls the FBI and DOJ. It is just that simple. Neither party can turn back the fiscal clock and prevent this nation from having to face paying the price of run away spending at the federal and state level that will saddle our children and grandchildren with a debt that will challenge them to simply pay the interest due. At present... the Democrats only offer more illegitimate spending on their pet causes that like the Great Society serve as a means for them to buy votes with the taxpayers money. The Republican offer at least some possibility that such national financial suicide might be averted. For that reason alone, one can only support the Republican candidate. Add in the positions on defense, immigration, Israel, trade, etc., and that choice is only made stronger.