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)

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Politics of Witness: What It Is Not

In this second post in my series, before I attempt to clarify what the politics of witness is, I must first state what it is not. The reason for this is that no matter how many times I clarify what I do not mean, I get critiqued precisely on what I do not mean. I do not think this is because I am not clear, but because we are so immersed in what I call the Christendom context, it is extremely difficult to understand what I am saying-- after all, how would one explain to a fish that it is in a fishbowl when all it knows is the bowl?

So, one more time my account of the politics of witness is not...

First, the politics of witness does not promote withdrawal from the world. That's usually the misinterpretation of my position. Indeed, the politics of witness promotes an even more robust engagement with the world. Instead of looking first and foremost to forge an alliance with the government, the politics of witness insists that the church embody in its mission what God wants of it in order to be the light of the world Jesus wants it to be (Matthew 5:14-16). Scot McKnight puts it well:
Instead of American and Western Christians anchoring their hope in the political process, instead of waging war in the public forum for platform issues, and instead of the ups and downs of hope and despair that arise in the election process, I contend the Politics of Jesus is the Church and, in particular, your local church. 
Jesus' politics is a body of people living an alternative life. Jesus' politics is kingdom living in the here and now. Jesus' politics are not concerned with power, but the revolutionary power of love and service and justice and peace and wisdom. Jesus’ politics is nothing short of the power of kingdom holiness.
In the Politics of Jesus, we find an imagination fired by parabolic visions of a different order. We find an eschatology anchored in the act of God through his people. We find a power that emerges from the Holy Spirit. We find a community with a mission to serve its community instead of being served by that community.
Instead of exploitation, we find extension. Instead of violence, we find peace. Instead of acquisition, we find giving.
Second, the politics of witness is not apolitical. That should be obvious by the phrase "the politics of witness." The issue is not whether or not the church will be political; it is a matter of how it will be political. The politics of witness proceeds on the assumption that the church is where the true political action is and not the nation state. The Apostle Peter reminds God's people that they are a royal priesthood and a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9).

Third, the politics of witness is not a complete rejection of the nation state and the possibility that it may and must seek the common good; but it a highly qualified possibility. The Bible certainly indicates that God expects the nations to act justly and that he will hold them accountable for doing so (cf. Isaiah 10:1-19). The politics of witness does not preclude the church working with the nation on matters that benefit the common good, but that is not the primary political task of the church. Its principal political charge is to show the nations in its mission what God expects of them. When the politics of the church is first and foremost viewed as forging alliances with the state and playing power politics in the halls of government, the message of the gospel and the mission of the church are undermined. Indeed, when such alliances are forged and power games are played by Christians who have come to believe that the political action is in Washington D.C., America becomes the functional church for such Christians on the religious right and the religious left.

In order to understand this last claim one has to embrace the truth that for Christians church is our nation.

More on that in the next post.
Previous Post

1. The Politics of Witness: Introduction
More detailed Reading

Allan R. Bevere, The Politics of Witness: The Character of the Church in the World

No comments: