Left and Right - Needing to be Ambidextrous
I've done a quick read through of the popular book God's Politics, by Jim Wallis. In my estimation, there's nothing earth shaking here, nothing that the church shouldn't have been saying all along. However, it's divisive and earth shattering for two reasons:
1. The church hasn't been saying these things (at least, not the conservative churches that are trying to hold to the basic historic tenents of the faith). Recently (in the United States), the evangelical church has been wed to the political right. At a level, it's understandable. We're concerned about moral anarchy, the fruits of which are seen in abortion, and rising divorce rates, and a floodgate of violence in our culture, both in the media and in reality. There's a sense that we need to recover 'family values'. But somewhere in the midst of the conversation, Christianity became solely associated with the abortion, homosexuality, and the right to teach creationism in public schools. This has the effect of misrepresenting Christ in a big way!
Wallis' message, then, is news. The idea that there are other moral issues can be quite shocking. Aren't poverty, and pollution, and colonization, and the question of whether any particular war is just also moral issues? Some on the right would say that, yes, these are moral issues, but they would hasten to add that a 'free market' is the moral high ground, or that opening the Alaska Wildlife Refuge for drilling is the moral thing to do. Some may argue this way, but not most. Most will simply say that the moral issues have to do with sexuality and family, and the economic issues are just that; economic. Interestingly, Jesus talked about money a great deal more than he talked about sex. I wonder how we've come to reverse the conversation.
However the conversation has shrunk, the reality is that it has shrunk, and Wallis' teaching, though it's been around for a long time, is now coming to the forefront in expanding the conversation so that economics and ecology, war and water, are also moral issues. This is as it should be, but it might be jarring to us.
2. Wallis' teaching is also divisive for another reason: We like labels. Reviewers who don't like his stuff are quick to call him a 'liberal' and, as if it were October '04 all over again, that label is supposed to inject fear in the hearts of good people everywhere, and exonorate us from needing to listen to anything he has to say. Certainly he has liberal positions. But is protecting life in the womb a classic 'liberal' position? Not the last time I checked! Labels are dangerous because they polarize. But they're also dangerous because they end up misrepresenting a person. And we do ourselves no favors, especially as Christians, by aligning ourselves with any one political party.
The recently deceased Pope offers us a good example here. Is he on the left? He's opposed to the death penalty, opposed to the war in Iraq, and opposed to unrestrained capitalism as it seems to entrench some in cycles of poverty. I could be writing about Ted Kennedy! Is he on the right? He's pro life, opposes the ordination of women, and opposes the possibility of homosexual unions. He's further to the right than most people I know who are on the right.
How do we dare characterize the kingdom of God as either right or left? The kingdom of God is, as Jesus said, a kingdom 'not of this world'. Our responsibility is to stand apart from both political systems and critique our culture by holding it up against the kingdom ethic that Jesus taught us. But more challenging still: our calling is to embody that ethic as a community, so that our neighbors can see justice and mercy, hope and forgiveness, love of enemies and celebration of life - and see it embodied in a life together.
Go ahead and read it... if you can do so without dismissing everything by giving Wallis a label. The only label we need: disciple!