Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live faithfully...in the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

As the party conventions begin here in the USA, it's time to open the gates to a little bit of political dialogue (I hope) in order to get all of us thinking and praying about how our faith convictions apply to our civic responsibilities.

This election year, more than any since the days of Jimmy Carter, people of faith are divided and undecided regarding their vote. The marriage between Republicans and Evangelicals has been annulled. There are many reasons for this, including some large theological shifts in the emerging church (which I’ll hope to address later), and a sense of betrayal on the part many who feel that the promises of limited government and ‘compassionate conservatism’ turned out to be hollow words, as expansive executive powers, spiraling national debt, curtailing of health care benefits to children, and unilateral military actions became the voice that drowned out campaign promises.

As each of us pray, ponder, and share together regarding the vitally important subject of how our faith intersects with both our politics and our nationalism, we should be wary of presumptions that any party is wholly ‘consistent’ or wholly ‘Christian’. For now, let’s consider the consistency piece for a moment:

I’ve always found it intriguing that my friends on the right are so deeply opposed to ‘government intrusion’ and ‘government control’. They want their private rights as individuals to, among other things, buy assault rifles and drive cars that get 4 miles to the gallon. They resist government intrusion at the corporate level as well, preferring to self-govern business practices, including everything from waste disposal to whether the CEO can make 800 times the wage of the entry level worker or not, and whether that entry level worker should be given a living wage and access to health care since one visit to emergency room can cost more than 2 months salary for him/her. ‘Hands off’ is the cry. ‘Let the market forces determine what’s right.’

But then, in a stunning reversal of philosophy, this same party moves into the most private corners of people’s lives, regulating who can marry and what woman can do with the fetus in their womb. “The judgment of the people is not be trusted” they say as they push for legislation in these matters. “Abortion is a moral issue” they say as they try to find judges to move the supreme court in a pro-life direction (ironically, this comes from the party who often accuses their friends to the left of using the judicial branch to change laws rather than uphold them). The same party that calls for economic libertarianism, is quick to appeal to the need for government control in these personal matters because ‘the moral fiber of the nation is at stake.’

Yes. I tend to agree with my friends on the right that the moral fiber of the nation is at stake, and that the judgment of the people is not to be trusted – but not just in these personal matters. Isn’t the moral fiber of the nation also at stake if 47 million Americans are at risk of losing all their assets with a single health care crisis (and that’s just the number of uninsured – the fact is that those of us who have insurance are increasingly at risk as well due to eroding benefits and escalating costs)? This too is a moral issue. Is the fact that people in service industries, (people upon which most of us reading this depend for access to daily necessities) are being squeezed out of the range of ‘living wage’ due to both inflation, economic downturns, and corporate greed, not a moral issue? Are our dependence on foreign oil, easy access to assault rifles, corporate environmental degradation, and the irresponsible business practices of the banking industry and big oil not moral issues too?

The same critique exists, of course, for my friends on the left, who so clearly call for regulations and laws to protect ‘the common good’ from the evils of unregulated corporate greed, but who are suddenly libertarians in all matters at home. “What I do with my body is nobody’s business but my own” etc. etc.

Why would either party call for liberty in one area of life (private or public) and government control in another, claiming that humanity isn’t to be trusted? The right legislates ‘morality’ and lets the economy and environment run on the good will of the people. The left legislates the economy and environment and calls for libertarianism in the private lives of people. Of course, I’m generalizing here and the conversation is actually more complex than this, but still, these are the tendencies. Who’s correct?

If we go back to the founding fathers, we discover an inherent mistrust in humans with power, rooted, I believe, in a basic understanding of our nature as fallen creatures. Thus were the three branches of government designed to provide a mutuality of checks and balances. What was unforeseen at the time was the rise of global corporations to places of prominence even greater than the government. I wonder how our founding fathers would have reacted to companies whose annual income exceeds that most countries? I have a feeling they would have put cautions in place to prevent the abuse of power there, just as in the other branches of government. And of course, as a country becomes increasingly pluralistic, its ‘private’ values also must come under increasing scrutiny. Do immigrants from strong patriarchal cultures have the ‘private’ right to keep their daughters home from school, preventing them from learning to read? If I’m to have liberty at home, can I have two wives, or six, or ten? Can I beat my children if they’re disobedient? Here too, it seems that some protocol and basic values need to be articulated as a means of saying, “We the people… believe….”

So you tell me – what’s to be legislated and what’s to be left alone? How you answer that question will, no doubt become a huge determinant in how you vote this fall. But please don’t tell me that either party is consistent in applying their principles, because they’re not. That’s why I’m independent.

18 Comments:

At 26/8/08 11:09, OpenID natekey said...

There may not be too many other Libertarians commenting here, so I thought I'd throw in a couple thoughts if that's OK:

I'm not completely against government. I think the federal, state, and local governments provide a framework for our interactions and provide some barriers to anarchy and individual greed that unfortunately result in "everyone doing what's right in their own eyes."

But consider that phrase for a moment because I think it's relevant to this discussion. In the OT, there's a great narrative to learn from: "In those days, there was no King in Israel and everyone did what was right in his own eyes."

This phrase usually preceded or succeeded some sort of terrible event where the people rebelled against the law and God. It seems like the writers are about to make an argument for Big Government, right? Bring on a king, because it's the only way to solve this individualistic culture of loose morals, violence, and oppression. In fact, that's what eventually happened. The people looked at their neighbors and thought- "they have a King, we should have one too!"

But then something interesting happens. God tells them through the prophet Samuel that it's not what they really want. He tells them that a King will only make things worse. He'll take their money and their land- he'll basically enslave them to his wishes and send them off to war on a whim (sounds like our US foreign policy?).

But they didn't heed God's advice. Instead of looking to Him for provision and strength- they decided that the government and powers of this world were much better suited to run their lives. In effect, they refused to live under God’s rule and demanded a human king to rule over them. They got what they asked for, but in the process, they missed out on the connection that comes from complete dependence on God. And from that day forward we’ve seen countless examples of people rejecting God’s strength and God's rule in exchange for something tangible- something human.

I wanted to mention this because I think it's relevant to the debate over government assistance and what people are entitled to from the State. I don’t want to fall into that sort of preoccupation. We have the chance to be Jesus to our neighbors! Why would we want the government to take role from us? Besides which- when people help other people, a spirit of community forms through generosity and thankfulness. That doesn’t happen when they receive help from the government. When an economic stimulus check or education voucher comes in the mail, no one is grateful to the government- it merely perpetuates a cycle of entitlement. We begin to feel like we have a right to whatever comes our way.

The same thing can happen anytime we place these sorts of expectations on an organization or institution. The reality is- God is in charge of meeting people’s needs, not the President or Congress. Sure, sometimes God chooses to work through those mediums and when He does, we rejoice! But we must not assume that simply because He’s meeting peoples needs through these other avenues that they are the best possible solution!

With that in mind, here's my impression of the founding fathers' intent:

First, to create a system of government that firmly protects the Life, Liberty, and Property of all citizens.

Second, to place reasonable limits on the authority and jurisdiction of the central, federal government by creating a division of power (the three branches) and giving States and Cities all powers not expressly given or forbidden by the Constitution (they did this so that the power would be decentralized and would have less of a "corruption potential.").

Third, to create a nation that only used war and violence as a last resort- although the country and its citizens always have a right to defend themselves (this probably falls under the right to "life, liberty, and property" but with preemptive war as an option these days, I thought it would be good to separate this out to make it clear that the founding fathers were NOT interested in interventionism and imperialism)

It's not a perfect model. And in fact, the second part of their intent was practically dismantled in the aftermath of the civil war (I don't approve of slavery, but stripping States rights was one of the worst moves possible. It served as the beginnings of big centralized government, national debt mentality, and corruption- I can comment on that later if anyone wants to know how I can be so brazen as to suggest that we could have avoided a war and still eliminated slavery!).

But I believe the original plans of the founding fathers was to create a country where we had limited government- primarily to combat the evils of tyranny out of control (which is the warning Israel got). Even if it's well intended, I don't think that inviting MORE government into our lives is a good idea. I want to invite more of JESUS into my life, sure, but more of Congress? No way!

And I agree with this concept on the morality side as well as the economic side. I don't think the Government has any business defining marriage (keep Church and State separate, thank you very much). I don't think they have any right to tell a business how much it can pay a CEO, either (if some company wants to blow billions on one single person, let them fail trying as far as I'm concerned).

The only area where I tend not to agree with Libertarians is in the idea that a woman's right to choose trumps the life of another human being. I personally believe that Life wins every time. Unless there's a serious medical problem where multiple lives are in jeopardy- we should always side with the protection of Life over the protection of choice. Siding with choice is a slippery slope that gives individuals another false reality of entitlement. We're not entitled to choice under our government- we're entitled to Life, Liberty, and Property.

I'm a Libertarian because I think it matches the intent that this country was founded on... One where people weren't dependent or expectant on government. One where government was an afterthought. One where people were free to worship as they wanted and obey God's call rather than the beckoning of the President.

 
At 26/8/08 12:39, Blogger Ryan said...

Richard, I like your thoughts and totally agree. The difficult thing for everyone is choosing which inconsistencies we choose to align ourselves with.
I am glad that most Christians are no longer blindly following the wishes of a select few organizations that supposedly represent all of our values.

 
At 26/8/08 13:54, Blogger Raymond said...

Funny that you wrote on this today. Guess it's time I made a confession. I've been campaigning for you. I think you could do a better job than any republican or democrap. I put this video together for you kindof as a joke, but it’s totally caught on and you wouldn’t believe the responses I’ve gotten! There is a whole grass roots community rallying for you. I kinda posted it on YouTube & Facebook. Hope you’re don’t mind. I’m stoked about all my friends and others that think you’d win!!! It’s spreading like fire… Please don’t be mad, Richard. You’d make a great President!!!

http://www.thelopezfamilyonline.com/play.php?first=Richard&last=Dahlstrom

 
At 26/8/08 21:53, Anonymous donte said...

Richard—
Thanks for articulating the grave tensions of political partisanship. I can see why one might be tempted to remain independent rather than joining a major political party. In 2000 I was an independent, but I voted for Bush. In ’04, I was an independent, but I voted for Kerry. I was hoping of course that my status as an independent would somehow allow me the freedom to remain true to my morals and convictions, but at the end of the day I still had to vote for a republican or a democrat. Both of these political parties share some of my convictions and morals, but neither shared all of my convictions and morals. My point is that I am not sure if there is anything to be gained by aligning oneself as an independent, libertarian, or any other minority party. Come November, our next president will be selected from one of our two major parties.

My president of choice would be a pro-life progressive, but of course in 2008 neither candidate fits the bill. Rather than remain neutral or independent I’ve chosen to register as a democrat, but I will challenge my party leaders and do whatever I can to move us towards a higher glory. I’d rather be proactive within a party rather than merely continuing to pontificate about the ills of the political system without doing anything to change it. My fear is that there are many moderate Christians who are opting out of the major party system, because they do not feel that either (democrats or republicans) fits them perfectly…and these are the same individuals who could have the greatest impact in changing the political landscape in America.

 
At 27/8/08 07:22, Blogger Living-dom said...

What's to be legislated and what's to be left alone? I agree with natekey that very little should be left to the government.
Federal - foreign policy and national defense. Also, protection of the bill of rights--I know that's a sweeping statement, but some coordination to prevent anarchy and individual greed.
I also recommend that major focus be on state and local elections despite the media focus on one presidential race. Our state and local representatives make decisions that affect our daily lives, often how federal money is to be allocated and spent, among other things. Please take time to focus on these elections and make an informed vote. The August 19 turnout in King County was less than 20% and some primary races were quite close.

 
At 27/8/08 09:07, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.

One of the main issues is the two party system, which has truly turned into voting for Dumb or Dumber. Very few of the candidates have the publics interest at heart, and are so spread out in their commitments(due to donations) by the time they reach office, they are hogtied.

This was truly the first year that I realized the crux of becoming President of the United States. You have to be wealthy. In a country where everyone loves it when a child says they are going to be President when they grow up, and people actually think there is a possibility.

Class structure continues to separate by leaps and bounds. By class structure, I mean the 1%, and the rest of us. There is very little hope for political change, until a person of the people ends up in the position to become President.

The choice between Republican or Democrat is moot. People believe what they hear nowadays, as long as they hear it often enough, and it isn't too complicated.

We have been convinced that changing opinions as we learn about new information, is flip flopping, or cutting and running...and all the rest of the cringe worthy catch phrased we've hear over the past 20 years.

The best thing I have done is turn off the TV, and stop listening to the garbage coming out of the talking heads.

There are quite a few countries that have figured out decent ways to take care of their people. Norway, Sweden, Canada, Finland...you would think that with the amount of brainpower in the U.S. we'd be able to figure out a solution for our own, simply by cherry picking the best of each country.

Obviously this is not a concern of the people in power or that 1%.

 
At 27/8/08 13:40, Anonymous Deborah said...

Be involved in politics, or not, as your conscience and the Lord leads you but just don't put your hope there.

"It is better to trust and take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in princes." Psalm 118:9

 
At 27/8/08 13:46, Blogger postcall said...

Richard --

I find your last paragraph intriging. You declare your independence from the two inflexible party platforms available, which is understandable. But you, as a Christian, presumably endorse without reservation the entire platform of social and moral values outlined in the bible, which is also difficult to interpret in its understanding of personal and societal obligations. (I'm not saying it's wrong. Just inconsistent.) Your response reminds me of my friends who like to cherry pick from the parts of various religions they agree with, saying that they find any one religion too confining.

As a Christian, there are aspects of morality that I have been taught to believe. I will never understand them. But because of the things I do understand about the bible, I believe in these things by faith, and even advocate for these positions. As a result, I am willing to claim membership in Christianity, knowing full well that my "platform" can be inconsistent and sometimes at odds with the prevailing wisdom. I feel that the church is as human of an institution as our political parties. Is it not reasonable to claim membership with a political party and its platform, inconsistencies and all? I'm not saying that I encourage it, but I don't find it to be the evil that you suggest. I find striking parallels in the way party loyalists approach their party and the way I approach my faith.

E.J. Dionne's most recent book, "Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics After the Religious Right," touches on some of the other topics you mentioned. Hopefully you've seen it.

 
At 27/8/08 15:54, Blogger bunabear said...

*****That’s why I’m independent.*****

Bravo! Me too and a moderate/centrist

Over the weekend I was trying to expand the labels a bit and I came up with "Liberaservative" :)

Brilliant post Richard, thank you.

 
At 27/8/08 23:53, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It has been my experience that most Christians cherry pick the bible, and most people choose their political party based on cherry picking certain moral hot topics.

The obvious hot topics being sexuality, prolife/choice, the death penalty etc. It amazes me to see a person be prolife, yet be pro death penalty. Where does that fit in? Isn't there a commandment that covers killing? I believe so.

Labeling someone or something is dangerous, and polarizes each person/community/nation. It backs us into a corner, similar to ultimatums. Black OR White. Hot OR Cold. With US or Against. You choose, as we will judge you by your choice.

What is wrong with allowing people to think and interpret things differently based on their experiences? What is wrong with changing an opinion as new things come to light?

Didn't God give us the ability to reason and make rational decisions? Are our choices in political and religious parties so easily defined that we can be labeled? I certainly hope not, otherwise we are just a bunch of sheep, and will continue to repeat history. I know I don't want another 8 years of the same old.

I spend my days with people of all different opinions about religion, about politics, and everything in between. What most lack is tolerance and forgiveness.

I say pick the best person for the job, and unfortunately any intelligent person will HAVE to cherry pick. Pick the cherries you agree with on each side, and you'll see who you actually stand with.

I sometimes even surprise myself with how many cherries I have on certain issues.

 
At 28/8/08 08:22, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Our nations motto...

E. Pluribus Unum(Out of many, One)?

More like...

Non Sequitor(It does not follow).

A previous post asks how can someone be pro-life and pro death penalty? There lies a great example of why we as a nation are so divided. If we cannot see the difference between protecting innocent life and punishing evil we have failed to teach the most basic of reasoning skills. We fall into this trap in countless ways. The Creation-Evolution debate is founded on the same non-sequitor problem. Most of today's science begins with there is no God, therefore evolution (chance has produced everything, and I mean everything, not just life). Simply looking at mathematical odds precludes the very possibility of chance being responsible for our universe and yet... Some say there is no justification for war. Okay, then let us eliminate the police force at home as well. Let's get even more basic and say that freedom is a God given right. Then any laws whatsoever are unjust and all should be abolished.

Simply because A is true B must be true does not mean that if B is true A must then be true. We need clear thinking and that is an element this fallen world cannot often provide. As Christians we are called to be Light in a dark world. We should have the advantage of an eternal perspective and be able to see beyond the false promises of politics. Read the Old Testament and there is little doubt that either party or candidate offers us real hope for any change that will benefit the poeple at large. Their change will primarily benefit that party and candidate to extend or maintain their hold on power.

So to Richard's question, "what’s to be legislated and what’s to be left alone?" Our best hope lies in following God's law as best we can. The ten comandments and the New Testament guidelines may well be unattainable in this life, but they still remain His guide for our highest good. But we must remember that no salvation is found there. We have all rejected the Law. We must legislate to protect innocent life from evil life or the evil of the world will rule all. I believe natekey is correct that legislating charity from the government achieves only a bandaid on a mortal wound. A society that learns to care for its innocent will trump a government attempting to do the same.

So let's not be fooled thinking Obama or McCain hold the answer. Let's look hard into our hearts and determine which might truly best protect the innocent from the evil. That must be a corporate government's first priority.

 
At 28/8/08 09:14, Blogger bunabear said...

The last “anonymous” poster, quoted the previous “anonymous” poster:

***A previous post asks how can someone be pro-life and pro death penalty? There lies a great example of why we as a nation are so divided. If we cannot see the difference between protecting innocent life and punishing evil we have failed to teach the most basic of reasoning skills.***

I concur with the “anonymous” poster who wonders that a true complete sanctity of life position seems to be missing in some Christian circles. We call the pre-born “innocent” and the prisoner “guilty” and this is a bit confusing. For the sake of the conversation, let’s say it is true.

Well then two questions come to mind:

#1 – What is the percentage of the innocent on death row? You know, the wrongly accused by our unequal justice system.

#2 – Where is the opportunity for redemption in even the guiltiest of prisoners?

Not to change the subject, but I just don’t get the double standard when it comes to some of the pro-life folks.

 
At 28/8/08 15:44, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This response is a bit of a tangent from the idea of moral issues, but it is something that needs to be addressed when it comes to viewing our government and the documents that outline its powers and where we fit into it all. Here is the quote from Richard’s post: "I wonder how our founding fathers would have reacted to companies whose annual income exceeds that most countries? I have a feeling they would have put cautions in place to prevent the abuse of power there, just as in the other branches of government."

I would argue that, in fact, the founding fathers did see this coming. These men were some of the brightest people of their time. The signs of large, powerful, international corporations were already forming by the time the Constitution was being written. The two examples that come directly to mind are the (Dutch) East India Trading Company and the book "Wealth of Nations."

By the mid-18th Century, the East India Trading Company, as an institution, already ruled most of Asia as a result of trading. Many of the early investors in the company made billions of (in today's) dollars. (I would be willing to bet that many of our founding fathers even had some stock in this company.)

In "Wealth of Nations," Adam Smith outlines the ideas of Capitalism and corporations. While some of the founding fathers did not agree with what was written (Alexander Hamilton wrote a refuting essay on it), the fact of the matter is that the book was being read and implemented by governments and companies around the world.

To say that our founding fathers did not see this coming is downplaying their intelligence. I think it would be more correct to say that they did not know how to go about solving this shifting world paradigm, along with many moral issues. And this is where "we the people" fit into the government. The founding fathers allowed us, the people, to direct our government throughout the changing of times. It is our responsibility to run the government. Most of these posts make it sound like it is us and the government. The government is not a separate entity from the people. If our government has become corrupt and broken, it is only because we ourselves have become corrupt and broken.

To steal a quote from a movie (bonus points if you know the movie), "Our 'founding parents' were pompous, white, middle-aged farmers, but they were also great men. Because they knew one thing that all great men should know: that they didn't know everything. Sure, they'd make mistakes, but they made sure to leave a way to correct them."

 
At 28/8/08 18:15, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I must admit (as a "pro-life folk")that I fail to see the equality of the most innocent of souls, those being the estimated 40 MILLION aborted children in our nation since Roe vs. Wade, and the relatively insignificant number of "possibly" innocent souls wrongly convicted (and actually executed!) which by any fair measure is still the best justice system in this world. I would guess that statment makes many cringe and for those I have little to offer. I am continually amazed by how some rationalize killing unborns and seek to protect the worst of society on such thin "possibilities" of misjustice.

 
At 28/8/08 19:48, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not rationalizing. It is respecting good ol' commandment #6. If some are unsure of what all 10 are, it is Thou shall not kill.

We all understand that if a death occurs as we protect ourselves, families, friends, it is simple survival.

However, there is a big difference when someone has been caught, tried, and put into confinement...when a government or people still choose to kill him.

Where is the mercy and forgiveness for these people who need it most? #6 does not give conditions on when it is okay to kill.

I know this example has brought us into a tangent that hopefully can be constructive and not destructive.

We need to be forgiving, understanding, and show kindness to all. Even in the harshest of circumstances.

Somehow, someone has read into my commentary that we should also get rid of protective forces like the police force. Get serious.

There is so much I want to write and say, but would only get onto more tangents.

 
At 29/8/08 20:20, Blogger Greta said...

Hi Richard. My name is Greta. I go to your church, and I respect the thoughts you air to get us thinking. Thanks for getting us thinking. :)

I actually wrote a politically-related blog on the same day you posted this one, describing how my views have transformed as I've started thinking about how people make decisions. I'd really appreciate your thoughts on it, if you have time, it's at http://laveedoonfee.blogspot.com/2008/08/my-two-cents-on-future-of-world.html

See you Sunday!

 
At 8/9/08 21:35, Blogger From the Woodlands said...

To the "pro-life folk" anonymous poster, I just have to say: "Right on!" about the lack of reasoning skills present in many of those around us, and also on our responsibilities as citizens to participate in molding our government to be one that reflects what we as Christians see as the greatest good -- that is, leaving this country a better place for our children and grandchildren.

Some good books to read on this are "A Christian Manifesto" by Francis Schaeffer and "Why You Can't Stay Silent" by Tom Minnery.

 
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