Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Politics of Faith

Faith might be one of the more difficult things to explain to others, but it might be even more difficult to identify it in others. So many of us (and them!) seem to define faith in a manner that insists upon political manifestations of our theology. How many people voted for the current president because they felt that he was representative of “Christian” values, hoping that the faith of George Bush might somehow prompt some god to erase the evils of liberalism. Political power, while possibly a more abstract idea for some, seems to be the primary task of much of Christendom in the United States, as if though YHWH might only be made real through the ballot boxes of liberal democracy.
This is not just a problem of Republicans on their knees, however. There is much of the same behavior evident among the more left-leaning church-goers, spiritualists, and of course, Quakers. I still recall the time I ran across bumper stickers for John Kerry on the table at Meeting, and the time that some Friends engaged in vote-trading with Nader supporters in other states.
It is troubling that faith in God, or a persons’ theology, is often most visible during an election cycle. Gratefully, not many Quakers seem to suggest that their vote reflects the will of God as some other voters or politicians have done. But just the same, many of us seem to have a faith that is more informed by our personal socio-political desires than by a community of faith that reflects a revelatory experience of the divine nature.
Quite often, Friends are defending the Peace Testimony as a political construct, instead of a corporate experience of God. Of course, it might be argue that the Peace Testimony originated as a political construct - or a political necessity – and that may be true. But the foundation of the Quaker Peace Testimony is the tradition of the Believers’ Church that takes seriously the example of Jesus. It is, inherently, a statement of faith in the example of Jesus as the proper reflection of YHWH’s desire for human relationships. Without Jesus as the central aspect of our witness, the language of the Peace Testimony loses its intelligibility.
Yet, when we strive for the political implementation of our witness to peace as the primary manifestation of our faith, or the most appropriate means to an end, not only does it relieve us of the responsibility to sacrifice on behalf of our belief, it relaxes the importance of a community of faith committed solely to providing an example of faith, so that others may know what peace looks like. How dare I attempt to legislate an ethic that I cannot fully engage in as an act of faith. How dare I engage in legislating what is inherently a voluntary act of sacrifice for an individual or community.
I would like to vote for the redistribution of wealth, but I fail to properly share my own. I would like to vote for an end to war, but I so enjoy my privileged consumer status as an American. I cannot in good conscious vote my faith, because I am in no position to ask others to follow a path that I cannot navigate.
Yet, I also have certain beliefs that I try not to compromise (though I often fail). One being that, in the example of Jesus, dominance and power are located furthest from the edges of the realm of God. If Jesus is reflective of God’s desire, then loving one’s enemies and praying for those who might persecute us takes priority over the dehumanizing of political opponents as being less than God’s beloved. It takes a lot of faith to believe that God will work for peace and justice over and against the machinations of human politics. It takes even more faith to live them out alone amongst an unfaithful world. As for voting, well, it simply lends credibility to a system that thrives on domination and power.

1 comment:

Nancy A said...

There is a lot of content in this posting.

Essentially, what happens when we take the tasks we receive from the Spirit and try to implement them into a nonreligious political structure? Do we increase the spread of love and peace, or do we walk away from it, assuming it's being done by others?

It reminds me of "slacktivism," that form of activism that consists of signing email petitions and hitting the Enter button.

Yet despite our scorn of slacktivism, the internet is proving to be a pivotal force in world affairs. So maybe this slacktivism isn't as slack as we assume it is.

Politics certainly does seem to take good intentions and turn them into "organized lovelessness." And yet, when you put together all the tiny influences -- each vote from a Spirit-influenced person, each slacktivist hit of the Enter button, each improvement in government institutions -- in the aggregate, they contribute toward creating a kingdom of heaven on earth. Each of these acts subtly influences others, reduces strain, lifts aspirations, and relieves complaints, all of which makes more room for the Spirit.

But this requires an aggregate movement of change, not just one change on one issue in one area, but a broad, slow transformation.

One final question: To what extent does the particular political structure of a country (its election format, its parties, its traditions and constraints, etc.) limit, control, or shape the possibilities for the Spirit within the political structure? Maybe part of the problem is the political machinations themselves, rather than the political activities of Spirit-minded people.

Great post.