Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Right Political Party for Christians

Perhaps our national political discourse has always been exasperating and exhausting. Forgive me if for some reason I simply contribute more to the fatigue. But as a Christian pastor whose political theology inhabits a distinct minority position within our largely bipartisan system, I thought an Independence Day post might be in order.

So please take this for what it is, one small meditation on what it is like to not fit into any of our political parties... because theology.

I was raised a Republican. I've spent some of my adult life as a Democrat, and have more frequently voted for Democrats than Republicans. But for most of my adult life, when given an opportunity, I've voted third party.  

It's always a little bit odd being third party. Most people think you're just wasting your time or your vote. Often they've never heard of your candidate (this election, the options for president include Green Party candidate Jill Stein and Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson--who is a Lutheran, incidentally). 

Why third party? I guess there are many reasons. For one, I simply don't think that my vote has to count in the sense that one candidate or another will actually win because I voted for them. If you're a third party voter, you don't identify with either side in the dominant discourse, so it doesn't much matter to you who wins. In the end it's all some kind of neoliberalism. If you need a Biblical rationale for such a position, consider the fact that none of the prophets and certainly not Jesus or the disciples supported any of the dominant ideologies.

Foxes have dens, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head (Luke 9:58). Or Paul, For I resolved to know nothing while I was among you except for Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2; and does anyone remember the Know Nothings party? This is a very different kind of know-nothingness) 

On a side note, if you have time, read about Duverger's Law.

So what's neoliberalism, and why is it bad? The term is hotly contested, but basically it's a form of liberalism that tends to protect the freedoms and liberties of the economic sector in particular. It values the function of the private sector in the economy, typically to the devaluation of all else. The market rules.

The economy isn't all bad, and yes, I participate in it rather than exiting it (like some anabaptist communities). But our national political discourse preferences at every turn economic considerations over almost all others (with the possible exception of the security state, which I'll return to in a moment). 

Most critics of the Democrats think Democrats are socialists, but the truth is, from a truly "Left" perspective (which is the perspective I inhabit) the majority of prominent Democrats are still neo-liberals (and so are, in a basic sense, the same party as their so-called opponents). Very few Democrats are actual socialists, or hold a set of political values opposed to neoliberalism per se.

So, as a Christian, why am I opposed to the neoliberal approach to democracy? First, the poor. Notice that our national presidential discourse currently underway mentions the poor never at all. Or the working class. Presidential candidates only care about the middle class, and tailor their message to them. They then cater to the rich, and pursue policies that benefit them.

It's all about money. Just look at how much will be spent on these campaigns. Especially since Citizens United (the greatest heresy and political tragedy of our century), money gets a vote, and those with the most money get to buy the law. Money rules. 

This is what you call a plutocracy, and it's the kind of government we have today. 

I'm opposed to a plutocracy because I find no theological warrant for it. I do not find any defense of propertied interests in Scripture, and much in Scripture that warns against great income inequality. God believes it is a tragedy when some are very rich and others are very poor. God wants better than the super rich doing a bit of charity to fix the injustices they notice and decide to toss a bone at.

Not only that, but the Mother of God sang a song about it, 

"He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty" (Luke 1:52-53)

This is what you call in speech act theory a performative sentence, not only describing a given reality, but also changing the social reality she is describing. By the fourth chapter of Luke, Jesus is living out a fulfillment of what Mary sings of him in Luke 1. He says he is bringing good news for the poor. Then he does so.

Part of the reason I believe as a Christian that inhabiting a third position outside the dominant ideologies is essential comes down to this: I think the space both to enact the hope that is in us and also anticipate it is to live at the margins of political (and therefore theological) realism. As much as I like some realists and sometimes enjoy reading them (like Niebuhr, a great influence on Obama), I ultimately can't identify with them. They're too enamored of what is and so can't inhabit discursively what will be "in God."

Here's a short (and non-exhaustive) list of priorities I believe Christians in particular should lift up. The majority of our politicians keep these much lower on the list.

I am for: 

  • The poor
  • Campaign finance reform
  • Lots more taxes that fund a real social net
  • Many more checks on the power of the economic sector, and the rich in particular
  • Open borders
  • Ambitious care for refugees and sojourners among us
  • Worker justice and unions
I am against:
  • The death penalty
  • Mass incarceration and profiteering relative to a security state
  • More taxes for war
  • Corporate welfare
  • Hyper-focus on the middle class
  • Our current plutocracy
I am in favor of greater listening to the prophets and less listening to profits.

I am anticipating God's coming kingdom, and do not place my trust in the security state.

I am energized by the vision of the Beloved Community. I am not driven by the fear arising from a supposed scarcity of competing rights.

I tend to think that our current hyper-focus on security plays right into the hands of neoliberalism, which would like as many of us as possible to give away our liberty so that economic interests might benefit. Worse that selling our freedom to the rich (in which case we would add least profit from the sale), we give our freedom away so that the wealthy might further their own interests.

There is class warfare in our day, and it is probably the greatest spiritual warfare in which we are engaged in our nation. The right political party for Christians takes up this spiritual battle.

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