Politics: Soap Opera (Part 2)

The life of a community is more vulnerable than public life. A community cannot be made or preserved apart from the loyalty and affection of its members and the respect and goodwill of the people outside it…As the technological, economic, and political means of exploitation have expanded, communities have been more and more victimized by opportunists outside themselves…Community life is by definition a life of cooperation and responsibility. Private life and public life, without the disciplines of community interest, necessarily gravitate toward competition and exploitation. As private life casts off all community restraints in the interest of economic exploitation or ambition or self-realization or whatever, the communal supports of public life also and by the same stroke are undercut, and public life becomes simply the arena of unrestrained private ambition and greed.

~Wendell Berry. Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community, Pantheon, 1992. p. 121

What I appreciate about Wendell Berry is that he is a compassionate curmudgeon, an unabashed rustic with an intellectual edge. From his rural soapbox he manages to define what I think I need as a follower of the Jesus-way.

Beginning in the eighties evangelicalism imagined itself to be a powerful influence in American politics. Falwell, Robertson, Dobson and others emerged as spokespersons for the religious right and champions of proactive Christian politics. Even today, Evangelicals are regarded as a significant demographic. John Fischer in his book, Fearless Faith observes that evangelicals have been identified as a “spiritual microclimate” and that the evangelical subculture is recognized one of seven defined target markets—an attractive plum in the economic and political pie.

As the media storm blows through, rather than let the levees crumble around us perhaps we ought to be asking the central question of our life between the worlds. Is all this really relevant here? The question gets to a core issue in the community of Jesus-followers. How much of what goes on in the time-bound world is relevant to the boundless world that waits? A lot less than we may imagine, I think. Much of the world of politics extends too far beyond our personal influence. In short, I am coming to the conclusion that the world of the Christ follower ought to be shrinking. Better to embrace brothers and sisters than a cause or an issue.

The psalmist said,

O LORD, my heart is not proud,
Nor my eyes haughty;
Nor do I involve myself in great matters,
Or in things too difficult for me.

The world of the Christ-follower is a world in which the highest value is that of relationship. Father has offered relationship to the world. He has offered it to whosoever will come and yield themselves to the purposes of God. Relationship, then, becomes a core value, first with the Creator through Jesus, and then to others who sojourn in this world. It is by relationship that we know truth, that is an accurate representation of what is. It is by relationship that we influence, serve and decide. When we are beyond relationship we are beyond the pale of our influence except by prayer.

The follower of Jesus should be merging more and more with the kingdom that is not of this world. The Jesus way is not about getting out the vote as much as bringing in the sheaves; or about winning the culture war as much as living authentic lives. Loving the world happens hand-to-hand and face-to-face. If such love touches politics it does so from the bottom up and the inside out, not from the top down. Should the Christian vote? If we can discern the truth of what we are voting for, I suppose so. If we cannot, we should love close to home.

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