God’s Politics

So, a link to this article was posted by a Facebook friend…

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mike-lux/how-do-christians-become_b_570361.html

The title of the article is “How Do Christians Become Conservative?”, and the meta description that Facebook extracted to display is “Jesus may not have been primarily concerned with politics, but for what politics he did have, it is virtually impossible to argue that he was anything but a progressive thinker.”

Knowing that “progressive”, just like “moderate”, is a code word for “liberal”, you’d think that this is another article written by a liberal Christian telling everyone that God is a liberal and that if you’re a Christian you should be liberal too.  And you’d be right.  Except for the Christian author part.  It’s an article written by a non-Christian, trying to explain why he’s bewildered that any Christian can be a conservative.

If you haven’t read the article, do so now.
If you still haven’t read the article, do so now.
If you’ve read some of the article, and skipped over it because you liked it or didn’t like it or whatever, finish it now.

If you still haven’t read the article in its entirety, I encourage you to read on anyway through my comments, because they’re useful, but if you don’t get the complete context it’s your own fault.  What a terrible intolerant conservative thing to say, I know.

Here are Facebook comments I posted in reply to the original post, after some commenters said things like “nice article” and “great article”:

What a terrible article – a non-Christian taking his best shot at explaining the nature of God, Jesus’ mission and teachings, the content of the Bible, heaven and hell, the church, etc. is bound to miss the mark on many counts, and he sure does. I can excuse him for not knowing what he’s talking about, but I can’t excuse a Christian for accepting his false assumptions and being dragged along to some of the places he goes.

As expected, there were responses.  I would like to thank pretty much everyone who commented for being civil.  I hope the others can say the same about me.  A guy, I’ll call him “Ivan”, said:

So you have issues with the article. Fair enough…but you didn’t mention what any of them were. And you can’t accept a christian….I’m assuming a friend of yours…..from pondering this subject? Pondering, questioning….is a good thing. People should do more of it. God forbid someone might have a different interpretation. <name of unknown person>, help me collect some rocks so we can “stone” <Original Poster> when he comes to work. =)

I should have known.  Yeah, I did have an arm-length list of issues I was typing, but I didn’t want to be the guy who monopolized the post comments.  So I replied:

Ivan – I started to list my disagreements, but it was just too long. Look for Plan B, my own blog post, where anyone can make a comment.
What I said is that I can’t excuse a Christian for accepting false assumptions about the Christian faith from a non-Christian … friends included, friends especially. Pondering, questioning is indeed a good thing – I do so from one direction just as others do from the other.
<Original Poster>, I don’t want to stone you. My beef is with the content of the article and certain thought processes, not with you as an individual. I would like to caution Christians not to use the arguments Mr. Lux uses to arrive at  his conclusions. If you arrive at a similar place and can justify it properly, that’s one thing, but not the way he does it.

I listed out some example “issues I have with the article” and said I’d follow up with a more appropriate way to expound on them, to write as much as I want to without being too intrusive into someone else’s Facebook page. So here is is:

What I originally wanted to say and had to prune it down is this:

Mr. Lux says “I am always puzzled by how people who claim to be followers of the Jesus I read about in the Bible can be political conservatives.”  There are many who would say “I am always puzzled by how people who claim to be followers of the Jesus I read about in the Bible can be political liberals.”

What a terrible article – a non-Christian taking his best shot at explaining the nature of God, Jesus’ mission and teachings, the content of the Bible, heaven and hell, the church, etc. is bound to miss the mark on many counts, and he sure does.  I can excuse him for not knowing what he’s talking about, but I can’t excuse a Christian for accepting his false assumptions and being dragged along to false conclusions.

He uses his thoughts about God and the Bible to support the notion that political liberals care for the poor and outcast, while political conservatives don’t.  Hogwash.  The trend is this (not absolute, but a trend): Christian political liberals advocate empowering a government to deal with the poor and marginalized, while Christian political conservatives advocate taking personal responsibility for such.  Why the conservative perspective?  Because when God says to care for people, he isn’t talking to a centralized government – he’s talking to individual believers.  Not surprisingly, Mr. Lux doesn’t communicate that.  Pagans can feel good about pooling their money to give to some societal entity to distribute as it sees fit and believe they’re being altruistic, but if Christians do that, they’re being irresponsible.  I don’t want to beat up on liberals (because, honestly, some conservatives weaken the conservative position by doing so) but rather offer some challenging food for thought: if we really want to help the people who need it, we should take responsibility for it ourselves — a responsibility God explicitly gives to individuals — instead of passing it along to an impersonal entity.  I say impersonal entity to be purposefully general — this could be local or state governments, a federal government, a charity or cause that’s funded by government or businesses, whatever.

If the resources over which I have stewardship aren’t taken by a government to be mismanaged, some of which gets to the people an impersonal entity determines need to be helped by it, then responsibility falls on me to use those resources to help the people I personally am determined to help.  Do I embrace that?  Do I like that?  Not necessarily, admittedly, and less than I should, but that’s the way it should be.  God mandated it.  When He (in the person of the Father in the OT through the prophets, and in the person of Jesus in the NT) tells his people to care for others, he’s talking to “me” and “you”, not to the unbeliever or to “society”.  There are a lot of issues in play – here are some that come to mind:

  • Even the most socialist liberal wacko will agree that governments are wasteful and inefficient.  If the US government collects $1.00 from me to help people, how much has already been spent because we’re trillions of dollars in debt?  Answer: all of it.  But let’s put reality on hold and pretend that the government isn’t in debt: How much of that dollar is eaten up by overhead?  You have to pay government employees to process those resources, pay their benefits, pay for the buildings and air conditioning, etc., not to mention some of it undoubtedly swallowed up by corruption (arguably more in a socialist government), overspending.  If 43¢ of the $1.00 I give is absorbed in overhead and 16¢ in mismanagement, that leaves 41¢ to go to the recipients.  If I distribute that myself, it’s the whole $1.00.  If the process is managed by a small or concentrated private group, there is incentive to be more efficient.  If that organization is Christian, the incentive is directed by the Holy Spirit.  (If you’re not a Christian, I lost you on that one, but Mr. Lux’s article is explicitly addressing the Christian perspective, so I am too).  If I find a good reputable organization that uses 17¢ in overhead and loses 6¢ in mismanagement, that leaves 77¢ to go to the recipients.  If I truly care about people, I’ll pray really hard and ask God if he wants the poor and outcast to get 41¢ or 77¢ of His $1.00 that He’s entrusted me to manage for Him.
  • As a Christian, if you embrace the responsibility to help people yourself through your own social network, you target where your resources go.  So if you have a particular affinity or desire to minister to a focused group of people like Muslims or single moms or the elderly or photographers, you interact with those people and understand their needs on a personal level, and are more able to determine their needs than someone who sits in a building in Atlanta and processes a check to send them every month.  Does that mean you don’t care about Buddhists or jobless fathers or children or painters?  Of course not, but you are making your best effort to care for a group of people you have in your sphere of influence, investing resources including money but also including prayer, time, materials, social connections, and other things an impersonal entity is ill-equipped to provide.
  • Speaking of targeting resources, if a “society” pools its resources and a central entity determines who needs what out of that pool, there is the very real issue of those resources used in a way that individuals don’t agree with.  From the conservative Christian perspective, if those resources are ultimately used for <insert heinous immoral filth here>, the control and responsibility of those decisions has been taken away from the individual.  The point here isn’t which things are bad and which are OK, the point is that individuals and focused groups are the right ones to make those determinations, not politicians and lawmakers and agency officials.

There is a whole lot more to being a Christian liberal or Christian conservative than helping the poor and outcast, but Mr. Lux (thankfully) doesn’t go into that in his article so neither will I.  Staying on-topic: certainly, the conservative is in danger of being a hypocrite by hoarding wealth as his own rather than using it to further the kingdom of the One who entrusts him with it; conversely, the liberal is in danger of being a hypocrite by substituting ‘society’ for a personal faith and integration within a community of believers.  Shamefully, Mr. Lux and others are quick to point out the former but ignore the latter.

So in terms of “helping the poor and outcast”, the political conservative approach is more than compatible with God’s will, and I would argue, even a better fit than political liberalism — assuming that either is wrapped an authentic biblical Christian worldview.   In the spectrum of political conservatives, it’s obvious that many are to some degree heartless, uncaring, ruthless, tyrannical, profit-oriented, oppressive, immoral.  You’re fooling yourself, however, if you believe that the same doesn’t apply to many political liberals.  What’s at issue here is, assuming one is a Christian, how does that Christian worldview inform the political philosophy you have regarding care for the poor and outcast?  To further narrow it down, what if you are a Christian and have a decent biblical perspective on the nature of God, sin, and the person and work of Jesus, and are at least trying to do a fairly good job of obeying His Word?  If that’s where you start, where I believe I am, then the mandate to care for the poor and outcast is to be embraced on a personal level (the political conservative approach), and not on a societal level (the political liberal approach).

Furthermore, I believe that the societal approach does a discredit to Christianity by divorcing the meeting of needs from the gospel.  Mr. Lux wouldn’t agree with me here, but I frankly don’t care: the purpose of a Christian showing love and mercy and care for people who need it is to demonstrate God’s provision connected with the gospel message, not to make them more comfortable — this isn’t to say that God doesn’t want you to be more comfortable, it’s to say that God wants you to realize that true comfort is by His provision, not by the provision of “society” or an intangible “goodness”, or a pagan deity or impersonal “spirituality”.  If we take the societal approach, we give the impression that humanity’s greatest needs are solved by governments and institutions and programs rather than by a personal God interacting personally through His people.  If the problems are addressed on a personal level by Christians, that personal interaction will (should!) include an introduction to the God who cares enough about the person to interact personally.  The societal approach sends the message “society cares”; the personal approach sends the message “God cares”; the personal approach coupled with a proper perspective on God and the bible sends the message “God cares, and by the way, let me clarify what I mean by ‘God'”.  Yes, you can fall on either side of the political spectrum and still be engaged in the personal approach, but I would argue the conservative side is no less biblical, even more so, because if the resources a person is using aren’t dumped in to society’s pot, the individual — on whom the responsibility lies —  can better target their use.

Whoa, this post is quite long.  But quite good, if I do say so myself.  I have a slew of particular logical and theological problems with what Mr. Lux says, but in order to break things up a bit I’ll make another post about them.

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