Monday, November 14, 2005

Go Team!

Welcome to another one of my rare postings on current events and politics.

This story is a bit stale now that the one time U.S. Supreme Court nominee named Harriet Miers has withdrawn her name after weeks of facing blistering opposition from President Bush's own conservative political base. I am not about to rehash her fitness to serve on the Supreme Court or my feelings about the current nominee whom the President named just a few days ago.

What I do want to write about is the subplot of the whole Miers saga which probably only the worst of political junkies among us recall today.

The weekend before President Bush officially announced her nomination, his chief advisor Karl Rove called James Dobson of The Focus On the Family to share Miers' evangelical Christian background and her strong Christian faith. The information that Rove shared with Dobson was not at the time available for public consumption, but was meant to assure the conservative religious broadcaster who commands a very large national following before the news broke out.

James Dobson, when many of the President's conservative allies balked at Miers' nomination, stepped forward to declare his support which he based in part due to "confidential" information he had received during a phone conversation with Karl Rove.

I was very bothered by this.

I was very disturbed by the picture of our prominent Christian leaders flexing their political muscles and brandishing their close ties to some of the most powerful people in government. I was not, to say the least, heartened by the image of Christians being in the know and privy to the information limited to the very few and privileged in the corridors of power.

Am I supposed to go to bed tonight feeling assured because "our guys" are now rubbing shoulders with the movers and shakers of the most powerful institution in the world? Very few Christians that I have talked to seem to be bothered by our cozy relationship with those in high places and many even think it's great that we are now "a force to be reckoned with." They believe that the head of the most powerful nation in the world sharing our deeply held belief will go a long way in bringing about positive changes to America and the world.

The head of the most powerful nation sharing our Christian faith ...

Doesn't this sound a bit familiar? Haven't we been down this road before? Didn't this happen when a Roman emperor named Constantine, who after seeing a cross in the sky before he won a battle, instituted Christianity as the civil religion of the empire?

Constantine's move was hailed as the greatest triumph of the faith by the Christians at the time after nearly three centuries of intense persecution and marginalization. Not only did the emperor issue an edict to legalize Christianity, but he went onto finance churches and seminaries and placed Christians in powerful positions in government. The faith was vindicated not just by the commoners who made up the majority of the Christian community, but by the Emperor of the greatest and most powerful nation on earth.

The Christians had become a force to be reckoned with.

The "greatest triumph of the faith" also marked the beginning of unprecedented church corruption which gave birth to some of the most heinous crimes committed against humanity. Quickly forgotten was how the church grew through martyrdom and peaceful means in the centuries leading up to Constantine's edict. Now war, violence, and corruption had become the trademarks of the church.

I do not mean to decompose this issue into the familiar debate over the separation of church and state. No way can the complexity of the issue be addressed in a short blog essay.

But I agree in general that we Christians should permeate through all parts of society including the political arena. But it seems that we are permeating through, or at least perceived to be, only the political arena and little else. It is a problem when a particular brand of politics, no matter how much sense it seems to make, becomes our identity and dwarfs the gospel of Jesus Christ.

While there is no way I can describe what the role of Christians ought to be in a short essay, something that John Roberts said during the Senate confirmation hearings stood out to me. John Roberts, as many of you know, was recently confirmed as the Supreme Court's Chief Justice. He likened the job of a judge to that of a baseball umpire. As an umpire, you do not take sides. You make calls on what is right and wrong to the best of your ability in order to ensure the fairness and impartiality of the game.

Even though Roberts was describing how a judge should conduct him/herself, what he said got me to think about how Christians ought to behave in politics as I thought about what it must be like to be a judge in a stadium packed with partisan and boisterous spectators. This small group of men quietly but resolutely makes calls in line with what they believe is right. A call goes in favor of the home team, much to the delight of the crowd, and the next moment, another call goes against them, infuriating the same crowd.

But throughout the whole game, this group of men promotes justice and fairness without taking sides, undaunted by the abuse and ridicule heaped on them by the rancorous crowd.

Granted that this analogy fails at some point since most of our "calls" aren't legally binding, but the picture of promoting righteousness and justice without taking sides seems much more line with how we should behave in the political arena.

But the reality is that in the stadium of American politics, we dress up fully in Republican uniforms on the field, pack the stands with pro-Republican pom poms, and hysterically and unabashedly root for our favorite political party. When a "teammate" from our side gets caught engaging himself in dubious activity, we seldom call him out because doing so will only create an opening for the opponent. Examples are plenty.

Once we take sides in the political arena, winning becomes the primary objective at the expense of righteousness and justice, leaving the message of Jesus Christ clouded and destroyed by our partisanship.

It's happened before many times and it is happening now. Again.

It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually, it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes, not through states, not between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts. So, bless you, prison, for having been in my life.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago


At November 15, 2005 5:49 AM, Blogger Max said...

Hear, hear!

At November 15, 2005 6:37 AM, Blogger Bruce said...

I was always told that there are two things you don't talk about in polite conversation: religion and politics. Today they are almost one and the same. I had a hard time reconciling my conservative upbringing with the Democrats. Now, as my faith has grown is more moderate and fluid, I find it difficult to reconcile with either party.

Interesting thoughts David.


At November 15, 2005 8:05 AM, Blogger A thinker said...

You are so right, David. Wow, once again I find myself agreeing with you wholeheartedly. . .Americans in particular too often confuse the political kingdom with the Kingdom of God. . .a mistake Jesus surely should have rectified when he said "my kingdom is not of this world". He studiously avoided any attempts to make him King in earthly terms.

Good stuff.

At November 15, 2005 9:38 AM, Blogger curious servant said...

I don't mind Christian leaders usining their influence, nor does their name dropping irk me overly much, but "i dislike them saying that I endorse this or that and you'll just have to trust me.

Spit it out or don't. Enough of the trying to lead us blindly. The only one I follow blindly is The Good Shepherd.

At November 15, 2005 3:41 PM, Blogger Silent Thunder said...

Very well written David. I agree that religious organizations, Christian or otherwise, should involve themselves with the issues rather than the candidates or parties. Their agendas in the political world should focus on justice, morality, equality, righteousness, etc.

However, we should be careful in discouraging lay Christian individuals, even those that are prominent, from exercising their political right (and I believe obligation) to participate in democracy. Unfortunately, but realistically in order to be effective in this country, that often means aligning oneself with a political party that best fits one's value and belief system. Remeber that there are very prominent, even ordained, Christians on the left. Most Evangelicals have Republican uniforms on, but I'm not sure that most Christians do. I whole heartedly agree that our identity as Christians ought to always be superior to our identity as Democrat or Republican and it's a shame more aren't willing to have that courage. I think the real problem though, and you said it better than I could, is not so much about political involvement; rather it is the corruption that seems to flow from money, power, and fame. Perhaps the solution is not distancing Christians from political parties and agendas, but really being Christian when we say we are. Good post! I enjoyed it.

At November 15, 2005 5:14 PM, Blogger David Cho said...


Thanks for the kind words. I think that because of the Founding Fathers' Christian principles (highly disputable, but that's for another day), American Christians tend to have trouble differentiating the two kingdoms as you noted. And as to how Jesus characterized his kingdom, I use that all the time to dispell the dispensationalist ferver behind the staunch pro-Israeli stance. I agree with you. His kingdom was not of the world back then, and it is not now, and it will not be.

At November 15, 2005 5:22 PM, Blogger David Cho said...

Thanks. Is the CD ready yet?

That is a great observation. These days, because of the prominence of evangalical Christians in politics, political discussion often turns into religious discussion and visa versa. Not a good thing. Thanks.

I agree with you. Their endorsements should not weigh any more than yours or mine.

Thanks for the kind words. No, I will not discourage any Christian from exercising their right. But it is their right they should be exercising, but not mine. I have a problem when they take a certain position and call it "Christian" as if they are speaking for me. It is theirs, and theirs alone when they take a position.

I understand the expedience of using a political party as a vehicle to accomplish one's agenda. But the trouble comes when we become a branch of a particular political party thus holding ourselves hostage.

Amen to what you say about being Chrstian when we say we are.

At November 16, 2005 8:25 AM, Blogger Max said...

Hey David,
We have a target date for release of early March. I will get you a copy as soon as it's completed.

You're in line right after my mom and dad... ;)

At November 16, 2005 4:38 PM, Blogger David Cho said...

After your Mom and Dad and before your wife????

At November 17, 2005 9:51 AM, Blogger A thinker said...

y'know, though, after thinking about it a bit, there *is* room for Christians influencing/getting involved with politics. . .e.g. Wilberforce and the abolition of slavery. The kingdom should, I think, have some positive social effects in terms of Christians taking action against societal evils. Let's think in our day of the sex trafficking of children, or the horrors of Darfur, African poverty and AIDS, etc. Sometimes these issues require a political, but perhaps not a partisan, voice.

Interesting subject. . .you've got me mulling over it quite a bit. Maybe the subject of a future post (not to steal your thunder).

At November 17, 2005 8:12 PM, Blogger David Cho said...

Absolutely agree, A.T. Bringing about changes through politics can happen, but it is the "us against them" mentality that has been a huge problem.


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