The following sample of resources are some of the pieces which I've read or created while thinking through the issue of politics. I attempted to use a broad selection of authors, from conservative Christians to the secular, so you can get different angles. Regardless of where you land, my hope is that you'll begin to see the world through the eyes of the gospel first, and politics second (or tenth).
Theodicies are a big deal. Whether you know the term "theodicy" or not, you probably know a theodicy or two if you're a Christian. It's pretty much required, as remaining a Christian without knowing a few theodicies would be pretty difficult. Whether you yourself have struggled with doubt about God and his goodness, or whether someone you know has struggled with tragic loss and God's seeming absence, the problem of evil is an issue we must all face and attempt to answer. In fact, the problem of evil seems to me to be one of the biggest hindrances to the faith for many today. A theodicy, then, is just our attempt at providing a possible explanation for the evil we experience and see, as well as the seeming silence of God and his goodness through such evil.
Theodicies have been weighing heavily on my heart recently. It's hard not to dwell on the problem of evil when evil so apparently abounds in the violence, racism, and abuse we see throughout the world. And it's hard not to address the problem of evil daily when it seems to be on everyone else's mind, especially on the minds of those who aren't Christians. We live in a nation where so many claim to believe in God, his goodness, and the power of prayer despite mounting evidence that those things are impotent and ineffectual in the face of evil and tragedy. Thoughts and prayers are too often given without any indication of their effectual merit, as evidenced by the next tragedy which inevitably comes. Beyond the man-made tragedies which weigh on us all, there are also those tragedies which seem inexplicable. I was talking to a former Christian just the other day and he told me that he didn't want to deal with any other Christian apologetics if I couldn't answer the problem of natural evil. I can pin moral evil on free creatures, but how can I possibly explain how a good God could exist when creation is so clearly fashioned in such a way that requires pain and death (e.g. 2nd law of thermodynamics and entropy, plate tectonics and volcanoes, storms and winds/lightning/floods, bacteria and viruses, animals clearly created to prey on other animals, gravity and our fragile bodies, etc)?
There are quite a few people in my circles who aren’t too fond of all the demonstrations which have been going on. In their minds, all demonstrations related to racial issues are "riots," and all of the demonstrations are lead by leftist, Marxist, communist, anarchists. Many of the same criticisms conservatives once levied against the abolitionist or Civil Rights leaders of old are being reused against those claiming to fight racial injustice today. It’s certainly possible that the movement today is of a different character than it was the last several times movements arose in the face of racial upheaval. But it’s also possible that we conservatives who have always sought to conserve the status quo and our power have the same modus operandi today as we’ve always had. It's possible that we are denying injustice in order to preserve our position, just as we've always done. Time will tell, I suppose, as hindsight will eventually make current events more clear. But until then, I think it's important to have a good dose of honest and difficult self-reflection.
While I don’t know whether or not my conservative community is wrong in its majority assessment of the current events, I do want to speak into my community and highlight an inconsistency which I find rather bothersome. One of the most used arguments I see from Christians against the current social movement is that to join one's voice in the outcry is to jettison, forego, or downplay the gospel. To join the movement decrying injustice and calling for societal change is to embrace the social gospel. To join the movement is to declare that the gospel is not enough. What the world really needs is not social change or the social gospel. What the world really needs right now is the pure gospel of Jesus Christ, because it is only the gospel which transforms hearts. The argument here is that the eternal is more important than the temporal, and that if you get your eternal priorities straight, a change of your heart and spiritual focus will change your actions. If you accept the gospel of Christ you will also change your actions. If we just get everyone saved, racism will diminish. It is the gospel which changes society, not social movements, so we ought to spend our time accordingly.
In all the turmoil, disagreement, and tension I see amongst Christians today, two words keep coming to my mind: obligation and preference. These two ideas are ultimately what most of our issues seem to boil down to. One group of Christians views some issue as a moral obligation, while the other group views the same issue as a moral preference. Should we take down the confederate flag in consideration of others, or should others respect our freedom to interpret and use symbols as we desire? Should we support an evil political party and/or candidate in order to accomplish a greater good, or are we able to abstain from the system? Should we tear down statues which represent great oppression to many, or should those opposed accept the good and ignore the evil in our monuments, realizing that all heroes are flawed? Should we wear masks out in public in an attempt to protect others from a virus, or should others recognize that the rescinding of freedoms for safety is a more dangerous ill? The issues are endless, but the crux of the problem is almost always the same. There is a discrepancy in how different groups think about moral obligations towards others versus personal freedoms we should be able to pursue and enjoy if we so choose.
This very dichotomy came up a few weeks ago when I had an interesting conversation about race with a few guys from church. I respect these guys very much, though we definitely disagree on various racial and political issues. As we got to talking about race, one of the men said, "I don't think there's anything wrong with white people going to a white church and black people going to a black church. We all have different preferences in music and worship style, so why would we try to force something that's going to create a church style which nobody will be happy with?" While I intuitively disagreed with the argument, I didn't at that time know how to push back. The individual viewed church diversity as a preference, whereas it seemed more akin to a moral obligation to me. After a few weeks of thought, the following is what I wish I would have been able to explore in our conversation.
Individualism is one of the great emphases of modern American culture. The value of expression, of individual value, and of individual responsibility is, in my opinion, of utmost importance and meaning. Emphasis on the individual is one of the major aspects which helps to build in Americans that characteristic tenacity, resolve, and ingenuity for which we are known. But for as worn out as the old adage is, one’s greatest strength tends to also be one’s greatest weakness.
Social justice has been on my mind a lot lately, as I'm sure it's been on the minds of many. For some, especially those who are older or from very conservative backgrounds, their ears just perked up. This idea of "social justice" still has connotations carried over from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the gospel of Jesus Christ was distilled down merely to its justice component. In the social gospel, Jesus's life was rightly put on a pedestal as an example for our own lives, but it wrongfully deposed the work of his death and resurrection. Jesus's life became largely an example for us in our world - a motivational speech to move us out to be nice and do good. This social gospel devoid of the divine is not the social justice I'm talking about.
It is amazing how my view of myself has changed so drastically in the past six years or so. It began when I started working on our diaconate, it progressed as I saw my political idolatry and consequentialism, and now it is broken wide open as I see my lack of humility with brothers and sisters of color. I always identified with God in his anger at Israel's rebellion, I identified with the prophet Hosea rather than with his adulterous wife, and I identified with Jesus and the disciples who I imagined were shaking their heads at the rich young ruler (although that's not what the text says they did, but it's what I always did). But I have begun to see that I and my community are most often intended to identify with the wayward Israel in need of mercy, with the unfaithful prostitute, and with the rich young ruler in need of humility and transformation. The following, then, is a reimagining of the rich young ruler story as told in Luke 18, with me and my community standing in for the man who proved his unbelief through his inability to act in love.
“The Politics of Jesus” has been one of the most influential books in my life. While I could glean ten different life lessons from it to discuss right now, one in particular has surfaced in my mind as of late. In the book, John Howard Yoder, the author, points out several aspects of what it means to bear our cross. Two of these observations had never crossed my mind before. First, Yoder tells us that bearing our cross is not a random event or hardship in our lives, like cancer or a difficult boss. Instead, cross is what is borne as a direct result of the lives we lead as lived in Christ, like moving to a leper colony to serve and contracting leprosy or having your boss fire you for refusing to alter information in a report. Cross is first and foremost something borne as a direct result of living a life directed towards Calvary.
Christians, like any other group of humans, have their pet peeves. For me and my group of Christians, one of those pet peeves is the objectification of others. We recognizes that the objectification of others leads to deeper and more numerous sins, and therefore, we call it out as evil. When we elevate individualism to godhood and diminish a baby in the womb to the status of non-human - when we objectify babies - a baby who gets in our way can be killed. When sexuality and pleasure is elevated to godhood and another's body becomes a mere tool - when we objectify fellow humans for sexual gratification - then we end up with the highly exploitative and damaging pornography, sex worker, and sex-trafficking industries. Christians rightly identify Jesus's teaching that objectification is at the heart of much evil in the world. In Jesus's famous Sermon on the Mount, he declares that it isn't only murder and adultery which are evil, but the objectification of others in our hatred, anger, and lust - the latter vices being the seeds of the former. Jesus is a wise man, and we are wise to follow in his footsteps.
But just as Christians have pet peeves, we also have our pet sins. One of those pet sins is, rather coincidentally, objectifying others. Whereas my group has somehow managed not to buy into the overt acceptance and overlooking of the pleasure/sex pantheon of our culture, a different, perhaps more insidious form of idolatrous objectification has crept its way into our lives. Prosperity. Perhaps Jesus should have warned us a bit more about wealth and prosperity. Maybe he should have called it out directly or told some harsh stories about it. Maybe he should have given us some foreshadowing and foundation for the problem of prosperity in the Old Testament. Maybe he should have exiled Israel for their actions stemming from prosperous indulgence at the expense of justice towards others. Maybe if Ezekiel or some other prophet would have told us that the sin of Sodom was being guilty of idolizing prosperity - maybe that would have been enough for us not to make greed a pet sin and prosperity an idol. And perhaps if Paul had excoriated the greedy more than just a few times in the epistles, or if James, the brother of Jesus would have condemned opulence and unjust labor practices, everything would all be so clear to us now. But alas!
I've always heard that it becomes much easier to understand our relationship with God after becoming a parent. I continue to find a great deal of truth in this. Right now Catalina and I have a hectic life. We have four kids under six, with two boys who are at peak craziness, and a five year old teenager. The big word running around in my mind the past few months has been obedience, because it is very clear to me that my children's obedience could significantly change how life runs right now. How do I develop obedience in my kids? If I could figure that out, it would make my life a whole lot easier. I have been thinking long and hard about how to handle my relationship with my kids, which has also begun to get me thinking about how my obedience (or disobedience) to God may have a similar appearance and patterns.
Obedience had always seemed like a cut and dry thing to me. If someone is in authority, you obey them because they said so. It's just the way it is. But as a parent, the anger which wells up inside me when my children disobey indicates to me that there is a lot more to obedience than some simple mathematical equation. When my kids straight-up look me in the eyes and disobey, I am infuriated. I have done a lot of soul searching on that, because the way I feel anger inside me is very clearly not good. It's not a righteous anger. It's a selfish anger. I recognize that in disobedience, my kids didn't merely fail a moral math equation, they offended me. Obedience is personal. Why is that?
*The views and ideas on this site are in no way affiliated with any organization, business, or individuals we are a part of or work with. They're also not theological certainties. They're simply thinking out loud, on issues and difficulties as I process things.