Explaining Emerging (Part 7) – Politics

The last area I want to look at in my consideration of the emerging church is that of politics. I have been dreading this moment – I have to explain something I know almost nothing about. If you follow what the emerging conversation, then you cannot avoid this subject. So here is my idiots guide to American politics…

Basically, in American politics, there are two teams – the red team and the blue team, also known as the Republicans (Red) and Democrats (Blue), right wing conservatives (red) and left wing liberals (blue). The current president, George Bush, is a Republican, and also a Christian. Broadly speaking, evangelical Christians are supporters of the Republican party, probably because their candidates are more likely to oppose abortion and same-sex marriages. These voters are known as the “religious right”. By way of contrast, more liberal Christians have tended to support the Democratic party, probably because of their stance on matters of “human rights”, environmental concerns and opposition to the “war on terror”.

The emergents have proposed that Christians transcend this polarisation with a “purple politics” that supports neither one side nor the other, but supports what is just and right wherever it is found. This certainly sounds a noble aim, but in all my reading of emerging blogs I have found nothing but disdain for Bush (and more generally the “religious right”), which suggests to be that this shade of purple might be considerably more blue than it is red.

Emerging church leaders are concerned that there are a number of key political issues that evangelical Christians have not given enough attention to. For example…

  • Concern for the environment
  • Fair trade
  • Policies that favour the poor – e.g. increased minimum wage, cheaper health care, cheaper education
  • Opposition to torture (and death penalty?)
  • More restrictive gun control
  • Less agressive foreign policy (verging on pacifism in some cases)
  • Combatting discrimination (emergents are much less likely to feel threatened by recent gay rights legislation for instance)

A look at the Wikipedia page on the US Democratic party reveals that many of these emerging concerns would cause them to lean towards voting Democrat. So what keeps other evangelicals from supporting this party? I would guess that these policies might be among the chief reasons…

  • Believes abortion to be a right
  • Likely to support gay marriage
  • Full support for stem cell research
  • Less inclined to fund or provide tax relief to Christian organisations
  • Less likely to support Christian freedoms of public expression of faith (e.g. prayer / teaching creation in schools)

Thankfully the UK world of politics seems less polarised than the American one, and yet Christians here often feel they face the same dilemma – no one party stands for all that we want to stand for, and each party seems to have some policies that are out of sync with Christian values. The emerging church calls Christians to engage in politics again, and to stand for more than just one issue. It is hard to assess how to respond. The church should beware of seeking to gain political power for itself as a means to achieving its ends. And yet at the same time, our evangelical heritage includes a number of Bible-believing Christians who made a difference by getting involved in politics, despite facing much ridicule and opposition. So politics is a subject that I am glad the emerging church has brought back into the “conversation”. The evangelical church will need a lot of wisdom and courage as we consider how we can seek to bring kingdom benefits to the world in a way that does not compromise kingdom values.

6 thoughts on “Explaining Emerging (Part 7) – Politics

  1. I can list several other reasons why evangelicals might be Republicans.

    Concern for the environment doesn’t mean favoring every policy that requires placing the environment over every other issue, e.g. requiring businesses to do things that would increase the price of retail products, lead to layoffs of low-income workers, and so on. Many Republicans believe Democratic-favored environmental policies would be very bad for the average worker because of what companies facing stricter regulations would end up doing.

    Many Republicans believe Democratic policies do not favor the poor but simply make them dependent on a system that keeps them merely subsistent. They believe increasing the minimum wage will also increase unemployment, and most workers earning minimum wage are either entry-level employees who will get a raise after a short period of employment or high school and college students working part-time for extra money while working toward a degree that will prepare them for a better job. Thus it isn’t the huge social justice issue it’s made out to be.

    There are similar debates about affirmative action. Those who favor it consider it to be morally required in order to counterbalance discrimination and serve a public interests, but many who oppose it do so because they think it harms the people it’s intended to help, including sending them to colleges whose standards are higher than they are prepared for, which leads to lower grades and not as good job prospects, when going to a lower tier school might have led to better results because of much better grades.

    I think another big issue for many evangelicals who are Republicans is national security. On the Iraq issue in particular, many see the push to withdraw as an unwillingness to take responsibility for a situation we’ve helped create, whether it should have happened or not. Some see it as a fight still worth fighting. For those who aren’t genuine pacifists, whether it counts as a just war depends in part on whether it is a just cause, and I don’t think very many think it fails on that count. The disagreement is over whether it is worth the number of people who have died, and some think it’s just national cowardice to think that it’s not worth fighting for what’s right.

    Basically, my point is that it isn’t so simple as the Democrats have the moral upper hand on some issues and the Republicans on others. Many evangelicals who are Republicans think the Democrats make themselves out to be in the right on those issues by presuming their policies will serve purposes that people in both parties agree with, when the Republican party simply has a different view on what will serve those purposes, and many evangelicals agree with them rather than the Democrats.

  2. Thanks Jeremy,

    I was hoping that no Americans would read this, as I’m sure I grotesquely over-simplified things! You make a good distinction between what moral values we hold and what policies we think will promote those values. I guess we find it hard to believe that those who favour different policies could actually be “one the same side” as us when it comes to moral values. And vice versa, we could find ourselves voting with those with whom we do not share values simply because we both feel that the same policies would further our own differing adendas.

  3. Actually, I think you did a good job of representing how a lot of evangelicals at the popular level see the choices. It was when you were looking at motivations for why so many are Republicans that I think you capture some people’s motivations (which are more mixed because of some draw to Democratic views on other issues) but not others (who are more consistently Republican in outlook).

  4. Mark, I have really enjoyed this series and will link to it soon. I am a ministry coach at a church in the Midwest of America, but was born and raised in the UK.

    Rick Warren [who probably wouldn’t be described as emergent by many] has recently colored outside the lines of traditional views of church and politics. He seems to be able to fuse social awareness, with moral clarity and change the conversation from Christians just voting based on a candidates views on abortion and homosexuality. I wonder if he is a pastoral version of Bono! The media and other church leaders are struggling how to label him – I like it!

  5. Thanks Andy,

    I haven’t read much Rick Warren myself, but I do think that it is good if Christians can make a name for themselves as those who genuinely care for justice and for the poor. This should not be at the expense of our stand on other moral issues. Perhaps then both “right” and “left” leaning parties will realise they cannot take the vote of certain sections of Christendom for granted, which could enable the church to make a real difference to the priorities and directions of these parties.

    At the same time I am concerned that the church does not get into the attitude of saying to polititians – “here’s the problems we care about, you promise to fix them and we’ll vote for you”. There is a real opportunity for us to take the lead in laying down our lives in service for others, which the government will take notice of when they see the resulting transformation of society and often respond by funding similar projects. I think there is already evidence of this sort of thing going on (e.g. Soul Survivor’s Eden Project in Manchester).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *