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.