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Christians, political participation, politics

>The Case for Christian Political Participation

>To get my feet wet, I am going to be a little bit of a wuss and link to an article. The article is from Right Reason and they often write excellent pieces. This piece appears to be just the beginning of a series. It is pretty good and should generate some good discussion. Let me know what you think about it.

Christian Political Participation
by Jeremy Pierce 7/31/2007

Having presented the Augustinian background to my approach to Christian political interaction, I want to move now to an application of Augustine’s principles to contemporary American politics. I should say that I write as an evangelical, with particular views on what Christianity amounts to and what the church is. But these are views that I believe I share with Augustine, and thus those who are not evangelical may well agree with me on enough of them to arrive at similar conclusions.

I want to keep two kinds of questions separate. First, there are Christian motivations for certain views on how Christians should seek interact politically with the rest of society. Second, there are political reasons that might appeal to people who are not Christians regarding how much role religion should play in political decision-making. I want to focus on the first question in this post. For now I’m ignoring questions about what Christians (or members of any religious group) have a right to do politically, to what extent it is legitimate politically, morally, legally, constitutionally, etc. In other words, I’m leaving aside what sort of role religion should have in the public sphere as a general question that people of different faiths and people of no faith could all agree upon. I’m simply considering what a Christian should be motivated to think about these issues…(Click here to read the rest of the article in its entirety)

*Updated*

The rest of the posts in Right Reason’s “Christianity and Politics” series can be found here. Also, you might be interested in reading the next post in the series titled Religious Motivations in Politics.

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Discussion

8 thoughts on “>The Case for Christian Political Participation

  1. >Jeremy, thanks for responding.I think your examples are actually telling. If the distinction between making acts illegal from the top and working within an evil system for good is to amount to anything, then it’s because of the differences between those two categories of actions. But that difference has nothing to do with religion. You can make the same distinction within most moral theories.In this case, would you consider both of those kinds of action political? The way you framed the paragraph I cited at first, every example you gave seems to assume that the “political realm” involves some sort of top-down action. Hence I assumed that your “political realm” was indeed the circumscribed place that I described. Perhaps a bit of a definition of “political” from you would help.Your case of supporting a war relies on an interesting ambiguity in the term ‘support’. I was using the term to mean political support, i.e. accepting that those who made the decision to go to war did the right (or at least morally acceptable) thing. I did not mean providing material support, which can be willing and conscious, unwilling but force, or unwilling and unawares. The moral issues for that sort of thing are important but have nothing to do with religious motivations for political views, which is what I was talking about.My counter-question, then, is what makes “to view” a political action. Seems to me that providing the currency for weapons and for payrolling those who use the weapons does more political work than does “viewing” an invasion this way or that. I’ve got some other questions as well, but for now I simply wonder why “to view” is the verb that you link with your “political realm.”I’m going to respond briefly to your section to Jeff as well:Obviously no one has any problem if I bake cookies for my neighbor or change a stranger’s tire while motivated by religion. But those are in a very loose sense political acts, because they involve other people. No, I was talking about things like advocating a certain policy on the part of the government, speaking as an elected representative for such a policy, supporting a Supreme Court justice nominee, voting for a referendum, and supporting a certain elected official (in the sense I outlined in my response to Nate, not in his sense of providing material support).Again, I think that late-twentieth-century definitions of “political” as they have become “political news” and “political coverage” have constrained your views. The only options you present are suburban niceness and opinion poll-taking. I would argue that with a more robust, Aristotelian definition of politics in place, one could imagine a far greater range of political actions and political realities, and if one works at it, one could even imagine the Church as polis, living in the world and yet not being of the world. (I just made that last part up; you can quote me if you’d like. 🙂 ) Moreover, a look at the Catholic resistance movement at the end of Pinochet’s regime, the Catholic Worker’s Movement in Europe, and a handful of other political actions initiated not by national governments but as the Church acting as Church will reveal that, even in an age when nation-states and multinational corporations will point to any square inch of creation and say, “Mine,” Christians still in fact have other political options.

    Posted by Nathan P. Gilmour | August 27, 2007, 3:06 pm
  2. >Nathan, I’m not sure how my argument assumes that “there is one ‘realm’ called the ‘political’ and that said realm’s boundaries are marked on maps on which we all agree.” My point is that there isn’t an in-principle argument against allowing religious views to motivate political views and actions. The fact that some cases are more complex doesn’t undermine my general point.I think your examples are actually telling. If the distinction between making acts illegal from the top and working within an evil system for good is to amount to anything, then it’s because of the differences between those two categories of actions. But that difference has nothing to do with religion. You can make the same distinction within most moral theories.Your case of supporting a war relies on an interesting ambiguity in the term ‘support’. I was using the term to mean political support, i.e. accepting that those who made the decision to go to war did the right (or at least morally acceptable) thing. I did not mean providing material support, which can be willing and conscious, unwilling but force, or unwilling and unawares. The moral issues for that sort of thing are important but have nothing to do with religious motivations for political views, which is what I was talking about.Jeff: Hmm, I’m not sure about the nothing to do with politics part. That depends on what you mean by “political” which I think Nate touched on before. I was using the term in a more restricted way than Nate was. I was talking about the kinds of things people say shouldn’t be motivated by religion. Obviously no one has any problem if I bake cookies for my neighbor or change a stranger’s tire while motivated by religion. But those are in a very loose sense political acts, because they involve other people. No, I was talking about things like advocating a certain policy on the part of the government, speaking as an elected representative for such a policy, supporting a Supreme Court justice nominee, voting for a referendum, and supporting a certain elected official (in the sense I outlined in my response to Nate, not in his sense of providing material support).On consequences, my claim was that one way to evaluate moral arguments is with regard to whether it has the consequences it’s supposed to have. Affirmative action is supposed to help African Americans get into better colleges and then to get better jobs. If it turns out that it hurts them in getting better jobs for whatever reason (as some conservatives argue), then there is a dispute over whether the justification for the policy is based in a true prediction of its consequences. Whether it has that consequence has nothing to do with religious views. Of course religious views might have a bearing on whether a consequences is good, bad, or neutral. But that’s irrelevant to my point, which is that many disputes are over what the consequence is (when all sides agree on which potential consequences would be bad).

    Posted by Jeremy Pierce | August 25, 2007, 9:49 pm
  3. >I just updated the post and added links to the other posts in the series. The most recent article is seems to be a continuation of the one that I posted.

    Posted by J.Wizzle | August 17, 2007, 11:27 pm
  4. >”The highest calling of the Christian, indeed the Christian’s most important moral obligation, is to love God, and that requires loving one’s neighbor. In applying this point, Augustine insists that loving one’s neighbor involves seeking what is good for those around us, including those who are not themselves Christians.”I agree with this starting point. We are engaged in politics due to the love we have (or are striving to have) for our neighbors. Political solutions may not be the way to demonstrate love for others but it is a way. Leaving politics to others is leave these political solutions untouched by this particular motivation (love your neighbor). “Other things might simply be for the sake of people’s wellbeing, e.g. caring for basic needs such as hunger or providing for someone’s wellbeing longer-term and on a higher level by means of friendship. There are lots of things I can do to love my neighbor that have nothing to do with politics.”Hmm, I’m not sure about the nothing to do with politics part. That depends on what you mean by “political” which I think Nate touched on before. “Such conclusions depend in part on whether policies have the consequences their proponents think they have, which isn’t necessarily going to involve any Christian assumptions.”The consequences themselves (intended and actual) and our appraisal of the consequences are directly related to Christian assumptions or the lack thereof. Not sure how big a deal to make of that in relation to the article as a whole so I’ll keep reading.”Given the framework Augustine has presented, it follows that a Christian has a moral obligation to participate in such means to seek to love neighbor to the best of one’s ability.”I agree. But I think this is evident whether or not one is operating from an Augustinian framework or not. Something tells me that this is probably an easier conversation to have in present-day America. Rather, I should say, acting upon this moral obligation to participate will look different depending upon the political setting. Thanks for posting this, Jon. I’m sorry we didn’t generate more discussion. Its not too late!

    Posted by Jeff Wright | August 17, 2007, 10:50 pm
  5. >Ha! I was really just kidding. 🙂

    Posted by J.Wizzle | August 14, 2007, 10:33 pm
  6. >”…even if no one else did. :)”Man, that hurts. 🙂 I’ve been trying to find time to read the article. Things have been crazy down here. I’ll try to read it tonight.

    Posted by Jeff Wright | August 14, 2007, 9:43 pm
  7. >Thanks for your thoughts, Nate. I thought that you might find the article interesting…even if no one else did. 🙂

    Posted by J.Wizzle | August 14, 2007, 8:21 pm
  8. >Not a bad blog post, Wizzle.I suppose my most systemic problem with the author’s take has to do with how he sets up this paragraph:But what about the political realm? Love of neighbor can spur many a policy proposal. Typically liberal positions are officially motivated by love of neighbor. Universal health care is supposed to provide for a basic need that all have. Entitlement programs in general are intended to care for those who most need help. Pro-choice views on abortion are supposed to be motivated from a concern for women and girls who find themselves pregnant when (the argument goes) there is little other choice but to abort. Typically conservative views can also stem from a motivation to love neighbor, however. If universal health care has overwhelmingly bad consequences, as many conservatives believe, it is not in fact the best way to love one’s neighbor. Pro-choice views are generally not concerned about love for the helpless fetus. Similarly, pacifists and war hawks can also put their views in terms of love of neighbor. Pacifists point to the death toll and claim that supporters of a war are not loving their neighbor in allowing so many to die. War hawks claim that it is impossible to respond in love to whatever injustice prompted the war in question if we do not protect the innocent, bring evildoers to justice, and so on.The author seems to take as granted that there is one “realm” called the “political” and that said realm’s boundaries are marked on maps on which we all agree. Not so.For instance, I would call lobbying for Supreme Court justices something different from setting up and living in residential crisis centers for pregnant women. The former attempts to criminalize an from above, while the latter lives justly within an unjust system, providing real mercy as an alternative to abortion’s counterfeit mercy. Now a reductionistic account of the two actions could say that they’re both “pro-life” or “anti-abortion,” but I think that such common denominators do little justice to the kinds of politics that are possible.As another example, the people he calls “pacifists” oppose wars in different ways and for different reasons than I do. For instance, I hope that I’ve never claimed and will strive never to claim that people who cheer for a nation’s war is “allowing people to die.” Moreover, since my family makes more more money and thus pays more taxes than do some recently-graduated College Republicans, I’d say that I “support the war” (to say nothing of “supporing the troops”) than they do. That I refuse to kill people and teach Christian teenagers to do likewise is not necessarily intended as an assault on one elected official or political party, but it’s certainly political.My big point, I suppose, is that I agree that Christians are to work for the shalom of the city (Jeremiah 29:7), but I would disagree that the realm of popular-elected public officials is the best place to seek that good.(Okay, so even my blog comments are long-winded. Jeff, is there some kind of code to truncate blog comments? 🙂 )

    Posted by Nathan P. Gilmour | August 13, 2007, 4:33 pm

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