2 Sides of the Same Coin
Here comes an unremarkable statement: Liberal/Mainline Christians and members of the Christian right have similar approaches to political activism. Access to the nation’s highest office, in the North American context, the presidency, is the aim of all American Christian political activism. It is the dependence on the Executive branch in the hopes that she and her cohorts will execute God’s will on earth, whether it comes in the form of the progressive leftist agenda of the Christian Democrats or the restorationist vision of God-fearing Republicans. My experience as a Black Christian has impacted me tremendously in seeing the error of many African American churches embracing political candidates on Sunday mornings. My most vivid memory of this is when an underdog Democratic candidate for US Congressman in Kentucky’s 3rd District made an appearance at a church my family and I used to attend (it was a megachurch). Indeed, the pastor did recognize the candidate in the crowd and allowed this candidate to speak. I do not remember any members of the congregation protesting and I held my outrage at this offense on the inside (until now)
I am a Bible-believing Christian (someone who believes Jesus the Messiah is the path to the Father and who believes that Scripture is fully trustworthy) but as someone who has come to embrace the Anabaptist Christian tradition, I do believe in the Separation of Church and State (the disconnection between political and religious institutions). My undergraduate studies in religion, especially my class on the State and Church relationships made the difference. Then, as a seminarian, I encountered the work of Stanley Hauerwas, first through his book with William Willimon, Resident Aliens. One of my favorite quotes from that work goes, “Jesus’ eschatological teaching was an attempt to rid us of the notion that the world exists indefinitely, that we have a stake in the preservation of the world as-is”(Hauerwas and Willimon 1989). Christians nowadays believe that with every issue, the church needs to dive head first and baptize American democracy in Western Protestant imperialism. We only have to look at the culture wars to find Christians who believe that if they can change public policies or vote the right way, they can change people’s minds and hearts.
The Politics of Prayer
The first, and most subversive political action a Christian can take is to stop whatever she/he is doing and close their eyes, and pray. If we take the example of Nehemiah, for example, we see a couple of things in Chapter One that can aid those aspiring to be Christian social activists. First, Nehemiah addresses God in God’s Godness as God had revealed Godself to the Judeans. In other words, Nehemiah speaks to the great and awesome God of Israel who “keeps His covenant,” who “gave Moses the law” and who had “chosen a dwelling place for His Name.” (Neh 1:5,7,9). Nehemiah does not call God by anything Nehemiah so chooses; rather, Nehemiah knew that a relationship with the God of Israel and all other human action depends on the right knowledge of God and God’s revelation. A concrete example of this would be the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s where African Americans would go to church and praise God before they convened their protests. It was a full reliance on God, and not any one branch of the federal government that aided in the struggle for equality. Remember, the first step to Christian politicking: F.R.O.G.- Fully Rely On God!
Hauerwas, Stanley and William H. Willimon. 1989. Resident aliens : Life in the christian colony. Nashville: Abingdon Press, Page 88.