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A dialogue on abortion and the politics of Jesus…

February 17, 2009

With the permission of my conversation partner, I am inserting all the emails we exchanged in sequence.  My intent in my blog post from February 15 (EMS class assignment to engage with Stuart Murray, Post-Christendom) was never to misrepresent in any way V.’s perspective.  In the interest of open dialogue with the common goal of discernment and faithful living in the way of Jesus, I post the sequence of emails below. This is an open space.  I welcome any voice who is willing to add comments.  I would ask that they be offered with a tone of respect toward differing views.  Civil discourse.  A noble goal.  May we be willing to hold our deepest convictions together with an awareness that we also see through a glass darkly.  That none of us sees as God sees.  This should produce a healthy measure of humility and gentleness of speech.  May we each consider ourselves students of wisdom and may we be willing to hear that voice through the community of discernment.

Brian,

Greetings in the name of Jesus.

A couple months ago I heard about a dialog you were having about the issues surrounding Barack Obama’s presidency … specifically the issue of abortion.

Since the election I have become very concerned with the number of Christians I have encountered who see no inconsistency between their Christian faith and their support of an extremely pro-abortion candidate for president. I was wondering if you would be open to having a conversation with me about this issue. It seems like an email dialog would be the easiest but I’d be up for getting together when we’re in town to discuss it face-to-face as well.

Thanks Brian. I’ve really appreciated the deep love that I sense among the people at Sunnyside and I recognize the part you have played in fostering that environment through the Spirit of God.

May God convict us of sin, shower us with His grace and guide us into all truth,
V.

V.,
Thanks for your invitation to conversation around the issue of abortion (and more broadly how our faith informs our politics).

For a constructive conversation to take place, I believe is important to be as transparent as possible not only about our perspectives/positions, but about the underlying assumptions which shape those perspectives.  With that in mind here is a bit of self-disclosure to get the ball rolling.

1.  I am pro-life.  However, my pro-life stance is not limited to the issue of abortion.  I believe a consistent ethic of pro-life needs to encompass all issues related to the sanctity/dignity of human life.  This certainly includes abortion, but would also address things like medical ethics, war, and quality of life issues in situations of poverty where issues of injustice come to bear on human life.  Abortion is an egregious desecration of human life in holy womb (Ps. 139).  So is war.  Some will say, yes but a fetus is defenseless.  And so, I would assert, are those civilians who just happen to be living in the wrong place and at the wrong time in history.  So they become “collateral damage” in the clash of powers (just?).  How do you place different values on human life?  Is a fetus more sacred than an 80 year old civilian woman in Iraq or the Gaza strip?  I would say they are each sacred, and our politics should take this into consideration as we discern how best to choose leaders.

2.  I believe that no candidate or political party fully represents all the issues that Jesus is concerned about in his kingdom.  Therefore, any vote or election result must be seen as compromising some kingdom values.  I would agree with you that Obama (in some of his positions and actions) does not fully represent the interests of the kingdom of God.  No delusion here as to Obama being a messiah who is going to usher in the kingdom of God through a holy empire (Christendom).  I would argue that there were also things about Bush’s presidency which fell short of the way and teachings of Jesus.  Your statement:  “I have encountered Christians who see no inconsistency between their Christian faith and their support of [Obama].”  I am acknowledging that Obama doesn’t represent my views fully as a follower of Jesus Christ.  Would you be willing to acknowledge the same about Bush or McCain?  Would you see any tension with some of the policies and decisions of the Bush administration and the kingdom of God?

3.  Because my allegiance is to the kingdom of God, I don’t expect government leaders to fully be aligned with the politics of the kingdom.  I wonder if you share this assumption.  So we make value judgments.  What is most important at this time in bringing about the righteousness, justice and peace of the kingdom of God?  I would not discount the authentic faith of Christians (like yourself) who make different value judgments than I do regarding how a commitment to Christ and his kingdom influences our politics.  I do think open dialogue like this can help us understand how our common commitment to Christ, his church and scripture should shapes our political perspectives.

I look forward to your response and the ongoing conversation.  I confess Jesus as Lord and share your desire to be a faithful follower.  May we be granted wisdom and discernment as we seek his Kingdom first and as we seek to make visible his way of love, peace and justice in our broken, hurting world.

Blessings,
Brian

Brian,

I’m really excited that you’re willing to engage in conversation over this important issue. Thank you for taking the time. I know how busy a pastor’s life can be. I agree with you when you say that we must examine, not only our positions but the underlying assumptions that inform our positions. So, let me start by following your example of self-disclosure …

I believe that legal abortion is amazingly evil and represents the most hideous violation of social justice in our time. There are three beliefs that serve as a foundation for this one.

First, an unborn child is a person; a fully human person. With respect to her humanity she is equal to any born human being. This means that the same protections that we offer to a postnatal human being should also be offered to her.

Second, the act of abortion is a willful, violent and tortuous end to her innocent life. Perhaps the most graphic depiction of this is the documentary produced by former abortionist Dr. Bernard Nathanson entitled “The Silent Scream”. In his documentary Nathanson shows a video ultrasound of a baby that is in the process of being aborted. During the video you can see the baby squirming and contorting in an attempt to escape the reach of the abortionist’s instruments … Her heart races to abnormal levels as she is literally torn apart, limb for limb. Finally her lifeless head is crushed by the abortionists forceps and removed from the womb. At several points during the abortion the baby opens her mouth in agony as if to let out a painful scream or cry of distress. This is what Nathanson calls “The Silent Scream”. I have been around the pro-life movement most of my life, I have seen the pictures of dismembered and mutilated infant body parts … but the first time that I saw this video, I put my head down on my desk and wept. I prayed “Oh my God, are we legally torturing and killing thousands of babies every day? Yes, yes we are. God forgive us!”

Let me illustrate my third foundational belief by way of analogy. Let’s presume that there was a modern American politician that supported a measure making it legal for a mother to kill her child by dismemberment as long as they were under the age of one. He might say that, due to the difficulty of raising a one year old, the child’s presence would upset the mothers mental health and affect her quality of life. The politician might argue for this measure based on his belief that we should not intrude on the most private of family matters. He might even argue that legalizing homicide in this case would reduce the number of incidents of child abuse which would, in turn reduce the number of hardened killers which would effectively reduce the number of adult homicides. Really that would be a GAIN of life in the end, right? You might even be able to call that “pro-life”. What do you think our reaction would be? What should it be? In our country if a postnatal child or adult undergoes torture and ultimately death at the hands of another willful human being we don’t entertain talk or well crafted arguments that favor legalizing torture and murder. We don’t try to compare it to the unintended civilian casualties of war. We condemn it as evil, and we vote for candidates who will make it illegal. I’m asking that the same value be given to unborn babies. I’m not saying that we should see prenatal life as “more sacred” than other human life. I am simply asking that we see prenatal life as “equally sacred”.

So, in summary, my third belief is this: while I agree that there is no candidate that perfectly represents the values of the Kingdom of God (Bush and McCain included), I believe that every Christian that chooses to use their political influence must use it to promote candidates that best reflect the values of the Kingdom of God, namely justice, righteousness and peace. I am persuaded that there is no greater violation of these Kingdom principles than legal abortion (legal willful murder of the defenseless).

There are many other things I could talk about here. I haven’t yet addressed your comparison of the injustice of abortion and the injustices that exist in war and I haven’t yet defended my belief that legal abortion is “the most hideous” injustice of our time. But, I hope that this serves as a starting place and that we can go deeper into some of these issues. I’d like to give you a chance to respond so, I’m going to stop.

Thanks sincerely for taking the time and having the humility and patience to undertake this conversation.

Your brother in Christ,
V.

V.,
So far it seems that we have established that we both agree that abortion is a heinous violation of human life–sin.  Most of your response seems to make a case for something that I am not disagreeing with.  I think some points on which we might focus our discussion might be these:

1.  What are all the sin issues (personal AND structural) that contribute to actual abortions?
2.  What areas of brokenness in our world contribute to circumstances in which young women choose to have an abortion?
3.  What other factors impact the statistics on abortion?  For example, why might it be that a disproportionate percentage of the abortions that happen in this country take place in the African-American community?  Are African-American women just individually more prone to sinful behavior than other populations?  Or, are there historical-social factors that play into this data?  How might these social factors represent things that Jesus wants to address, heal and transform?  What might the politics that contribute to this kind of transformation look like?  Is it possible that such transformation and healing goes deeper than legislation (i.e. reversing Roe v. Wade)?

You say:

“I am persuaded that there is no greater violation of these Kingdom principles than legal abortion (legal willful murder of the defenseless).”

I would observe that this involves a value judgment on your part.  If abortion is indeed the greatest violation of Kingdom principles–What other “agenda” in the message that Jesus proclaims and embodies concerning the kingdom of God are you judging to have lesser importance than abortion?  I would be open to hearing how you make that value judgment given the whole of scriptures–paying special attention to the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.  I am persuaded based on a reading of the gospels that Jesus is also concerned about other issues which equally represent the fallen, sinful realities of our world.  Realities that directly contribute to the situations in which young women decide to have abortions.

No young woman is an island.  Abortions don’t happen in a social vacuum.  She comes to this point because of many other mediating factors.  I am not saying individuals (woman) have no responsibility for what happens to their bodies (getting pregnant…having an abortion), but I am asking us to name the fact that woman’s lives are shaped by many environmental factors–social realities which also reflect the brokenness of sin.  Sin is not just represented in the (personal) decision to have an abortion, there are many structural sins that contribute to this choice.

Lest you think I am representing a pro-choice position, let me be clear on how my stance could be viewed as a possible third-way alternative to the polemical way many in the Christian community have framed this issue.  I believe the church fails to model an alternative vision of life when it becomes politicized by adopting the power tactics of any other lobby (i.e. you are either pro-life or pro-choice narrowly understood).  The cross of Christ, who renounced traditional forms of political power by making himself vulnerable, models such a way.  I am not suggesting that the church withdraw form politics.  But what would happen if the church were to model an alternative nonviolent politics of solidarity with the weak and the marginalized that still respects the dignity and the humanity of those in positions of power who violate the weak?

How would such a model look if, in responding to the issue of abortion, the church were motivated less by the abstraction “right to life” and more by its identification with the unborn as well as with the often isolated and vulnerable women who seek abortions?  How can the church minister and serve out of a deep compassion for the vulnerability and plight of prospective mothers who cannot see how to care for a child, whether because of poverty, physical danger to their lives, pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, or feeling abandoned and alone with no one to care for and nurture a child?

Such a church would be an alternative to secularized individualism, which reduces life to the slogan “freedom to choose” anything and everything within the limits of the law.  The church must find an alternative to relativism and an ethic of tolerance based on an appeal to individual freedom.  Such an ethic lacks a transcendent frame of reference to guide us in what we should choose, an ethic grounded in a vision of the good beyond ourselves.  An ethic of self-interest, in which individual well-being is the ultimate value, undermines communities that nurture cooperation and the larger corporate goods and values.

Perhaps that is enough to keep the conversation going.  I hope we can engage with the points of difference in our perspectives rather than just talking past each other.  I think the primary difference in what is shaping our views and how we bring our Christian witness to politics is not whether abortion is sin or not.  We agree on this.  We do, I believe, have a profoundly different understanding of how sin impacts the human condition and what it will take to bring redemption, healing and transformation.  No need to continue to establish how graphically wrong abortion is.  I think we can agree that sin in all its expressions leads to death.  Death is death.  I would rather examine how sin impacts the human condition.  I think it would be helpful to ground this conversation around the life and teaching of Jesus Christ.

Peace,
Brian

Brian,

I would agree that we both see abortion as “sin”. I think that we would both see all sin as equal in the sense that all sin ultimately leads to death. But, I think that we would also both agree that there is a spectrum of earthly consequence to our sin. Where we would place abortion on this spectrum is where I believe we differ … let me explain. On one end of the spectrum you have children lying about stealing a cookie and at the other end you have the Nazi holocaust. These two sins are similar in that they both separate us from God but are very different in their earthly consequence. Sin on the first end of the spectrum grieves us but we would never expect nor would we want the government to pass legislation to prevent children from lying. However, as sins move down the spectrum toward the second example we reach a “breaking point” when we can no longer, under good conscience allow the “sins” in question to take place with our legal consent. All the issues on the far side of the breaking point form a list of inseparable issues that represent crimes so cruel and unjust that if a politician were in favor of legalizing these sins and giving federal funding for them to be committed it would instantly preclude our support of that politician, even if we agreed with them on every other issue. Let me illustrate this …

Some of the issues on your list might be torture, rape and racial slavery. If there was a politician who wanted to legalize and fund any one of these activities I’m assuming you would immediately stop all monetary gifts, throw away your bumper stickers & buttons and you would certainly not vote for them even if you agreed with them about the war and the economy.

So here’s my question … it is not a polemic question … it is an honest question … Why is the killing of defenseless unborn babies not on your list? If you and I really do agree that abortion is a “heinous violation of human life–sin” why did you support a politician who wants to keep it legal, expand access to it and federally fund it?

I think that the three questions that you posed are good ones and deserve careful attention but I think that they run the risk of missing the point. The injustice of one’s circumstances can never validate the injustice of their actions against another. The answers to these questions can be helpful in addressing the needs of women who are considering abortion and of the African-American community but the answers should not weaken our resolve that abortion, as a legal act must be abolished regardless of root causes.

  • What were all the sin issues (personal AND structural) that contributed to slavery in early America?
  • What areas of brokenness in our world contributed to circumstances in which men chose to own slaves?
  • What other factors had an impact on the statistics regarding slavery?

There were many people in the 19th century that were asking these questions in an effort to address the American problem of slavery. This was a difficult problem because, as I’m sure you know, many Southern families had based their whole livelihood on slave labor. Immediate emancipation and even gradual reduction would potentially bring them to abject poverty. But, there were those brave men who stepped up and declared that slavery was so wrong that it could not be excused by any root cause or societal circumstance. These brave abolitionists helped to start the long and arduous process which has now come to fruition in the election of an African-American president. I only wish that our president had the same clarity and courage to defend the unborn.

Regarding your statement about me making value judgments …. I whole-heartedly agree! Reality demands that we make value judgments. If we are to make careful and thoughtful decisions we must compare one issue to another and then … we must choose. I would like to point out that you also have made a value judgment merely by choosing. You have decided by your actions that eliminating funding for abortion and abolishing legal abortion is less important than the host of factors that led you to support Obama.

Again there is more that I could say but I’ll stop and let you respond.

Your brother in Christ,
V.

P.S. You mentioned a couple of times that you wanted to center the discussion around the teachings of Jesus … I think that’s a good idea. I was wondering if maybe you could give me a summary of how your decisions have fallen in line with the teachings of Jesus and then maybe I could follow suit. Is that kinda’ what you were thinking?

V.,
It seems to me that we have come to an important point in our discussion about abortion.  It has to do with how we understand the Kingdom of God.  It has to do with how we whether or not we see the life and teachings of Jesus as normative for our behavior in this world.  It has to do with how we see the Kingdom of Jesus coming on earth as it is in heaven.  It has to do with how the cross is the way in which we are called to engage the powers of sin and death (or if that was just the way Jesus did–we can enforce his Kingdom from positions of power).

Your way of framing sin (on a spectrum from having less consequences to more consequeces) makes sense from a rationale standpoint.  I question, however, whether reason is the primary lens through which we read and interpret God (theology).  Does God understand/measure sin and its consequences using the metrics of human reason?  How do we know God’s perspective on sin and how has God acted to defeat the power of sin in the human condition?  I would say that the starting point for answering those questions should not be the premise of human reason–or even the best moral/ethical thinking of humans.  From beginning to end Christian faith defies the categories of reason.  The Christian “worldview” is not based on reason.  I’m not saying reason doesn’t have it’s place–I just don’t think it is the primary grid through which we make sense of God, the Gospel, and our calling as Christians.  Creation, Incarnation, the cross, resurrection, the call of discipleship all require us to step beyond reason to embrace mystery, grace and love as alternative premises for understanding and interpreting God.  I submit this as background for the discussion on how our faith in Christ informs our politics.

Your previous email made a case for government involvement in restraining “sin” at a certain breaking point where “sin” has direct consequences in the social order.  I don’t disagree with the notion that government should establish a legal framework that restrains certain behaviors that negatively impact the social order/the common good.  However, your position seems to presume that our witness and worldview must be given expression/validated through civil government.  I do not share this view.  I do not believe government is the primary instrument through which God brings about the healing and transformation of society.  At a minimum, I would invite you to consider that a vote for Obama is not necessarily inconsistent with a radical commitment to Jesus Christ and the kingdom he calls us to seek.  I will attempt to present how this perspective is not inconsistent with scripture.  In order to consider that assertion, however, we must be willing to examine the political vision (physical/spiritual implications) of Jesus’ kingdom.  We must also consider how our allegiance to Jesus shapes our engagement with this world in a way that is consistent with our calling in the Church.

When we attend fully to Jesus (his words and actions) we see that it is inherently subversive of the powers of the age that seek to provide security, prosperity and freedom (morality) from a different ideological foundation (i.e. rationalist humanism, civil religion).  The Gospel of the Kingdom is subversive through and through because it requires a cross.  It was so for Jesus.  It is so for all who seek to follow Jesus (see below).  We cannot have it both ways.  We cannot claim to follow the one who rejects power over as the way to usher in his kingdom and bring about the transformation of society through civil authority.  This was, in fact, one of the temptations in the wilderness.  Satan promised to give him all the kingdoms of this world if he would bow and worship him.  This is the temptation of Empire–to think that we can (and should) bring about God’s kingdom through mechanisms of power.  This is the Christendom model (Constantine through America–late 20th century).  Jesus rejects this approach to bringing about his kingdom and the transformation of society.  His kingdom does not come through a sword, tank or legislation.  It comes through a cross.  It comes from a position of weakness.  It comes from taking the sin of others upon ourselves as we continue the ministry of Christ which is one of kenosis–sacrificial love (your attitude should be the same as that of Christ who took the form of a servant).  It does not mean we will not speak truth to power, but our witness will not be isolated to particular issues (abortion)–because the scope of what Jesus is about in his kingdom is much larger.

This has direct implications for how we engage in politics.  We cannot compartmentalize which issues require us to take up our cross and which ones do not.  I suggest that we cannot ask government to save us from the crosses we have to bear.  Dealing with the root causes of sin in individual lives and society requires a language and modus operendi that the government doesn’t have.  It is the language of faith, of discipleship.  It  is the language of the church.  This is our first language as Kingdom citizens.  We will use language and means that are alien to the ways of thinking of this world (Jesus calls us to love our enemies–I have yet to see a nation-state who seeks to express God’s love in this way).  Our witness comes from our baptism into a community (the body of Christ) which speaks from a different framework and with different assumptions.

This framework and assumptions cannot be imposed in a free democratic society which claims separation of church and state and makes room for pluralism.  We cannot presume that politicians (or the nation-state) have been baptized into Christ, which is a prerequisite for prerequisite for embracing a Gospel orientation to ordering society and engaging with other powers.  Despite this impossibility, we have imagined the possibility of a de facto civil religion which bears a resemblance to Christianity, but does not in fact proclaim Jesus as Lord.  The civil religion expressed in the American context has often claimed a certain moral and ethical framework which emerges out of scripture, but rejected the more radical aspects of the gospel Jesus proclaims and enacts.  This has produced a false sense of the U.S. as a Christian nation.  This is a myth.  The Gospel is an all or nothing proposition (count the cost).  We cannot presume to embrace some of the requisites of Jesus’ message, while rejecting others.  This inherently denies that the Lordship of Jesus means something for our life in this world.  His teachings are just not practical for the “real world.”

So we see that sin is organically connected to all layers of bodily life in this world.  Sin is not just a spiritual reality, it is expressed in the material realm of life.  This is important, if we are going to catch the scope of how Jesus seeks to transform the sinful situation of the world.  The sinful condition of humanity is an organic whole.  The gospel of the Kingdom is good news to the sinful broken realities of this world.  The politics of that kingdom is nothing short of the redemption and restoration of all things in Christ Jesus.  This is an integrated (physical/spiritual…

personal/communal) view of sin, salvation, and the kingdom of God.

We see much that is fruit of a gnostic gospel in Western Christianity–the separation of spirit and matter.  We see the rupture of the whole gospel into either the social gospel or a spiritual one.  This dualism is a misreading of the gospels.  One expression of this is to spiritualize Jesus and make his life and the gospel of the kingdom primarily about the spiritual realm.  The spiritualized version of Jesus has little to say about how the life and teachings of Jesus is normative for the life of his followers in this world.  The gospel of the kingdom which Jesus proclaims and embodies is comprehensive/integrated (spirit and matter).  It is Good News which stakes out the redemption and reconciliation of all things (for God so loved the cosmos).  Your Kingdom come, your will be done today (as it is in heaven), not just in the future.  In both the spiritual and physical dimensions of the world (these are not two separate realms!)  In the West (particularly in evangelical Christianity), we have reduced the scope of that message to private salvation for individuals.  This is not surprising giving the bias of individualism that arises in the West post-Enlightenment.  Thus, salvation, is understood as an enterprise almost exclusively focused on getting individuals saved.  Any social dimension of God’s kingdom is construed as of secondary importance.  This is a gross distortion of the gospel as we see it embodied and proclaimed in Jesus Christ.

So how might we begin from a different starting point than rational foundationalism?  I submit to you for consideration that we must center our conversation around the life and teachings of Christ, because if that isn’t the norm, than I’m not sure we are talking about the same Gospel.  As we look at Jesus Christ, we should ask ourselves what was the significance of his life and his message for our discussion about politics.  That is, what kind of a kingdom was Jesus proclaiming and ushering in?  What are the politics of Jesus?  We cannot address these questions fully here, but let me sketch in a few crucial points:

What conclusions can we draw from how God enters the human order, and engages the political powers…?

1.  Mary’s song (Luke 1:46-55)/the birth of Jesus…

What is the significance of how God enters the human order?  (a virgin, peasant stock, stable birth, shepherd visitors, “outsiders” from the East)
Why does Herod call for the slaughter of innocents if the birth of Jesus had no implications for the political order?

2.  Jesus rejects earthly authority as the path to transforming the social order (Luke 4:5-6)

He did not seek to transform the Roman Empire to more effectively insure that the laws (powers) were aligned with his Kingdom!
If Jesus does not engage the political realm in that way, why do we imagine that we are called to that strategy today?

3.  Jesus’ inaugural sermon (Luke 4:18-21)  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has appointed me to preach Good News to the poor…”

What are the politics of this “Good News to the poor” message?

4.  Sermon on the Mount–the most extensive corpus of the words of Jesus in the gospels (Matthew 5-7)

“May your Kingdom come soon.  May your will be done here on earth, just as it is in heaven.”

If this is how we are to pray, should we not make the connection that the teachings in this sermon are a mandate for those who desire to see the Kingdom of God come on earth?

5.  The supremacy of Christ (over earthly kingdoms) and the role of the Church (Matt 16:13-20; Colossians 1:15-29) as understood through the Cross

“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ (Matt 16:13)
This text is significant as we seek to understand how Jesus envisioned his Kingdom coming in relation to the political powers.  Caesarea Philippi is a seat of power within the Roman Empire.  Gates of Hades significant political meaning.
“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  (Matt 16:24)
“Christ is the head of the church, which is his body.”  (the church then becomes the primary agent through which Christ brings transformation)
“I am glad when I suffer for you in my body, for I am completing what remains of Christ’s sufferings for his body, the church.”  (v. 24)
How does a theology of the cross inform our politics and the way we witness to Christ in a world where “might makes right.”

I don’t know about you, but I would prefer to engage each other face to face.  I think we have established some healthy discussion.  I sense there is a mutual respect.  I would love to continue this as we have opportunity.

Blessings,
Brian

Brian,

…..

Foundational Rationalism
You and I are rational beings and our beliefs and actions have rational foundations. From beginning to end human actions and interactions are based (founded) on conscious or subconscious beliefs (rationale). Whether or not you realize it, you too are making decisions based on a rationale that is built upon the foundation of beliefs. To suggest that my questions make sense rationally but that we must argue from the basis of something other than reason is foolhardy. Was not your last email based on an attempt to reason with me about your position? Are you suggesting that your perspective is baseless (the opposite of foundational) and irrational (the opposite of rational)?

Here’s my point: You admitted that my questions made sense to you from a rational standpoint. But then you excused yourself from answering my questions because “you question whether reason should be our primary lens through which we read and interpret God”. Then you spent the whole rest of the email reasoning with me about your positions on politics and Jesus’s kingdom. You seem to have accepted the place of reason only where it suits you.

3. The Politcis of Jesus
The second obstacle is an inconsistency in your logic regarding the role of politics in the life of a Christian. Throughout your explanation of the interplay between Jesus’ Kingdom and the powers that be, you consistently argue that Jesus’ kingdom is in opposition to the powers and methods of the World. You said that “… it is subversive of the powers of the age …” You said that “We cannot claim to follow the one who rejects power over as the way to usher in his kingdom and bring about the transformation of society through civil authority.” These are a few among others. So, here’s what I don’t understand: if you see the methods of the kingdom of Jesus being in opposition to the methods of the kingdoms of this world, why be involved with the political process at all? Why would you try to make an argument that voting for a certain politician could ever be consistent with a Christian worldview? Wouldn’t abstention from voting be more consistent with your views? How do the beliefs you hold about Jesus’s treatment of power lead you to support Barrack Obama for President of the United States. This seems like a leap to me.

This is my conclusion: I can see how abstention from the political process could flow logically out of your beliefs about the kingdom of God and I respect that position. However, if you step into the voting booth to choose between two imperfect candidates and if you believe that all your choices must be in accordance with the Kingdom, then you have already decided that some issues are more important to you and to the Kingdom than others. These “most important issues” become the basis on which you make your choice.

So let me restate my question from the last email: If legalized murder and torture are on your “most important issues” list, then why is torture and killing of defenseless unborn babies not on the list? If you and I really do agree that abortion is a “heinous violation of human life–sin” why did you support a politician who wants to keep it legal, expand access to it and federally fund it? Do you feel that Jesus teaches us that the murder of the defenseless is an unimportant issue?

With all due respect, you have not answered these most important questions. You’ve not answered them from the basis of reason nor have you answered them from the basis of Jesus’s teachings. You’ve simply asked more questions that could just as easily support my perspective as they could yours. Let me illustrate:

  • You might say that Jesus’s birth into a poor, lower-class family would highlight God’s love and care for the poor … I would agree.
  • You might say that his inaugural sermon speaks a liberating message to the physically oppressed as well as spiritually … I would agree again.
  • You might say that Jesus’s proclamations of blessing to the “poor in spirit” and the “meek” and the “persecuted” are a picture of God’s heart for the oppressed and powerless … I would agree here as well.

So, please explain to me how these statements would lead you to support a politician who is in favor of legalizing and funding a horrific oppression of the most defenseless, poor and oppressed among us: unborn babies. This seems inconsistent to me. Opposition to legalized abortion is perfectly consistent with a Godly understanding of “social justice”.

V.


V.,
Rather than keeping the conversation going through email, I would welcome an opportunity to meet with you the next time you are in the Lancaster area.  It seems clear that you are not feeling understood.  I feel that as well.  Perhaps that is due in large part to the limitations of email as forum for discussion.

I just want to clarify one thing.  My position all along as far as how Christians bring their values into the political arena is this.  I believe that committed Christians can see a vote for either ticket to be the best way to influence society for the Kingdom of God.  I do not see the Kingdom of God in jeopardy–no matter which party holds office.  I’m not sure I have heard you express that.  It seems like you are insistent that the only way for a Christian to express the values and justice that emerge out of the biblical perspective is to vote Republican.  It is troubling that you can’t seem to allow for the possibility that other Christians could be expressing equally important biblical values by pulling a different lever than you.

I would be most interested in any further conversation beginning with our points of commonality–our commitment to Christ as Lord and Savior, our commitment to read and be faithful to scripture, our commitment to live with our primary identity being formed from the Church.  My primary allegiance is not with the Democratic party.  My ultimate hope is not in Obama.

Peace,
Brian


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2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 20, 2009 11:52 am

    This is a late comment for this particular post, and forgive my intrusion; I stumbled upon your blog accidentally and have not been able to put it down, metaphorically..

    While the written conversation you held with V. is stimulating, and intended to provoke thought rather than argument, I want to talk about about the fact that V. refers to Obama as “pro-abortion.” I, personally, am pro-choice, and it seems a common misconception among pro-lifers that being pro-choice can be equated to being pro-abortion. I am pro-choice, yes; would I ever personally opt to have an abortion? No. Not within the span of even ten million lifetimes. My stance as a believer in the inherent human right to choose what best suits one’s body and, ultimately, one’s life, is what affects my thought process enough to call myself pro-choice. When the line is drawn in the sand, I have to stand on the side that deters me from believing that I, or anyone else, has the right to impose my own beliefs on that of another. To call Obama pro-abortion only reinforces the split between these two factions of thought rather than allowing a common ground, mentally & spiritually, to be reached. (And, yes, I do believe it is possible for such a place to be found and occupied by even the most staunch pro-lifers AND “pro-abortionists.”)

    Thank you for what you write-
    R.

  2. just an apprentice permalink
    March 21, 2009 6:17 pm

    R.
    Thanks for sharing your comments. I appreciate your making the distinction between “pro-choice” and “pro-abortion”…

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