Two recent issues of Fuller’s student newspaper, The Semi, focused on politics. I threw together some bits and pieces of a few different blog posts that I’ve written in the last few months, and the result (seen below) is in this week’s Semi. I’d love to hear any feedback/thoughts/critiques/comments/etc as I struggle to more fully work out a coherent position on these issues.
Each major election season, the media and political campaigns seem to focus on a target demographic. In 1994, it was said that ‘angry white men’ decided the election, while in 2000 it was the ‘soccer moms’ (who by 2002 and 2004 had morphed into ‘security moms’) who would play a pivotal electoral role. Each of these groups had their time in the political spotlight, but has largely been forgotten in favor of the latest target demographic: evangelicals. Over the course of the past few elections, increased attention has been paid to the evangelical vote, and although the next election is nearly a year away, it is clear that 2008 will not be an exception: evangelicals comprise one of the hottest voting blocks out there.
Campaign managers are doing everything they can to connect their candidates to evangelical voters, whether through participation in special forums on faith and values or by doing their best to “preach” their platform to the nation’s religious audience. As members in this evangelical target group, this has given us a very unique and public voice in the media frenzy that is the American election season. Although some fear the recent splintering of the evangelical vote, this has only increased the media attention given to American evangelicals as well as the amount of time candidates spend talking about faith.
For many, hearing this blend of theology and politics resounding throughout campaign stops across America validates their identity both as Christians and Americans. There is undoubtedly something appealing about listening to the voices of those in power echoing our sacred texts and promising to support many of the positions we hold most dear. With an increasing focus in practical theology on what it looks like to usher the Kingdom of God into our current reality, this syncretic combination of state and religion can serve as a strong temptation to distract the church from its purpose of being a light to a dark world.
Unfortunately, I believe that we have too quickly and too cheaply sold our allegiances, not necessarily to any particular party (especially with the recent and growing political divide in American evangelicalism), but to the political process as a whole. Campaigns and candidates are desperate to ride the wave of any demographic that they believe can push them to victory, and we have too often willingly been caught up in the frenzy. Every wave will eventually crash on the shore, and a new wave will follow it. Just as evangelicals replaced the attention paid to ‘security moms,’ some new group will eagerly take our place as the target of political campaigns.
My concern is that too often we willingly lend ourselves to the furthering of the democratic process at the expense of the Kingdom of God. By largely accepting the role of a temporary target demographic, we have played into the hands of the political game, rather than interacting with politicians and the government in ways that establish the church as a voice and example of a Kingdom-oriented way of life. This is not to say that Christians should not be involved in politics, but too often it seems that Christians have placed their hope in the governments of this world instead of Jesus Christ and the church. Our mission as the church is not primarily about petitioning the government for votes, endorsing candidates, or serving as a “high priest in Caesar’s court” (a phrase used by pastor/theologian Greg Boyd in his challenging 9.30.07 blog post at http://gregboyd.blogspot.com). Rather, our mission involves the embodiment of the Kingdom of God and radical discipleship that reflects the other-worldly nature of our loyalties. What would it look like if we looked past the prestige of worldly power and instead focused our efforts and hopes on the Kingdom of God?