Friday, October 3, 2008

Should the Church Get Involved in Politics? More Thoughts

I'm not sure I made myself as clear as I might have done in the previous post so I want to try again. The Church, qua Church, should steer clear of politics because it has more important things to do. The policy of the Roman Catholic Church not to allow priests to run for political office seems to be to draw an important line in the sand that should never be erased. Politics is the realm of ideologies and partisan strife; it is always morally ambiguous and never a vehicle of salvation. I fear that this truth has been obscured today.

Why should the Church not involve herself in politics? We often hear today strident condemnations of the Church for failing to do exactly that. We are told that every social institution must be on one side or the other; no neutrality is possible. We are either "for" the poor and oppressed or we are "for" the oppressors. Let me give three historical examples of what I am talking about.

1. The 19th and early 20th century Social Gospel. Basically, the Church was told that as Church she must choose sides in the class warfare between socialism and capitalism. The Church, in her preaching, Christian education, worship and ethical instruction, was told to place herself in the service of the struggle for socialism. This was the only way to be "relevant" and to "responsible" given the world historical (read: eschatological) struggle between the forces of good and the forces of evil.

2. In the 1960's European Marxist thought imported to Latin America launched a struggle for "liberation" in the name of the poor, indigeonous peoples of Latin America. Liberation theology said much the same thing as the Social Gospel in a largely Roman Catholic context. To embrace a fundamental option for the poor once again meant taking sides in the ideological struggle to replace capitalism with socialism.

3. In recent years, the Sojourners organization evolved from an alternative community to a left-wing social justice lobby group that seeks to elect Democratic candidates and influence legislation according to the dictates of both econmic and cultural left. Evangelicals who feel guilty about suporting George Bush and his unjust and unwise war are urged to make ammends by electing the morst extreme left-wing ideologue ever to run for president in the US.

What do all three of these movements have in common? Let me make a list.

1. All of them urge Christians to support a particular secular ideology that arises out of the Enlightenment instead of applying specifically Christian doctrine to the social question.

2. All of them propose a comprehensive program for improving the world instead of addressing specific issues one at a time, thus flirting with the dangers of utopianism.

3. All of them require compromise with evil in order to achieve the "greater good." Each asks Christians to support coercion and violence as a way of implementing social justice.

4. All of them put a great deal of faith in government as the means by which justice and peace can come about in this world.

5. None of them require their secular allies to give up any of their cherished sins in order to be part of the movement, which is to say that none are evanglistic in nature. Rather than trying to convert non-Christians, the goal is simply to get them to adopt left-wing policies and ideology and nothing more. Nothing in the programs of these groups requires faith in Chirst to believe. A vague secular humanism is adequate. In this way the Church becomes little more than a faint echo of what the world is already saying to itself.

Notice, finally, that when an argument is made like the one I am making, the response is usually to castigate the person making the argument to stay out of politics and remain focussed on morality as "intolerant" and wanting to impose his views on everyone. In other words, it is reasonable to impose socialism on everyone, but not the Ten Commandments. This is, at best, highly selective tolerance and is actually driven by ideology.

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