Christian social witness

Parasitical Christian Politics?

on December 10, 2015

Much if not most of Christian political witness today, especially through official church channels, makes demands of government without accepting responsibility for how such demands can be fulfilled.

Church groups widely insist the USA must accept large numbers of Syrian refugees as a humanitarian and Gospel imperative. But they are largely dismissive of security concerns about radical views or violent proclivities among potential entrants to the USA. They exclaim: Love, don’t fear! And they insist the security vetting process is already very thorough, without fretting the details.

But the USA is a desirable destination for so many because it is largely safe, thanks to police, the judiciary, intelligence agencies, the military, and a culture of respect for law. How can these pillars of security be sustained? Few church or Christian voices, in their political advocacy, bother to explain. They seem to assume that security is just an automatic given. A glance around the world quickly reveals otherwise.

It’s not hospitality to invite guests into an unsafe environment. If your home were covered with exposed asbestos, filled with toxic mold, infested with vermin, suffered from rotten floorboards, haunted by poltergeists, routinely burgled by armed intruders, and a safe house for heroin dealers, would it be hospitable to invite overnight visitors?

Shouldn’t church advocates for wide USA hospitality take more active, substantive interest in policies that will safeguard the USA as an ongoing refuge for refugees in the future, and for all Americans?

The blasé assumption that the USA is an eternal cornucopia is also reflected in the mass presence of church activists at the Paris climate change summit. These church activists want the USA to spend massive amounts and dramatically curtail economic growth with hopes of affecting global temperatures. Who would pay these bills of many trillions across decades? What will they have to sacrifice? And who will suffer the consequence of reduced economic growth? How can they be compensated? Church activists show little to no interest in these questions.

This same indifference applies to wider religious advocacy for trillions of dollars in entitlement and welfare programs mandated, reputedly, by biblical commands to care for the least of these. Beyond vague, often resentful expectations of “the rich,” who will pay the bills, and what are the trade-offs?

Blithe indifference to costs and consequences applies to much of Christian witness on criminal justice issues. How will proposed restrictions on law enforcement, reduced incarcerations, and legalization of previously banned substances affect crime rates, and who will likely suffer? Who will pay the monetary and physical costs?

In short, much of contemporary Christian poliical interest is not interested on what creates, sustains and perpetuates a secure and prosperous, lawful society. It instead assumes that American prosperity and safety are the de facto natural condition, against which there is an endless credit supply, to which every visionary social justice aspiration can be charged.

Of course, most Christian political witness proponents are themselves clerics, academics and activists, who’ve never had to create wealth and safeguard it. They are usually the beneficiaries of American bounty and protection, without much perceived need to reflect on the sources. They sometimes resemble politically-charged college students, who demonstrate and chant, forgetting about their parents paying huge tuitions, much less the generations of entrepreneurial philanthropists who funded their schools and their manicured campuses.

When will organized Christian political witness accept mature responsibility for understanding, explaining and perpetuating American democracy, civil order and wealth? Such maturity requires much more than demands for greater spending and more expansive government, or furious denunciations of America’s supposedly shameful past or current systemic injustices. It also means pacifists and critics of “empire” who expect the state to coercively enact their ambitious political programs must reflect on the ironies and hypocrisies of these soaring contradictions.

Serious Christian political witness can’t just complain, agitate, demand and leech. It has to offer a full orbed spiritual narrative for creating political order, prospering it and defending it. It can’t just focus on the needs of the perceived victimized, aggrieved and entitled. It must also relate to the entrepreneur, the tax-paying laborer, the police officer, the soldier, the border guard, the judge and all who sustain civil harmony, without which the public good is unattainable.

  1. Comment by Dan on December 10, 2015 at 8:33 am

    AMEN! I’d love to see you publicly debate this with some of the current UMC bishops (we all know who the leading offenders are). What you describe is cheap virtue and cheap grace being offered by these religious leaders. It is the religious version of “if it feels good, do it.”

  2. Comment by Ella Pauline on December 11, 2015 at 12:17 pm

    Thank you! Another example of benevolence that did not look at long term consequences is the “Nets for Malaria” campaign within the United Methodist Church. It is a noble thing to save children in Africa from dying of malaria but to date I have only heard one lone voice raise concern over whether or not the infrastructure in Africa is capable of adequately supporting these added lives. In the rush to address the immediate need to save lives, the next question was ignored: what life are we saving them to? It is irresponsible to shift the dynamics without looking at the long term effects just so we can feel good about ourselves.

  3. Comment by doctorchrysallis on December 12, 2015 at 10:46 am

    Ella, you write [in regard to the Methodist distribution of malaria nets] — “In the rush to address the immediate need to save lives, the next question was ignored: WHAT LIFE ARE WE SAVING THEM TO? It is irresponsible to
    shift the dynamics without looking at the long term effects just so we can feel good about ourselves.”

    You sound fairly cavalier about little innocent children dying from malaria. What if it was the life of YOUR children at stake?

    If we test your line of thinking, and consider your logic in light of other issues that bear down on The UM Church and our wider society, we might find some virulent hypocrisy.

    For example, while I personally take a dim view of abortion — pro-choice advocates have long posed your precise question – WHAT LIFE ARE WE SAVING THEM TO? — to groups that want to curtail the option for women to make personal reproductive decisions based on considerations related to health, faith, family well-being, and availability of infrastructures and resources that support the raising of children. Don’t you think it’s highly hypocritical to pose your question in regard to other countries and issues (such as UM malaria nets), but then fail to raise the selfsame question in terms of the abortion debate in the U.S.?

    So-called “pro life” advocates in the U.S. should more accurately be called “pro birth,” NOT PRO LIFE.

    NEVER, NEVER, NEVER have I seen a pro life advocate ask your question: WHAT LIFE ARE WE SAVING THEM TO?

    NEVER, NEVER, NEVER have I heard pro-life advocates say: “it is irresponsible to shift the dynamics [in forcing women to carry through on unwanted pregnancies] without looking at the long term effects [on their families, their neighborhoods, their community.] In your rush to save lives (to make you feel good about yourselves??), why force impoverished women to carry through on an unwanted pregnancy when there’s no infrastructure or array of support structures in their neighborhoods and communities that implement the biblical implication that “it takes a village to raise a child.”

    You and your kind want the freedom to lambast the UM Church for caring about saving lives, and to ridicule the UM Church for not asking “whether or not the infrastructure in Africa is capable of adequately supporting these added lives,” and yet at the same time you want to claim the right to intrude into the personal lives of women in the U.S. to pretend you’re saving lives in your pro-life political involvements while you don’t seem to give a rip about asking “whether or not the infrastructure in [the U.S.] is capable of adequately supporting these added lives.”

    Moreover, you and your kind lambast the UM Church for being “political” – yet you spend zakillions of dollars annually in the POLITICAL SPHERE attempting to curtail the reproductive rights of women, and on other issues, such as defending and even encouraging every single American to walk about with loaded pistols and assault rifles. You use Washington lobbying and mega-money and public sentiment campaigns and manifold other POLITICAL MEANS to fight your fights (abortion, treatment of gays, NRA and so-called gun rights, and other hot potato political issues) — and then sit back and hypocritically point fingers at the UM Church for being “political.”

    How do you and your kind live with such hypocrisy? This is a deeply spiritual and biblical matter: “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matt. 7:5 NIV).

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