July in an Election Year

One of the few things in this life that I really do try to
be careful about is the business of proper citation. When I find an idea worth
taking, I am grateful enough not to morph into a ready thief certainly. And
usually…at least so far as I know…I also am pretty good at saying thank-you
publicly several times over to the giver; but I am about to fail. Thus, a mea
culpa of sorts.

At some point over the last few months, I read and copied
out, but failed to record citation on, what I thought–and still think–is a
very pertinent question. It is especially suited, I think, for pondering in
July when many of us sink into some kind of cultural patriotism that often
seems to be more a bouquet of red-white-and-blue clichés than any kind of
mature consideration of what, as a multiform polity, we are supposed to be
becoming.

My question, whose author I have forever misplaced
apparently, is a deceptively brief one. It functions, rather, in the style of
Rob Bell and those incisive interrogatives of his that cut past the heart of a
thing and straight into its very soul. And so, the question: Is politics about
compromise or is it about matters of good and evil?

I don’t know…I have never known categorically…where the line
between the things of Caesar and the things of God rests; but scripturally-speaking,
I have to assume there is one. Were such not the case, our Lord most surely would
not have spoken of two kingdoms, much less made so telling a distinction
between them.

I know also, and again scripturally-speaking, that we cannot,
in the name of the Prince of Peace, continue to use politics as a means for sorting
out, in front of the whole of Caesar’s court, our various and frequently
conflicting sectarian definitions of good and evil. Most certainly, we cannot—must
not–use any of our particularized definitions of good and evil to circumscribe
a shared polity.

In an increasingly glocalized world…and ugly as that neologism
is, it still names accurately the state of things in which we live…in an
increasingly glocalized world, the most urgent and principal Christian calling
of 21st century politics must be the assurance of an American
governance in which we who are Christians are free to be Christian in all the
varied and various ways there are to be that, in which Jews are free to be
Jewish in all the various and varying ways that that faith may be exercised, in
which Muslims are free to follow their varied practices, and likewise Buddhist
and Hindu etc., etc.
Beyond that obvious point and probably because of it, thinking
scripturally about how to speak and vote and influence as Christians in America
today, it seems to me, is really thinking prayerfully about how to live a less
strident, but more efficacious, life of radical concern for loving mercy,
exercising justice in all our affairs and, most important, walking humbly
before our God.

There is one other thing worth mentioning as well, of
course, and that is that when we walk before our God, whether humbly or
otherwise, we walk as well before those of our fellow citizens who, sharing space
and time with us, cannot help seeing. I would even submit, in this pre-election
July, that many of those fellow-citizens of ours are secular watchers who are,
in fact, watching with a hope and a hunger that, as a Christian, I am loathe to
have them become bereft of just because we who are already Christian forgot how
to render unto Caesar the things that belong to Caesar, and unto God the things
that belong to God.

 

Phyllis Tickle

About Phyllis Tickle

Phyllis Tickle , founding editor of the Religion Department of Publishers Weekly, the international journal of the book industry, is frequently quoted in print sources, electronic media, and innumerable blogs and web sites. Tickle is an authority on religion in America and a much sought after lecturer on the subject.

  • Jacqui

    As someone who used to earn a paycheck in campaign politics (and currently drawing a paycheck from a state agency), I understand that my reaction to these kinds of questions might be coming out of a place of total over-compensation, but this is the kind of thing I’ve really wrestled with lately. Thank you for voicing it.

    There’s a point where I’ve wondered what is the appropriate level of involvement in “Ceasar’s system” for Christians. It’s an unhealthy system built on the pursuit of power – attaining it and maintaining it. Even most of the “kindness” done within the system has consequences that end up reinforcing power inequalities on the most vulnerable. It just doesn’t seem very Jesus-y to me.

    But then there’s the side of me that says that at least for now this is the current system and not participating is irresponsible and guarantees the voice for love and (God’s) justice won’t be heard.

    But at what point is participating in the system effectual support of it?

    Maybe I’m just jaded by being a bit too close to the sausage factory, but this has been rubbing me raw lately.

  • Ron S

    Do you think that this dynamic tension is perhaps one that God wants us to have to live in? It means that we are always being pushed toward trust and prayer for wisdom and help (and forgiveness). Maybe in terms of our character growth seeking for the good is even more important than always knowing exactly where the line is. Also, I wonder if the question might be re-framed, not so much in terms of whether or not our decisions involve good and evil vs. compromise, and more in terms of which is the deeper value in our decision making. Even God has to accommodate to our less than wonderful realities if God is going to do anything in our world. God chose to bless kings and kingship though God didn’t want it to be that way according to 1 Samuel 8-12. But, we so easily forget that the accommodation is only “good” if both our chosen means and goal remain “good” as best we know it at them moment.


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