Lisa Sharon Harper: Left, Right, and Kingdom

Lisa Sharon Harper: Left, Right, and Kingdom September 6, 2012

From Qideas, where you can read the whole piece:

The political “left” and “right,” Dems and GOPers, Progressives and Conservatives claim to stand on fixed points of impervious truth on a linear spectrum that stretches across a horizontal plane from pole to pole. The spectrum’s fixed middle marks the permanent philosophical and political “center.” And, politicians conveniently cry that political party is synonymous with political philosophy. It does not work this way and has never worked this way. Rather politics’ center point is mercurial and its far left and right philosophical boundaries move with the ages. Parties and platforms flip philosophies and shape-shift to match the ethos of the age….

So, I reject the moniker “Christian Left”. It is a moniker drawn in hasty response to the “Religious Right” a political movement (not a theological one). I do not set the standards of my political engagement in response to some random political point on a line. No. Rather than anchoring my politics on the shifting sand of a linear continuum, I ask a higher question: “What is my axis?” What does my political engagement revolve around? Is it political ideology? Is it political party? Is it biblical theology? I choose the later.

I am a Kingdom Christian, not a leftist Christian, a conservative Christian, nor any other political brand of Christian. I have even moved away from the term progressive Christian. It is too closely associated with that linear political spectrum. No. I am called to be a prophetic Christian. The axis of my political engagement is scripture and the biblical theology of shalom:  It sets the standards of my political engagement.

Shalom is what the reign of God smells like. It is what the Kingdom of God looks like. Grounded in the story of creation in Genesis 1-14 and woven through every book of the Bible, the concept of shalom teaches us that we were created in relationship with God, with our selves, with each other, with the rest of creation, and with the systems that govern us. What it means to be one who lives under the reign of God is to be connected with a forceful bond of love in all these relationships. Genesis 3 offers a picture of the consequences of humanity’s grab at its own peace, in its own way (not the Jesus way). When we say to God “You don’t know what you’re talking about” or “Your word is good for church, but not for real life” or “You are not out for my good” and we take matters into our own hands, then shalom is shattered. Every relationship in creation is broken.

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  • All said, a good piece. The challenge is that, while we certainly need to be rooted in biblical theology, the Bible does not offer us an ordained economic or political system. Forming our views requires that we be aware of the ongoing debate and data that goes into thinking about an economic of political system. This will inform the our systemic perspective but I think we have to be exceedingly careful not to baptize particular systems or ideological frames as “the biblical model.” We must act. Our action requires us to commit to particular frames. But we must always be open to revision and correction.

  • Tom F.

    Hmm. I really like what the author is saying here. However, I feel that if I were to adopt a similar designation (“prophetic” rather than “progressive”) in discussion, I would mostly get rolls of the eyes. I think it would come across as holier-than-thou, the same way some conservative Christians might say “I’m not a conservative Christian, I’m a ‘biblical’ Christian”.

    Good call that our ultimate allegiance is not to party or even political philosophy, but to God. However, there is something humbling and perhaps even conversation-enabling when we can simply use the terms that are around. Otherwise, the conversation seems to simply devovle into an argument over semantics. Maybe I might qualify “progressive” by mentioning that this sort of limited allegiance, but I don’t know if it would actually be helpful to say something like “prophetic Christian”, even as I understand the spirit of the idea.

  • One of the disadvantages of democracy is that it requires each of its citizens to have opinions about what all the other citizens should do. Notice in the New Testament, however, that disciples of Jesus were taught to live sacrificially without imposing that standard on society at large.

    I am, of course, not recommending a return to monarchy. Rather, I’m just pointing out that democracy has its own drawbacks. Any type of government involving humans is going to be problematic. For this very reason, we should seek the kingdom of God and not church – given that the former is administered by God while the latter is under human control.

  • excellent post – we lose sight of God’s kingdom in our preference for political agendas steeped in alignment with this one. particularly as it relates to shalom, we need to be reminded of these truths.

    i wrote recently with similar sentiments here ::

  • Let’s face it, labels are complicated. They attempt to simplify and provide a sort of short-hand identity (or identification for others). I realize the issue of labels is only a small part of the overall point, but an important one. I personally only look at use of the ones mentioned as a starting point for getting to know someone or to identify my own “location” along some undefined spectrum. For that purpose, labels can be helpful, and for people to seek out like-minded people a bit faster. But personally, I EXPECT further conversation around what any label means to any person; what my self-chosen label may mean to someone else, etc.

  • Tom

    Great article and very timely. Interestingly enough, I posted a similar topic on my blog this morning. Reading the strongly worded and even hateful Facebook comments from friends regarding the “other” party, got me thinking about how Christians should enter into the political discourse. It appears we are doing a pretty lousy job. Here’s my blog, if you’re interested:

  • Excellent piece. Ideas that need to be used to critique all our political policies and values.

  • “When you are truly prophetic, both the Left and the Right will invariably mistrust and attack you” (Richard Rohr).

  • Adam O

    Interesting article to be sure. I have especially been struggling with the issues she lays out in her larger article over the course of this election cycle. My biggest point of struggle has revolved around the question of what are the moral implications of voting (perhaps this is for another day…another article…)?? I can certainly see the place of Christians in the political sphere, advocating for justice, peace, and mercy. But I am not sure this necessarily equates to voting, as I see voting as an act of endorsement/empowerment for a particular party rather than for Kingdom Politics (like the distinction made in this article). Does anyone else struggle with this kind of ethical quandary, feeling like if you choose to vote, you are forced to vote/endorse/empower one of two people who, even in the best case scenario, have at least a few morally problematic positions?

  • Kenton

    “So, I reject the moniker ‘Christian Left’. It is a moniker drawn in hasty response to the ‘Religious Right’ a political movement (not a theological one)”

    O…K…, but what about this?

    I mean it’s a little hard for me to reconcile this statement with that post. I know it’s a year and a half old, but she’s done nothing but reiterate her animosity to Paul Ryan (OK, OK, Paul Ryan’s *plan*) in the last few weeks. I just don’t see how she can so easily isolate her “prophetic” opposition to Ryan, and then claim it’s not “political.”

    It just don’t fly.

  • SamB

    Richard Beck has a recent post by Lee Camp titled History Never Sits Thus Never Can Our Politics that goes along very well with this post. I think it is very good Here are a couple of quotes that I hope will stir your interest:

    “Still it does seem to me that we need some helpful pegs or constructive theological starting points at which to critique both Republican and Democrat, or better, to provide a constructive alternative to them both….The constructive alternative, of course, is “the church”—a real community that is characterized by a voluntary commitment to the way of Christ, including sharing, reconciliation, and non-violence. This is, obviously, neither Republican nor Democrat. What might such a community want to say to Republicans or Democrats or Socialists or Communists, then?”

  • SamB

    Kenton (#10) – I read the article you link to. I don’t see the political terms left or right. I understand that one could categorize this post in the political terms of “left” and “right”. It was a year ago, and the author of the post above says she is beginning to move away from the political label progressive. Perhaps she would have written the earlier post differently today. Even so she bases her argument in the older post on her understanding of the way of Jesus not on political labels. One could say she is speaking prophetically to our country’s conscience as Dr. King and the Biblical prophets like Isaiah did. One could argue against either her understanding of the way of Jesus or her understanding of the bills in the article.

  • Kenton

    SamB (#12)-

    So, I’ll confess up front that I had only read the excerpt when I posted, and I had missed the comment that she’s moving away from the label “progressive Christian.”

    I guess my complaint is still that she seems to be using a rhetoric that suggests her “prophetic voice” is somehow “above” the dirty arena of politics. Well the problem with that is that as recently as three weeks ago she was reiterating how Paul Ryan “breaks her heart.”

    I’m thinking she needs a reality check.

    Just sayin’.

  • Michael #1
    The Bible does give a system of law and government, but God’s people have never liked it. First, they wanted a king like the other nations. Nowadays, they want a President.