Talking About Politics in an Election Year

Talking About Politics in an Election Year August 7, 2012

I did an interview w/the Peace Pastor Marty Troyer for his blog at the Houston Chronicle. Marty sent me some questions he had after reading Public Jesus & I answered them in a bit of a hurry. I read back over them after they were posted and realized that I did not have the filter on between brain and mouth. Still I think I stand behind what I said there. Here’s an excerpt:

Q: I’m very interested to know how a cruciform ethic plays itself out when electing the leader of the most militaristically powerful empire the world has ever seen. How does Public Jesus help me deconstruct core issues like militarism, imperialism, rampant capitalism, racism and anti-immigrant policies, health care, poverty-reduction, mass incarceration, etc… and help me choose a new Caesar? Who should the Christian vote for? Or do we vote at all?
A: My approach to voting is pretty basic. I vote for the candidate who beats their chest the least, seems humble and contrite, doesn’t smear the other guy, cares about the poor, the lost, the losers, the down and out and refuses to lie and deceive in order to gain power. Then I expect absolutely nothing to change once they are in office. Typically my expectations are just about right on. The reason I believe this is that the Christian conviction is that America is not the hope of the world. The kingdom does not come through state power, but through the power of Christ and little communities of faith who are committed to living as though Jesus is really the world’s true Lord. I don’t think voting is quite as cut and dried as we are choosing a new Caesar, (separation of powers curtails the power of the executive branch, so the Caesar analogy doesn’t quite hold). Plus, America is a true representative republic. I guess I’d say the key is that I vote to participate in a process, but I don’t put my hope in politicians or parties. I put my hope in Jesus.
Q: You clearly differentiate the kingdom of this world from the kingdom of God; but we still need to address the ancient criticism of such an Anabaptist approach that this amounts to sectarianism. You state “While Jesus’s kingdom is not from this world, it most certainly extends to this world and is most certainly for this world” but it remains for us to discern what degree of engagement we can afford. I would have found his Vocation chapter even more helpful had he  moved beyond his formalistic approach and asked if in today’s culture there are jobs Christians should, and perhaps should not, engage.
A: I think this actually comes in as a discussion question. The reason it’s there in the discussion part is that this is something that needs to be decided group by group, location by location.
Q: I’m also unclear on what we have to say to the state, and on how we might say it. Are we able to say both yes and no to the state, or only no? I would assume that following Public Jesus demands aptitude in practices of protest such as nonviolent civil disobedience, but also practices of affirmation such as voting and advocacy.
A: I think for the most part, what we have to say to the state we say on behalf of the poor, hungry, homeless, incarcerated, and especially the alien – to be blunt – the Mexican immigrant. The best witness to the state is a community which has been transformed by Jesus. We bear witness to his lordship as we build little communities of justice and peace who care for those who are marginalized in our culture. There is no way to escape this as part of Jesus’s mandate to his followers in the Sermon on the Mount.

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