Tuesday, November 6, 2018

No, Politics Is Not Loving Your Neighbor

A fairly well-known religious leader, Tim Keller, recently commented in the New York Times, "Christians should be involved politically as a way of loving our neighbors, whether they believe as we do or not." Keller offered working for "better public schools" as an example. His comments were widely applauded by well-meaning Christians. [Here's the link to read his piece in full].

The problem with a "politics as love" concept is that it is elitist and coercive. There isn't a single authoritarian who would disagree with the idea that they know what's good for everyone and they must force their understanding of what's good on everyone whether others agree with it our not. You may say that's not what Keller meant but that's reality. We're going to do this "whether they believe as we do or not" is power politics. It is coercion. We win, you lose. Hopefully you come to see that we're loving you. If not, we know what's "loving" better than you anyway.

Politics is power and coercion. As long as one party gets 50.1% of the votes, they receive the "right" to tell you to compromise your deeply-held beliefs by force of law. Which is another way of saying "at the point of a gun." Try to not comply. See what happens. It's a very strange twist to view this as love.

Politics As Christian Love has become ascendant among evangelicals looking for a "third way." Loving your neighbor by acting politically on their behalf, however, is just another way of allowing political elites to co-opt the language of Christ for purposes that have nothing to do with Christ. Looking to the politics of the American state rather than the supranational Kingdom of God as the expression of Christ’s command to love our neighbors is idolatry.

Rather than acting politically to impose our vision of the common good on our neighbor’s behalf whether they want us to or not, we could promote voluntary interactions, liberty, non-aggression, and serving others in order to allow people to peacefully pursue what they believe to be “good.” We could use persuasion and peacemaking when we inevitably disagree on what “good” looks like. Otherwise we are simply engaging in good ol’ power politics, even if we pretend it’s love.

Keller ends his piece by stating, "The Gospel gives us the resources to love people who reject both our beliefs and us personally. Christians should think of how God rescued them. He did it not by taking power but by coming to earth, losing glory and power, serving and dying on a cross. How did Jesus save? Not with a sword but with nails in his hands." This final paragraph should have made the rest of his article unnecessary. He could have led with this statement and then gone on to explain how to use these resources "the Gospel gives us." But this wouldn't have gotten him a byline in the New York Times.

On a side note, why would the NYT publish an article like this? Because it drives Christians away from the GOP and toward the Democrat Party. I am not saying this was Keller's goal. It wasn't. He was simply used. The NYT, CNN, and Washington Post do not publish leaders like Keller, Russell Moore, and Ed Stetzer unless what they have to say is critical of conservative evangelicals. Go look at their articles for these three outlets. See if I'm wrong.

It goes like this. For the past two years everyone has hammered home that evangelicals, specifically white evangelicals, are almost completely aligned with the GOP and this is a bad thing. Amen. So evangelicals need to distance themselves from the GOP. And voting third party is a wasted vote. And we have a sacred obligation to vote. It's loving our neighbors. So where does that leave us? Well, it's time to start voting for some Democrats.

Keller says Christians should not align themselves with any one political party. He says thoughtful Christians, all trying to obey God’s call, could reasonably appear at different places on the political spectrum, with loyalties to different political strategies (is this really true?). He says we should avoid "package-deal ethics" by refusing to embrace all of one party's approved positions. So Christians are already being told to disassociate themselves from the GOP, reasonable God-loving folk are going to be all over the political spectrum, and we shouldn't endorse a party's entire platform. He's already established that politics is a good way to love our neighbors.

According to the prevailing wisdom of the world, which party is "committed to racial justice and the poor"? Again, it's time to start voting for some Democrats. I'm not saying this was Keller's goal. I'm saying this is why the New York Times would publish an article like this. It serves their purposes. It's one more boost to get evangelicals to start voting for Democrats. Remember, we have an obligation to vote because politics is Christian love and the prevailing wisdom tells us voting third party is a waste. So where does that leave us if we need to leave the GOP?

I have more to say about this in Christians: Look to Our King and Power Politics in the Name of Love but I'll leave it with this. If it is your conviction to go vote today, go vote. But it is just as valid to not vote due to conviction which is a post for another day. Just be honest about what we're doing. We're engaging in power politics. We're coercing our neighbors, not loving them. We're grasping for all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. As the saying goes, what would Jesus do? What did he do? [Matthew 4:8-11]

Jeff Wright, Jr. is a prison pastor, holds a Master of Theology (ThM) from Dallas Theological Seminary, and is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society. Jeff is a very blessed husband and daddy, loves serving his local church, and enjoys all things Star Wars. He not-so-frequently-anymore writes for the Libertarian Christian Institute. You can also find him @jeffwrightjr.