Tonight Rick Johnson kicked off the Compassion-Peace-and-Justice series at WEAVE with a class about how faith and public life intersect. In the conversation, we acknowledged that we don’t want to be the people trying to create a theocracy, we don’t want to be the people stridently pushing our single-item agenda at the expense of others (or at the expense of the God of love!), and we also don’t want to segregate our faith from our political lives. Remembering that the greek word polis is a particular kind of community arrangement, politics (from the root polis) is about how we live together in community. In other words, “politics” and “partisanship” are not the same thing. Our faith should definitely inform politics–how we live together–even as we keep partisanship out of our faith community. We seek the kingdom of God, and that is our agenda…not a particular party or ideology.
We were reminded tonight that the agenda of the kingdom of God is about justice–in the sense of everyone having a place at the table, everyone having enough (not in the sense of punishment or retributive leveling). Over 2,000 verses of the Bible are about economics, justice, and caring for the poor and oppressed. That’s a lot of God-talk about something we often prefer to avoid. The arc of scripture is toward justice and compassion, and within that arc we strive to live our faith lives in the public square.
We talked for a long time about our human propensity to “mine Scripture for tidbits that will fit our particular agenda.” I’m sure we can all think of examples of this kind of proof-texting, where we take a few words or maybe a verse out of its context and use it to prove our point. This is done by people of every ideology, of every partisan stripe…and it’s not okay. We have a whole library of Scripture (66 books!) for a reason. If it were so simple and black and white, we’d have just a few chapters and be done with it. Instead we contend with stories, biographies, rules from ancient cultures, letters, visions, and the mythology of a people, and we work to interpret it in light of the love of God made known to us in Christ, for our time and context. It’s a big job, not one easily reduced to a few words taken out here and there.
We also talked about how many in our culture seem to believe that faith and politics should never mix. The difficulty, of course, is how much of Scripture is devoted to political issues. Most of the prophets and a fair chunk of Jesus and Paul’s teachings have to do with how the government cares for (or doesn’t care for) its people, with how the community is organized, with God’s concern for the poor and oppressed. How can we disregard all of that in order to keep our faith in its Sunday morning box? Well….we can’t, really. Jesus calls us to follow him wherever he leads, and he spends an awful lot of time hanging out where the leaders are, calling them out on their anti-kingdom-of-God actions and policies. What does following Jesus mean in our day?
What do you think? How does your faith inform your public or political life? How does your faith affect your understanding of the economy, the role of government in helping us work toward the kingdom of God, etc? What do you think a community that pleases God would look like? What would you like to learn more about so that you can more readily put your faith into action?