Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Election Day Reflections

Today Scot Mcknight on Eschatology and Politcs asked us to consider where is our hope (he limited his reflection to evangelicals, but I think it applies to all and any Christians, to the whole Body of Christ)? McKnight asserts that our hope is in God in the gospel and God's mission in the world. "God’s gospel-powered mission creates a new people, the church, where we are to see God’s mission at work. Therein lies our hope." I am mulling over this in light of assertions that America is a light set on a hill, and in light of the ways in which for American Christians the fate of our understanding of the gospel and the fate of America and the political process is often linked. On some level we as American Christians want our citizenships as people of the United States and as people of the church to coincide and exist without conflict. We want the church and the state to mutually support each other. In our present context, and that which McKnight is addressing, this desire is not only about our citizenship but our partisanship and thus a particular vission of America that must coincide with our being the church. For many being Christian and supporting or being Democrat or Republican are nearly inextricable, and the political other is beyond the pale of Christian faith. Both sides of this debate use Nazi Germany as the prime example of why Christians must stand up and oppose the other party and its policies. The other party is seen as the fascist (and/or communist) party. Each group of Christians of course focuses on differing aspects of the Nazi regime and thus is able to see in the other a lurking Nazism. For Democrats it is the Nazi treatment of all minorities not simply the Jews and the regimes persecution of homosexuals and other sexualities it deemed deviant. Also for Democrats it is the populism of the early Nazi movement and its concern for a proper German identity. For Republicans it is the way in which Nazism and fascism through the power of the State sought to infuse itself into every level of society insisting the church and family serve and promote the Nazi State and its Aryan agenda. Christians of either party insist that we must resist these tendencies by supporting one party and opposing the other. But it seems to me that this means that Christians are actively promoting what the Nazi regime attempted to do and that is create a Christianity and church that was indistinguishable from party and nation. However, we are not seeing a repeat of the rise of Hitler. More likely we are simply seeing a division in the American Christian identity that has always collapsed being a citizen of this nation and a citizen of the people of God. We are after all that city set on a hill. Well no, no we aren't that is the church!

Oddly enough to me I see this collapsing even among liberals who in their anti-Constantinian settlement and anti-Christendom stances claim to have abandoned such civil religion. And yet we have such suggestions as that put forward by Candace Chellew-Hodge on Polling place as sacrosanct. As one who has a degree in Religious Studies I can appreciate the analogy of polling place as sacred space. But as one aware that we do have and have always had a civil religion in this country and that it has tended to have a Christian veneer, the collapsing of civility and politeness of a poling place with the exhortation to Love from Saint Paul the Apostle seems to be a watering down the Gospel and the notion of Love in Paul (which by the way is for Paul always already self-sacrificial and exemplified in the Cross and leads Paul to his own death) by equating it with politeness and civility in a public setting. I'm sorry but Jesus and God are many things but politeness is not the same as God's self-sacrificial love. And However much I may like John Stewart (and I think he is hilarious, damn funny, and has bitting insightful commentary on our times) and however nice, good and useful his analogy of cars merging "you go, then I go..." , such an image is hardly a comparable image to the cross and Christian Martyrdom which should be the meaning of Love for the Christian. Two things seem to make Chellew-Hodge's conflation possible: 1) that politeness in the line at a voting booth seems worthy of commentary in our day (who knew, I didn't but I haven't voted since 2002 so haven't been to a poling place in awhile) and 2) a desire to make our civic duty as citizens of the United States coincide with our civic duty as the people of God.

As I wind down I return to our current fear that the other political party will bring us to the brink of fascism (and/or communism): For the church there is in the United States the analogous co-option of the church and Christianity by the nation and state, but it's nothing new and has little or anything to do with fascism or communism. We are currently aware of this danger on the one hand because ostensibly it is the consensus that empire and colonialism are at odds with Christian faith, and that Christendom was a huge mistake. On the other hand we aware of this because there are now two competing visions of how being both a citizen of the United States and a citizen of the people of God can coincide without conflict or betrayal of either citizenship and without needing to give priority to that of the people of God. American Christians for most if not all of our history have assumed that our allegiance to God and Christ and the Kingdom of God could be entirely coincident with being citizens of this great democracy. Few have questioned the claim that America is a "City set on a Hill". Even now, while liberal Christians may point out how America failed at that miserably, liberals haven't given up on this idea but seek to make a progressive agenda into that which will fulfill this manifest destiny of the United States. It is long overdue for Christians in America to return to Augustine's City of God, and contemplate our only true citizenship, and revive a two kingdoms theology not in its form that allows Christians to betray Gospel principles if in civil office (and may have lead to German Lutherans slow response to Hitler and Nazism) but one that heightens the tensions between these two citizenships, and makes the bold claim that we are better citizens of the nations of the world if we are only loyal to our citizenship in the people of God. Or to say it another way; We are most truly good citizens of this world when we seek to have no other identity than that of Christ, and thus see ourselves as only truly citizens of the City of God.