Posted tagged ‘Greg Boyd’

Christians and Politics: Abstinence is the Best Policy

June 28, 2009

This is a short paper I wrote, for an ethics class, about responsible engagement of the political sphere by Christians. I of course take the position that Christians should not get themselves tangled up in the worldly political game, but I was required to give a brief positive assessment of competing views so I did that although I am not convinced that the “positives” of other views are truly strengths at all. It is a very basic, perhaps even elementary, assessment but I believe it to be a sufficient introduction to this position.

The Distinct Polity of the Church is Political Enough: Why Christians Should Abstain from Civil Governmental Politics

by Justin Bronson

I am persuaded that the most faithful way for Christians to engage the political sphere is by being a distinct polity unto themselves operating on the principle of imitating Christ’s example of cross-bearing love. In my view this precludes the participation of Christians in government, but requires us to transform the political sphere by questioning the powers, and exposing any sin by openly provoking them to direct their evil towards us just as Christ did. This could perhaps be viewed as a sort of mediation between Niebuhr’s Christ against culture, and Christ the transformer of culture.[i] We participate in what I will call selective engagement, meaning not that we choose when we are going to engage, but how we are going to engage the political sphere; specifically that we reject governmental positions and create our own peculiar polity of Christ-like living.

In Scripture we can see both apodictic and casuistic[ii] teachings[iii], and examples, particularly in the person of Christ; as well as an overarching, at least in the NT, principle of humble, self-sacrificial service[iv] as opposed to “fighting” worldly political battles as the means to transforming the world. This informs a position of selective engagement. Themes such as Satan being the god of this age[v], Jesus’ example of rejection of earthly power[vi], the demonic influence in government[vii] and of Christians being foreigners in earthly kingdoms[viii] all point to an idea of selective engagement. Our primary grounds for this selective engagement is, as already mentioned, the life of Christ. Instead of taking the kingdoms Satan offered,[ix] entering Jerusalem as the conquering earthly king, calling legions of angels,[x] or getting caught up in the politics of his day; Jesus rejected Satan’s offer of power,[xi] entered Jerusalem on a lowly donkey, died alone on a cross[xii], and called all people to take up their crosses and follow him.[xiii] Perhaps the best representative verse of Christ in this light is Col 2:15, “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”[xiv]

Many early Christians, the Anabaptist movement, and multiple contemporary theologians/ethicists, have also called the church to be its own polity as a way of influencing the world and subverting the current political sphere. Tertullian will, for this essay, serve as an example of the early Christian call to selective engagement. According to Hollinger, Tertullian believed “Christians were to refrain from political life because it involved emperor worship.”[xv] Although the American context does not require emperor worship, it does demand allegiance. This is something we as Christians cannot give because our sole allegiance is to Christ. This is where I would fall in line with Niebuhr’s assessment of Christ against culture when he says this approach “uncompromisingly affirms the sole authority of Christ over the Christian and rejects cultures’ claims to loyalty.”[xvi]

The Anabaptists picked up on this thinking and refused to let the church be defined by geography, and believed that government was unnecessary for Christians because the church was the their polity.[xvii] The Schleitheim Confession unabashedly declares that Christians should not be involved in government, pointing to the example of Christ[xviii] and the need for separation from the evils of the world[xix]. However, it wasn’t that they, and others like them,[xx] just wanted to be against culture. This is evidenced in Yoder’s critique of Niebuhr’s assessment of Christ against culture. Yoder points to an amalgamation with “Christ transforming culture”[xxi], when he says it’s “about devotion to the way of Christ, which at points conflicts with culture and society.”[xxii]

Contemporary theologians[xxiii] have also delved into this idea, including Stanley Hauerwas who says “The church does not exist to provide an ethos for democracy or any other form of social organization but stands as a political alternative to every nation, witnessing to the kind of social life possible for those that have been formed by the story of Christ.”[xxiv] Martin Luther King Jr. did not completely reject the notion of Christians in government, but he witnessed to the conflict between government and Christian ideals and called for a negotiation that ultimately seeks justice.[xxv]

Christians have also taken opposing views, each with particular strengths. Many, like Calvin, believed the church should indeed be involved in government[xxvi] claiming that those who refused to do so were “frantic and barbarous men are furiously endeavoring to overturn the order established by God.”[xxvii] The focus on God’s sovereignty, even in the political realm, and Christians’ use of the established order to advance kingdom ideals are strengths of this position. Others, like Luther proposed, that it is acceptable, but not necessary for Christians to be involved in government. His distinction between the two kingdoms[xxviii] allowed for Christian participation while not mandating it. He also proposed that the government should not be governed by Christian ideals. This has a particular strength because it attempts to keep the church and the state from getting too muddled while allowing for freedom of Christians to pursue any vocation in which he or she can do good. These views, and similar ones, have the three primary strengths of a broad range of influence and the possibility of “immediate” effectiveness, as well as the necessary power to enact proposed changes. The belief is, if a Christian can rightly participate in government he or she can enact good over a large number of people and possibly in a relatively short amount of time and to a great extent make sure it happens.

All of these things considered, it is my belief that Christians should actively engage society and the political sphere by being a separate and distinct polity. We therefore should avoid direct involvement in government such as serving as a governing official. The witness of Christ, the New Testament, various historical and contemporary individuals and movements have persuaded me that although the church can certainly bring about good through government; ultimately our responsibility is to be faithful to Christ as Lord and we must therefore take up our crosses and not the sword of power. We must imitate Jesus and not Caesar if we are ever going to change the world.

 


[i] Hollinger, Dennis, Choosing the Good: Christian Ethics in a Complex World (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002) 191-197, 208-213

[ii] Pohl, Christine- Class Handout,  Forms of Ethical Guidance in Scripture

[iii] Luke 9:48, John 10:37

[iv] E.g. Matt. 5:3ff, 16:24, Acts 20:18-21, Eph 6:12, Phil 2:3

[v] E.g. 2 Cor 4:4

[vi] E.g. John 6:15, Luke 4:7f

[vii] E.g. Luke 4:6, Eph 6:12, Col 2:15

[viii] E.g. 1 Pet 2:11

[ix] Luke 4:5f

[x] Matt 26:43

[xi] Luke 4:8

[xii] E.g. Matt 27:46

[xiii] E.g. Mark 8:34

[xiv] RSV

[xv] Hollinger p192

[xvi] Hollinger p191

[xvii] Hollinger p194

[xviii] Boulton, Wayne G., Thomas D. Kennedy, and Allen Verhey, eds., From Christ to the World: Introductory Readings in Christian Ethics p286

[xix] Boulton p284

[xx] See for example Leo Tolstoy, Dorothy Day, Jacques Ellul, Vernard Eller, David Lipscomb and Various Monastic movements

[xxi] Hollinger p208

[xxii] Hollinger p194

[xxiii] Notably Vernard Eller, John Howard Yoder, Greg Boyd, Lee Camp and Richard Hughes

[xxiv] Hollinger p55

[xxv] Boulton p429

[xxvi] Hollinger p209

[xxvii] Calvin, John. Of Civil Government Ch. 20 http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.vi.xxi.html

[xxviii] Pohl, Christine- Class notes Christ and Culture in Paradox from Martin Luther

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Christian Perspectives on Abortion

October 17, 2008

Here are a few articles on abortion that essentially articulate three different views on abortion. I ask that you read each of them carefully and critically. All of them affirm the sanctity of life, but take a different approach to living out that affirmation. Here are the links and few representative quotes from each.

The first article is from Tony Campolo, professor, minster, and social activist. 

“Red Letter Christians are overwhelmingly pro-life, even though we refuse to get caught up in the power-centered politics of the Religious Right… Most Red Letter Christians are unwilling to become single-issue voters whose politics are determined solely by abortion.”

“It seems to me morally inconsistent and very unfair for a member of congress to vote against abortion but then not to support those economic measures, which experts say could cut abortions by as many as 500,000 in any given year.”

“Regardless how we vote when considering the abortion issue we will probably make some of our fellow Christians angry. This is not just another issue- for many, its a life and death matter. But Red Letter Christians must face the reality that there are good Christians on both sides of the debate. As hard as it may be, we must show grace toward those who take positions that differ from our own.”

Here is an article, or rather series of short related articles from Focus on the Family.

“Abortion poses risks to women and kills their preborn children. At its root, abortion is evidence of a lack of choices for women in unintended pregnancies as well as a societal disrespect for the value of young human life.”

“Women are certainly not the only ones affected by abortion. The preborn baby human at the center of the pregnancy has no choice, or voice, in the abortion decision yet, in most cases, arguably the most to lose… There is no doubt that this growing entity is fully human and a member of the human family.”

“Focus on the Family opposes abortion under all circumstances, except in the rare instance when the mother’s life is threatened by continuing the pregnancy.”

Here is an article by Greg Boyd, that reflects his Kingdom understanding of abortion, and his personal, non-kingdom, political view on the subject as well.

“Jesus never let the politics of his day determine how he approached issues. Sadly, this is exactly what many Christians today are doing. No where is this more evident than in the abortion debate.”

“These issues will undoubtedly be wrapped up with other difficult metaphysical questions, such as: When does the fetus become a full person? When does it become in “the image of God”? When does it acquire a “soul”? (Many contemporary Christians are surprised to learn throughout its history the Church has never had consensus about these issues).”

“The distinctly kingdom question is not, How should one vote? The distinctly kingdom question is, How should one live? Our unique authority as kingdom people can’t be granted us or taken from us by government. Our unique authority lies in our willingness to live and die as Jesus did, in love for others. The distinct kingdom question we should ask in regards to abortion is; how can we individually and collectively serve women sacrificially who are struggling with an unwanted pregnancy and serve the unborn babies that are unwanted?”

“Numerous studies have revealed that, regardless of whether they vote pro-life or pro-choice, the majority of Americans agree that a) the fewer the abortions the better, and b) the later an abortion takes place, the worse it is. Yet, instead of working together to create a society in which abortion is rarely necessary and later abortions never occur, the two sides are for the most part polarized at extremes, both fearing that giving an inch will justify “the opposition” in taking a mile.”

To be honest I was a bit surprised by some of the things I found from Focus on the Family and Tony Campolo, I had already read Boyd’s article a while ago so no surprises there. What do you think about each of these positions? How can we as followers of Christ be truly pro-life?