One of the interesting things that Dr. Tim Keller said at the North American Network gathering for City to City was something like the following:
"The reason secularists are afraid of Christians is their belief that if we get in power, we will take everyone else’s freedoms away."
I found this to be an interesting and enlightening comment. I'm not sure the word "afraid" hits it quite right, but what Keller is getting at is that Christians are often not great "citizens" in the secular society because of our propensity towards creating a government which takes things away from people - rights, civil liberties, freedom of belief, etc. I'm not sure this has happened in recent history in any way of significance, but the threat is certainly there from the Christian Right. The sense that, if Christians would be placed into major political positions of power, we would use our power to estrange others of different beliefs is palpable in at least the rhetoric. The interesting thing about this is that certainly, any political group lobbying for power hopes in someway to use that power to leverage their beliefs for their version of the good of the country. I'm not so sure that Christians are all that different in this political sense than any other idealogical group. However, my deeper question (and possibly Keller's) is whether there is another way to approach cities, politics, and the social sphere in general from a Christian perspective or from Christian values and beliefs.
There are lots of questions wrapped in whether and how Christians should be involved in politics. And historically, there are any number of ways in which Christians have approached the public realm, from ruling and reigning to fomenting revolution to isolation. Today, Christians can be found on the left, on the right, in the middle, and on the outskirts. What I appreciated, though, about Keller's comments was that it is disturbing that our neighbors and fellow citizens would be worried about persecution and oppression under a Christian lead government. That's enlightening when we think about it deeply. I realized that I'm afraid of many of the Christians I know getting into the political realm for the same reasons. So, Keller asks, why don't our neighbors think we love them? Why don't people in the city think we love their city? If we are truly loving our neighbors as ourselves and seeking the welfare of the city (and country), why would that be threatening? Is it the confusion in their hearts and minds, or is it in something we have done? (my bias is that it's something we are responsible for more than anything... cf. the wonderful book UnChristian by Gabe Lyons and David Kinnaman).
I've been reading the book To Change the World by James Davison Hunter, which is a fascinating book on culture, history, power, Christianity, and change. In that book, I think it's chapter 5, Hunter shares some history of the relationship between Christians and political movements. One of his arguments (to be really simplistic) is that when the cultural elites are truly converted and lead with humanity in mind through true care for the poor, estranged, and powerless that Christianity has been the most effective in cultural change. Though I haven't heard enough on Keller, I think this is where he's pointing. How do you impact the cultures of power and ideas while maintaining a heart for true justice and care for all humanity?
Jesus said this in his inauguration into ministry in Luke 4, quoting from the Isaiah 61 vision:
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
One of the questions here is how this message and mission of Jesus - the good news - is being missed by our culture when Christians try to enter into the public realm?
I think Keller's right. We don't know how to enter the public discourse, and often aren't allowed into the public discourse as Christians because of our reputation. We do need a new apologetic that arises out of the message and mission of Jesus for a new humanity, rooted in love and redeemed by love, for all people.
Again, we return to love, the gospel of love, the message of love, the heart of love, the approach of love, the words of love, the power of love, the conviction of love, the character of love, the way forward through love. Love. Jesus. Simple.
What would a politics or public discourse of love look like, feel like, and sound like? What if the world looked to Christians and said instead, "We would love to have you at the table because we know if you were in power, more people would experience the true freedom that love brings."
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