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But I could be wrong

October 2, 2013

Well, here we are in day two of the government shutdown and the accusations are flying.  In Washington both Democrats and Republicans are busy blaming each other, passing meaningless dead-on-arrival measures to score political points, and doing, well, not much else.  Meanwhile out here in the country the approval rating for Congress has slipped to 10% and, even with that number, many are wondering who in the world those 10% actually are.

I suspect that a favorite way to get a bunch of “likes” on a blog post is to write how disgusted you are with the whole process.  As I write that it occurs to me that “likes” may be the way out of this mess.  Maybe Harry Reid and John Boehner should each write a Facebook post outlining their position and we can declare the one who gets the most “likes” the winner.

Who knows?  Maybe we can replace Congress with competing Facebook pages and start running the entire government through “likes.”  We’d end up with a government run more or less along the lines of American Idol but perhaps that is not all altogether bad thing.

In any event, as a Christian, and in particular an evangelical, I’d like to look at this a little differently.  Some time ago Christian researcher Ed Stetzer, a committed evangelical, made the comment that “When you mix religion and politics you get just politics.”  At the time I was in strong agreement with him but of late I am not so sure.   I tend to think that some aspects of religion are taking hold in the political arena.  Sadly, I don’t think that is a good thing.

Historically religion, and in particular evangelical Christianity, has always been about absolutes.  We declare our beliefs to be absolutely true and, by extension, declare opposing beliefs to be absolutely false.  Politics on the other hand has been about consensus and compromise.  Each side fights for what is right and doesn’t waver in its beliefs but always tries to get whatever it can out of the process, knowing that the other side needs to do the same.  The classic example in American politics of this is Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill.  They had wildly different views and fought hard for them but in the end managed to establish a give-and-take approach.

Those days are gone.  While there is talk of compromise and negotiation the reality is that the two sides in Washington have dug in and neither wants to give an inch.  All attempts at compromise are meaningless symbolic “concessions” that have no chance of being accepted and are offered only as talking points for their faithful.

In short they sound more like religious discussions.  Take for example the culture war on same sex marriage.  “We don’t hate gays but…”  “We have nothing against Christians but…”  Once those platitudes are uttered it is deemed safe to say anything we want in the name of standing for truth.  It sounds rather like the “We don’t want to shut down government but…” doesn’t it?

So how did the religious idea of absolutes slip into politics?  I feel it is through an idea that it a huge favorite among evangelicals – inerrancy.  Because we believe the Bible to be inerrant we take a stand for absolute truth and will not compromise.  It is no coincidence that the instigators of the current Washington standoff frequently use the language of absolutes, and even at times the language of Biblical absolutes, to support their case.  Compromise or concessions are therefore unthinkable.  Have we in fact given the idea of inerrancy as a gift to the political world?  I suspect we have.

The key problem is that, no matter how inerrant I feel the Bible is, my opinion of what the Bible says and means is not, and can never be, inerrant.  We pay lip service to that but, in actual discussions, the idea that we may be wrong seldom comes up.  At least it doesn’t come up for us.  We are usually more than ready to see wrong opinions in opposing apologists.

Take, for example, what is called contextual theology.  This might be liberation theology, feminist theology, gay theology, etc.  We evangelicals are horrified by such things and decry them.  The reality however is that nobody is able to do noncontextual  theology.  We all come from someplace and see the world, including the Bible, through our own (invisible to us) contextual filters.  There are serious flaws in deliberate contextualization; if you start with a point of view you can be sure that you will end up confirming it.  But pretending that we do not have a point of view; that we are the only ones who read the Bible without our context influencing us is an even worse error.

In the end, in faith and politics both, the only way to live is with grace and humility.  With the admission that, no matter how much I believe what I am saying, ending each thought  with “but of course I could be wrong” is essential.  It will surprise me if I hear these words coming from Capitol Hill any time soon.  It would also surprise me if culture warriors on either side say it.  But, hey, I can dream, can’t I?


From → Christianity

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