Ah, the elections are over. Some people are happy, some are not. I, for one, am happy — not because the people I voted for got elected (they didn’t), but that we will not be subjected to the petty, spiteful, disrespectful, spurious, un-true/half-true, patronizing, attacking ads anymore. I cannot remember in recent years so many ads that both attacked the opponent AND insulted my intelligence. It was as if the candidates and their public relations handlers counted on the ignorance and gullibility of the viewing audience. “So-and-so has been in office the past two years — therefore he/she is responsible for all that happened.” Please tell me that no one actually confuses correlative reality with causal fact. I have often been hired to mediate disputes that got worse after I arrived. No one was ever silly enough to blame me for the escalated tension. People elected just two years ago inherited an incredible mess. There is no way they should shoulder the blame — either for the mess or for not cleaning up in two years what took over ten years to create.
Ah, but this is human nature (fallen human nature, but human nature nonetheless). How many times in our churches do we encounter a problem decades in the making that we lay at the current pastor’s feet? How frequently do we allow bad behaviors to go unchecked for years, then act all surprised when problems pop up? In a culture tolerant of anti-social behavior, we cannot be surprised when it permeates our churches as well. Of course, we could do something about it… if we wanted to. But we don’t seem to want to. We are allowing the church and the whole Christian faith to be reinterpreted for us by popular culture and media pundits. Case in point: socialism.
With growing amazement I followed the rhetoric about “socialist” government. Someone, somewhere, sometime noted that egalitarian care for all is a tenet of socialism, so therefore any government involvement in “universal” anything must be socialist. Someone, somewhere, sometime noted that care for the poor and marginalized is viewed as a moral imperative in socialism, so any focus on “immigration reform” that is framed in terms of justice or compassion must be socialist. Socialism as a form of government is a complex and convoluted beast, and it defies simple acceptance or rejection; as a philosophy it becomes even more complex — especially for Christians. Setting aside the politics and disallowing corrupted examples of bad socialist governments for a moment, Christians are faced with a disconcerting truth — regardless of what Glenn Beck might say to the contrary, there is a whole lot more socialism than capitalism in the gospels. Social justice is central to the teachings of Jesus. It gets even worse with Paul.
Once political parties usurp concepts and twist them for their own purposes, we get into some messy problems. The teachings of Jesus really don’t belong to any “ism” and shame on us for allowing them to be mis-appropriated by a secular culture that doesn’t understand or respect them. There has been virtually nothing “social” about any of the political discourse this season. A misunderstanding and misapplication of “socialism” to our current situation doesn’t make the statements true. (Swimming in a duck pond doesn’t automatically make you a duck; caring for the poor and marginalized doesn’t automatically make you a bleeding-heart liberal socialist… believe me; all my conservative friends working in homeless shelters and at soup kitchens HATE the assumption when it is made about them!)
We’re standing in a very dangerous place. When we allow the secular culture to state that care for the poor, love of the stranger, responsibility for the widow and orphan, visiting the prisons, etc., are part of a negative agenda it spells trouble. We cannot let being like Jesus and doing the will of God be reframed as a political agenda. No more can we allow “values” to be ascribed to one political party over another. Our political passions cannot overrule our common sense and our faith. It breaks my heart that justice, mercy, kindness, compassion, economic equity, and basic sharing have all been stained by political posturing.
Socialist? Not socialist? Republican? Democrat? (Green? Independent? Sky-blue pink?) None of this really matters if the only way we can relate is in a decidedly “anti-social” manner. Unless our faith is great enough to allow us to set aside political differences, the healing work of Christ simply won’t happen. I think of Paul’s statement in Ephesians that Christ has broken down the dividing walls of hostility, then I think of some very ugly disputes I have witnessed recently in our churches as well as in our political arenas. Folks, we have to stop following along like sheep and start leading. Just because the rest of the world gets mired in senseless debate doesn’t mean we have to. Just because the rest of the world divides itself into self-righteous winners and losers doesn’t mean we have to. Just because the rest of the world resorts to insult, disrespect, slander, half-truth, innuendo, intimidation, and violence doesn’t mean we have to. No, we need to model a different way — a better way. Some might try to label it (something like “socialism) as a way to dismiss it. But saying something doesn’t automatically make it so. What we need is to strive to be like Christ, together, and not be overly concerned what labels might be applied. And maybe if we can begin to offer a better way, others might follow us for a change.