Most readers of this blog know that I don’t do a lot of commenting on politics here. But sometimes you just gotta say SOMETHING.
My sister showed me this video this past weekend. It’s a music video put together by a Christian family in Oklahoma in order to help the Rick Santorum campaign. Take a gander.
The catchy little video’s garnered over a million hits on YouTube. It’s a fun little two and a half minutes and I must confess that I find myself humming it here and there.
Nevertheless, there are problems. I have no interest here in commenting on the political or social values of the Santorum campaign, but rather to critique the questionable assumptions that seem to be at work in this video; assumptions that I think many Christians, on both the Right and the Left (and the various iterations between those two poles) carry around which do – in my opinion – hamper both our witness and our effective engagement in the political sphere. Let me name them:
1) Utopian idealism focused through the lens of political achievements. “There will be justice for the unborn; factories back on our shores…” and so on and so forth. Much good can be achieved through politics, to be sure; and much evil can be prevented. But my goodness, this kind of utopian idealism places unreal and thoroughly unmanageable expectations on politics and politicians. It happens in every political cycle. People get caught up in a wish-dream… THIS candidate, THIS party, THIS movement… THIS IS FINALLY IT! A new epoch of peace and prosperity is upon us, and this is the guy who will get it done! Seriously. Enough already. Temper the hyperbole please. Following from that…
2) The idolization of political figures. “He’s been faithful to his wife and seven kids; he’ll be faithful to us…” Never mind the non-sequitur. This placing of leaders on such a high pedestal has not often worked out for us in the past. If Rick Santorum gets elected, he is going to disappoint his supporters. You can take that to the bank. Just like Obama has disappointed many of those who got him elected… just like Bush disappointed many who got him elected… and so on and so forth. Politicians, let us remember, are flawed human beings like the rest of us are. Add to that the inherent complexity of trying to manage both their convictions about what’s right and their political existence, and you have a recipe for disappointment. Stop worshiping idols please. It’s bad for idols and worshipers alike.
3) Constantinianism. Long-standing habits of thought are hard to break, and one of the longest-standing thought-habits among Christians of all political persuasions is the assumption that America is a “something” that “we” (whoever “we” are) have to “get back” from “them” (whoever “they” are), and that seizing the levers of political power is the best way to get that done. We are like Jewish exiles living in Babylon hoping that if we unseat the Babylonian rulers, we can turn Babylon into the Jerusalem. Silliness I say, for:
- it is debatable that there is a “we” who ever really “had” America in the first place
- we are not altogether sure what “we” should do with America once we “got it back”
- we do not have a good track record of wielding power in any event, and
- it is not altogether clear that God is very interested in us being “in control”
In a nutshell, that’s my beef with the video. The driving assumptions lead to deep disappointment, the elevation and subsequent cannibalization of leaders, and and “us vs. them” mentality which fails to remember that our struggle is not against flesh and blood.
Now of course some are fuming angry with me right now, because they think that I’m advocating some kind of withdrawal from the political sphere. I am not. I am suggesting the following:
1) That we value political engagement for what it is and not overload it with utopian hopes. Some “goods” can be achieved in the political sphere, but not all of them; and even if we get the “right” people in power, the nature of our government (what with its checks and balances) means that progress towards our ideals is often slow and halting, at best. So let us have a chastened view of the power of politics.
2) That we stop placing leaders on a pedestal, for all of the reasons previously stated. Rick Santorum is a less awesome guy than these girls and their family imagine. And it is for both Rick’s and their good that they should realize it. No one has ever lived up to unrealistic expectations, for obvious reasons… THEY ARE UNREALISTIC. So let us remember that leaders are flawed human beings at best.
3) That we stop trying to “get America back from ‘them’ ” and start seeing the political sphere as a place where a plurality of interested parties grapples with issues related to the common good. America is a community with different voices at the table. The goal is not wresting power from someone else’s hands but working together for the common good. Some will have different opinions about what the common good is. And then, at times, we’re going to find ourselves at loggerheads, apparently unable to ram our issues through. And that will be an okay thing. We’re not in charge. God is in charge. And this isn’t our home. The Kingdom fo God is our home. We are “resident aliens”, working for the peace of the city to which we are sent into exile (see Jer 29), not trying to take the city back for ourselves in a coup. So let us remember our role as aliens and strangers; let us stop pretending like this place is “ours”; and let us bring our convictions to the table, working for the common good like everyone else, understanding the inherent limitations therein.
Hopefully that will keep us all healthier and saner.