Archive for August 2012

Is Political Talk on Facebook Pointless?   1 comment

Is Political Talk on Facebook Pointless?

Recently someone close to me expressed concern about the amount of time I’ve been taking to post political articles on Facebook. It proved to be a good opportunity for me to pause and evaluate.  Just what do I think I’m accomplishing, and is it worth the time? What follows is my answer. (I should say at the start that I am an evangelical Christian, and that both the question and my answer are framed by that fact.)

What motivates me?

First and foremost, I’m compelled by the Biblical mandates. When it comes to the life of a Christian, the Bible emphasizes more than anything else the necessity of a life lived in love for God and others. Biblically speaking those “others” are our neighbors – those disenfranchised or exploited in some way. The Bible often mentions the poor, the widow, the orphan and the immigrant as prime examples. Indeed, in the book of James, in a provocative verse, caring for widows and orphans (and keeping oneself uncorrupted in the process) is the definition of pure religion. Practicing compassion for others in need reflects the heart of God. It’s the main thing that followers of Jesus are called to do. My posting is part of my attempt to respond to that call in the most effective way I know.

Disenfranchised people are proliferating in U.S. society as a result of our growing and profound wealth inequality. Exploitation occurs when freedom of speech, assembly, or due process is restricted or prevented, when hard-fought civil rights are lost, when multinational corporations are allowed by a dysfunctional and compromised Congress to abuse rather than tend our planet, and when the womb is a terribly dangerous place for a growing child. People are disenfranchised when immorally deprived of their legitimate voting rights, of the possibility of an education, or of their homes, and when corporations and exceptionally rich individuals are granted the right to buy election results so they can maximize profits.

In this environment, I am motivated by the desire to speak truth to power, to call Christians to less of a simplistic way of thinking about politics (rejecting, for instance, the idea that any true Christian will be a member of a particular political party), and to point to Jesus Christ and faith in him as the only ultimate hope for our world, and for us as individuals.

And Facebook posting is not all I do. I’ve marched in Occupy protests, and I talk to anyone who will listen. I want to use my resources, harness my abilities, cast my votes, and speak my prayers in the out working of this calling, but because of the restrictions on me (time, age, work, etc.), I’ve concluded that using social media to engage with others is one of the main things I can routinely do. I also want to learn from others. I’m not as confident as some that I see everything just as it is.

What am I determined to accomplish?

I am committed to being a voice of dissent at a time when too many are quiet. I’m committed to joining with others in working for change in our beloved country. I’m committed to responding faithfully to God’s call to perseverance in well-doing in what he says are the most important ways. I’m committed to challenging others to be more informed and active, and to do so in an irenic way – always attempting to be motivated by my faith, by the common good, and not by partisan politics.

Is this a worthwhile use of my time?

Biblically speaking, nothing surpasses these goals and purposes in importance.  Even the work of the believing Church in evangelism and discipleship relate to these goals and my choice of them. In my opinion, the evangelical church (among others) is rapidly losing any credibility it has with unbelievers and younger Christians who see it an unengaged and irrelevant. As several notable Christian books have shown, many, perhaps even most, professing Christians are missing the main point of their faith. (For instance see The Life You’ve Always Wanted by John Ortberg, and Generous Justice by Tim Keller.) The church can no longer go about business as usual. Somehow is must awaken and embrace a broader sense of mission.

What are my expectations?

When I first became involved with Occupy Wall Street, I had very high hopes that it would be a catalyst for real change. Its contribution has been very significant, and continues, but the response of apathy from so much of the population is disheartening. Outside of what the Occupy movement (or something else like it) can accomplish, I see little hope for our country. To expect the profoundly needed changes to come from our political or religious institutions is, to use a Biblical phrase, “to lean upon a reed.” Obviously, too much dysfunction prevails in Congress and in the Church to expect much from either corner.  Many in ministry will respond by saying we can still reach individuals whose lives will be changed by Jesus Christ, and that we’re not trying to change the world, but instead, to deliver a remnant out of it – to create a counter cultural people for God – to show a better way. I understand this perspective, and agree with it as far as it goes – it just doesn’t go far enough. Too often this approach translates into a pietistic Christianity which simply is not what God intends.  Believers characterized by obliviousness or apathy towards others in need, or filled with animosity toward those who are different (politically, racially, in sexual behavior, etc.) have missed the main point of faith, which is after all, as J.I. Packer argued in The True Humanism – to be a better human, a better person. Too many Christians have chosen truth over love, and quietism over personal involvement – both of which fall short of what Christ died to accomplish for us and our churches.

Will my efforts, either with Occupy or in the political process be more effective than the efforts of others in the church? I’m not saying that. I want to honor hard-working pastors and Christians in the churches. We can’t do without the church. But, it’s not an either-or proposition. There is just no reason that we must choose between Bible studies and engagement on social and economic issues. And anyway, I’m simply explaining and defending my thinking and actions. God leads different people in different ways, obviously, and we all must answer to him. I think the story of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. illustrates the kind of approach I’m talking about – commitment to a long, often difficult process of change, and persistence in it despite the apparent results, with the conviction that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

When I ask myself whether I can devote the rest of my life to this – whether that would be a sufficiently worthy goal, I can only say, for all the reasons above, that I feel that it is, and that I cannot do otherwise. Unless one takes the approach that Christ is going to return soon to usher in an entirely new world – rendering working for change in this world futile, then these things are the things that matter most. (And in fact, even if we knew Jesus would return in just five or ten more years, we would still be compelled to care for the helpless in the meantime.)

Finally when it comes to the Christian church and just her own selfish good, let us remember that the freedom to meet, and to preach and witness could easily be taken from her. One day maybe the powers that be will try to disenfranchise her. And short of that, what good will it be if the church continues to be free to preach, but loses its audience because of a bad reputation? Even for just it’s own survival, the church needs to do better when it comes to these concerns. (Obviously, faithfulness to God’s call transcends this as a sole motivation, but it certainly can be a motivation.)

On my Occupy website are these words from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, “Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.” That’s what I’m talking about. Those are marching orders for the church the same as they were for Israel. What is uppermost on the heart of God has not changed.

In the seventies we used to sing, “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love.” The song may sound outdated today, but it’s message endures. If we’ve experienced God’s love, we’re compelled to live it out in our world. God’s intention has never been for us to huddle in our churches. (Biblically speaking, we are to be “in the world” but not “of it.”) We can’t wait for people to come to us in order to experience God’s love and justice. We have to go to them. We have to engage with the culture – especially now, in days where threats to what we hold dear surround us.

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