If You Could Just Go Ahead and Listen to Us, That Would Be Great
If you haven’t seen the classic late-90’s movie Office Space, then this reference will almost certainly confuse you: by many people’s estimation, Christians have become the Bill Lumbergh of our political society.
Known for his nasally monotone (to call it “bland” credits it too much vigor) and laser-straight attention to the things that no one else cares about (“Mmmkay, thanks.”), the only exciting thing about Lumbergh is the level of hatred that his sudden appearances spark in those who have to hear him. Popping up suddenly out of nowhere to voice his uninspiring opinion on a subject that he was not asked for input on is a repeated recipe for comedic disaster, and while it might work well in a movie script, no one enjoys being in such a real-life situation.
How often have we Christians suddenly elbowed our way into a conversation – particularly a political one – only to be met with angry stares and frustrated responses? For many people, the only time a Christian is visible is when our certain pet social issues are suddenly in the media again (Prop 8, anyone?). It should come as no surprise to us that everyone else is confused at our sudden desire to play in their sandbox when we are so normally content to play in our own (or, more likely, our church’s).
We here at Faithful Politics have started work on a loosely connected project to develop a Kingdom-based theology of political engagement. That is to say: how does Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom (the all-encompassing reality He inaugurated during his life and will one day bring to complete fruition upon His return) pertain to our 21st century political reality? In the interest of being clear, we should first try and define our terms: by “engagement,” we want to know how Christians should approach and interact with the current culture around them, specifically the “political” sphere that pertains to the bureaucratic institution of public governance for citizens.
I think it’s safe to say that many Christians do a poor job of this.
Consider the stereotype: the angry sign-holder who doesn’t even know what a ballot is until there is suddenly a question about abortion practices on one. Not only is this an abrasive and ineffective way of making one’s voice heard, but it goes directly against Jesus’ command for His followers to be “salt and light” to the world around them.
In Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus lays out a sketch for how His disciples should engage their culture: by being consistently visible, never hiding our lamps under bowls, but by constantly seasoning the people around us with the truth of His Word. For our purposes here, we should focus on one word: consistently.
By regularly participating in cultural processes, we establish both personal connections and public records for ourselves as caring, intelligent people who deserve to be heard – rather than showing up suddenly, clutching our coffee cups, reminding everyone of the new format for the TPS reports. James Davison Hunter describes this as an approach of “faithful presence” wherein, among other things, “the challenge is not to stifle robust debate, but rather to make sure that it is real debate.” The more committed we are to faithfully engaging in politics, the more true-to-faith said engagement will be.
Until then, then only thing people will want to do is transfer us (*JUST* a moment) to someone else.
Or take us out into a field with a baseball bat.