Q Los Angeles 2013
Arts + Entertainment
Science + Tech
What We Need This Election Season: A Radical Christian Center
My local paper recently carried an op-ed by a nationally syndicated columnist who is an evangelical Christian. He cited recent news reports of Fidel Castro beginning to move in the direction of embracing some elements of free enterprise for Cuba. He then contrasted this with Barack Obama’s moving of the United States towards bigger, “socialist” government. The columnist questions why Obama is embracing big government just when one of the few remaining socialist states is moving towards capitalism. His number one exhibit “proving” his point is that Obama is urging Congress not to extend the 2001 tax cut for persons making over $250,000 annually.
Put simply, this is nonsense. To imply that the United States under President Obama and Cuba under Fidel Castro are on contrasting trajectories—with President Obama moving the United States towards the big-government socialism that Cuba is abandoning—is simply parroting the latest talking points put out by partisan Republican operatives.
More than nonsense, it is destructive of what Christians can and should be offering the American people this election season. And young Christians—who increasingly are supporting creation care efforts, are taking part in feeding programs at central city missions, and in other ways are living out the gospel through acts of service—will be further alienated from the political process.
Don’t get me wrong. This is not an apology for the left, Christian or otherwise. From my experience the left and the right—including so-called spokespersons for the Christian right and the Christian left—are both guilty of oversimplifications and of being used by political operatives more cynical than they.
Are Christians too political? Pastor Mark Batterson responds on the Q podcast
This leads me to plead for a radical Christian center. Centrism may appear to be wishy-washy and undecided or so apathetic that one refuses to take sides. But a radical Christian center is far from being either. It is radical in that it goes to the root of today’s political issues, asking basic questions of purpose, value, and worth. It puts the common good ahead of partisan advantage and narrow special interests. If you don’t think that is radical, you haven’t been paying much attention to this fall’s partisan election campaigns.
Such an agenda is Christian in the sense that in answering questions of purpose, value, worth, and the common good one turns to the Bible, to Christian leaders, to the two thousand year old wisdom of the Church for help and insight. One then views government as having an appropriate, God-given role to restrain evil and promote good. But it also views government with a certain skepticism and recognizes that what God intends to be a force for good can be turned to evil ends—or at the least will often be a mixed bag of good and the less-than-good.
It is centrist—and also radical—in the sense of refusing to embrace either today’s left or right. Nor does it simply split the difference between them. Instead, it seeks new approaches and new ideas that both the left and the right will have trouble embracing. Most of these new approaches and ideas will involve using government as a driver of reforms (this will drive the right nuts), but not as the implementer of the reforms (this will drive the left nuts).
Two examples may help. Government will be actively involved in helping those trapped in poverty, but it will turn to local faith-based and other nonprofit organizations to develop and run the actual, concrete programs. In regard to creation care, government will set certain standards that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce the toxins in our waters, and lead to more recycling of used materials, but will avoid dictating the exact means to reach those standards and then enforcing them with new government bureaucracies. Instead, it will craft economic incentives strong enough to encourage local communities and the free enterprise system to figure out how best to reach those standards.
For more on how faith and government can partner together, watch the Q talk on "Church and State" by Joshua Dubois, White House Executive Director of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
Christians in the United States have the numbers, the commitment, and the incentive to free themselves from the clutches of both the left and the right. In doing so they can change the contours of today’s political landscape. If we are to do so, we need to go back to the basics of our faith, rethink for ourselves how to apply them to today’s challenges, and carve out a radical Christian center that is more faithful to our Lord and his will than any of the political positions being urged upon us right now.
How are you responding to the partisan climate in America? In your opinion, how can Christians work as restorers in such an environment?
Editor's Note: The artwork featured above is by artist
E thinks your thoughts are lacking. Obama is moving USA towards socialism and beyond. You are dreaming if you think your ideas will work. Gov actions prove you will be used by the Progressives.
What you are describing looks like what is already being tried as Public-Private partnerships, which exist at all levels of government. Some have been successful; many have not and have been a poor stewardship of taxpayer resources. So, on the one hand, I'm looking at this and wondering if this is another attempt at the same thing, calling it by a different name, but expecting different results.
On the other hand, there are social entrepreneurs and innovators, some of whom receive gov't grants/contracts, that are seeing great success. Philanthropies and foundations are turning to these innovators (and/or doing it themselves) more and more, and stewardship and accountability of resources and expected results seems to be more prevalent as evidenced by innovative means of measuring progress, not to mention actual results. Several examples include New Profit, Inc., Venture Philanthropy Partners and Social Venture Technology Group (measurement innovation).
A true radical approach would be to upend the current way gov't funds the things you describe, and instill real accountability for progress, learning and results (instead of volumes of reports that get little attention, have little impact on decision making and provide little transparency). While I have my opinions on the role of gov't and what should be funded, I'm not really interested in a "radical Christian center." From a Christian perspective, I'm interested in a much improved stewardship of God's resources (financial and non financial) and the accountability for progress, learning and results for whatever gets funded.
What I think this election season needs is a radical Christian! We need individuals who hold to a complete biblical worldview to snap people into reality that our religious liberties are eroding away and if we are not careful we will see forums just like this go away. I appreciate your thoughts but they are naive.
Mike and A Thinker:
You both accuse Dr. Monsma of being naive, but your comments both sounds like talking points.
A Thinker: You say that "govt actions PROVE you will be used by Progressives." Can you back this up with any empirical data? Even some narrative examples? Would it also be fair to say when we borrow our talking points from Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity that perhaps we are being used by Conservatives? Does the sword not cut both ways? And if it does, does it not actually strengthen Monsma's argument rather than weaken it?
Mike: I may not be an Obama supporter, but I recognize a mere talking point when I see it. How have our religious liberties eroded during the Presidency of Barack Obama? Have you noticed any restrictions in your life on being able to worship when you want and where you choose? Have you or anyone you know been forcibly silenced when speaking their religiously-informed point of view? Can you name anyone in political power who has proposed legislation that would shut down a forum like QIdeas?
I am not trying to be argumentative here, but I'd like to know what support you have for the statements you are making.
Aaron D. Taylor
It's interesting that I'm reading this post right now. I just got back from a meeting with an individual that counsels struggling families on how to purchase a home wisely. Many of their clients are people that have been foreclosed on. I've been working with a group of churches looking for new ways to serve our community. As I've been scouting the organizations in my community, it's been fascinating to see how non-profit organizations are working with the government to move people from homelessness to home ownership. For example, the San Juan Partnership, a local organization in my community, received $180,000 from the American Investment and Recovery Act (aka..the Stimulus). They've been able to help over 450 families with that money. Some may call that socialism. But the end result is people owning their own homes, which gives them greater purchasing power to drive the local economy. I think that's just good policy.
Dr. Monsma fails to move us forward with this article. He brings up but doesn't begin to answer questions like: what is the common good? Is it the government's job to care for the poor? Why or why not?
Answers to these questions will depend on how we understand "purpose, value and worth." Dr. Monsma thinks we must turn to the Bible and find answers to our political problems. I agree, but would ask the author: Where in the Bible should we look? I don't see a political philosophy in detail, even in the red letters. It might be harder work than this article porports.
Why not just be honest with us, Dr. Monsma? I suppose all of us at Q like "radical Christian center" better than "Bush era faith-based initiatives" we've already tried. After all, that's what you suggested as a solution to our poverty problems. Radical.
Great discussion on a hot topic that has obviously has generated some passion.
I would like to direct my comments to JM, who asked what evidence could be presented to demonstrate an erosion of our liberties by the Obama administration. I can think of several, but the most obvious to me is the appointment of activist leftist judges to the Supreme Court who can eradicate liberties by invalidating the will of the people with a single decision.
I'm not ready to "buy in" to the idea that being in the center is the optimal means of advancing kingdom values in our current political climate.
I like your ideas, Dr. Monsma......Christians would be wise to take a centrist position in the political atmosphere and ask questions, demand answers, listen and read carefully, matching Christian ideals with political behavior. I hesitate to call the group radical, though - since that word has negative connotations!
Can you name a decision made by our Supreme Court since he has appointed those judges that has restricted your ability or freedom to worship or the ability or freedom to worship of anyone you know? Can you think of a decision they have made that has restricted you freedom to speak about your religious beliefs? Again, it sounds good to make comments about "eradicating" and "eroding" liberties, but I find very few people able to give any concrete examples of such things.
I don't doubt that the appointment of justices will have a profound effect on our culture in the coming decades. But I don't think the situation is being represented to scale.
I suppose what would be truly radical would be to drop the hyperbole and the rhetoric and have an open thoughtful discussion about the merits of each candidate. The religious right is only recently been supplanted by the tea party is the biggest talking heads in the room. I think the world would take notice if we were to stop becoming blind Republican (or Democrat) zombies.
The problem with this is it means that we have to see our elected leaders as humans and not as angels and demons. We have to acknowledge that there may not be a "right" answer or our opponents have merit. These are not easy things for the flesh. However, we should be embarrassed to masquerade the failings of our flesh as the will of God. Especially since everyone is seeing through the deception.
Thank you for urging me to think and defend. I appreciate that. Most of the time, readers of forums like this don't urge others to defend their thoughts and ideas.
I think I need to define a few terms so that we are on the same page. When I hear the term "centrist" I hear compromise. If I give a little here and give a little there then we can make things happen. But I just haven't seen where that strategy has worked. I see more compromise from those who are faith based then from those who aren't.
Erosion is a slow process. You went right to the final outcome and based in this administration (which I never mentioned). Little compromises in the last few decades will have, I believe, negative effects in the future. That is an erosion of relgious liberty
Let me give one example. There are many faith based organizations that have decided to take federal funding to expand their services (a lot like the strategy mentioned in this article). For a few years this strategy has "worked". When I first heard of this I felt very uneasy. Money and support doesn't come free. Recently I received information about a new piece of legislation that is now in committee. Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) has proposed an act to the Committee on Energy and Commerce. The act is titled: SAMHSA Modernization Act of 2010. If approved and signed into law, any faith based organizations (right now those organizations in the mental health and substance abuse fields but my sources tell me that this is just the beginning and ultimately a bill will be introduced that will focus on all faith based organizations) that accepts federal funding or assistance of any kind will be prohibited from hiring employees on the basis of religious beliefs. I don't know about you but that sounds like a restricting of religious liberty.
There are many other examples of Christian intolerance. There must be an attack on religious liberty in this country or organizations like the Alliance Defence Fund, Pacific Justice Institute, the ACLJ, or the Thomas Moore Society (just to name a few) wouldn't be needed.
Centrism is not a valid strategy.
I don't see how the government restricting those WHO ACCEPT FEDERAL FUNDING is a restriction of religious liberty itself. Those organizations are free not to accept federal funding. While it may not be a wise or good policy, it doesn't constitute a restriction of freedom.
Your last sentence underscores, I think, the big difference between many Christians today and Christians like Monsma. They aren't looking for a valid strategy; they are seeking to be faithful Christians. Sometimes faithfulness is a poor strategy.
This article is what is nonsense!!!
Respectfully, you have not thought much of this out fully.
A question and a comment.
Is there somewhere in Scripture that commands or implies that God's redeemed people should be spending our time and energy trying to coerce a secular government to behave in a Christian manner and/or subsidize ministry that God has commanded us to do?
I don't recall Jesus, Paul, Peter, et al spending any time on that.
Comment: It seems that God's redeemed in American are more than happy to let our government take care of the poor, disaster victims, widows, etc because it leaves more money in our pockets to pursue our own "American Dream" for ourselves and for our churches.
What do you think?
Shalom and all that implies - Randy
Interesting comments. As an outsider to the US electoral system, but a member of a centrist party in an electoral system that is based on proportional representation which allows for several parties across the political spectrum to be represented in parliament I have two observations.
1. How is it possible to be radically centrist with an electoral system that makes it almost impossible for people who are not Democrats or Republicans to be elected?
2. This article begs the question, should Christians identify so strongly with a place on the political spectrum at all? ie is it right to use the word "Christian" as an adjective to "Left", "Right" or "Centre" ?
I don't quite buy this idea of radical centrist. IN most elections or political debates their is no centrist option and we are left with choosing the least objectionable of the choices offered. Not voting at all cedes the issue to the extremists.
It seems to me a better approach for Christians is to remain open minded, follow the candidates and parties carefully, get media information from a variety of sources, avoid the media sources that appear most partisan for either side, and invest enough time to read detailed analysis of policies rather than just the "horse race." We should be careful about distractions that don't really matter and that take our eyes off a leader's policies. We should also avoid forwarding or repeating information that is untrue (a quick check of snopes.com will point out many outrageous lies on the net).
Finally, after doing our Christian "due diligence" we should vote and donate to the candidate that we feel is best aligned with our flawed understanding of what Christ would want for our city, state or nation. We should always be civil and respectful when we debate those with whom we disagree. Finally, we should not claim that God is on our political side.
Rich in Texas
I believe abortion is immoral. I believe marriage is intended to be between a man and a woman. And I believe that poverty stinks, but the money that I've been entrusted with shouldn't fund anyone else's generosity. Take that to the center...
I completely agree Randy. America is in the shape that it is today because God's people have neglected their calling for a long time. The government has tried to pick up the slack left by that neglect and it has had a part in bankrupting the country.
Randy and Martin,
Do you apply your logic broadly or only to issues like poverty? What about traditional issues like marriage and abortion? Would you say that we should stop trying to "coerce a secular government to behave in a Christian manner?"
Traditional Christian ethics asserts that one of the chief roles of government is to "Caesar’s sword is there, by God’s authority, to restrain those who would harm others (Rom. 13)." Would you not agree that when government fails to protect its own people--whether unborn children or those who are victims of economic injustices--it has failed from a Christian's perspective?
'Christ was laser-focused on the poor and oppressed, and often had harsh words for the wealthy.' When I read that comment, I thought about the Mega Church Pastors and the Glenn Beckish commentators who spread fear in order to PROFIT GREATLY. Condemning Social Justice isn't Christian. For the first time in my lifetime and I'm 62, I constantly hear horrible comments from so-called Christians and patriots harshly condemning a Black American President during wartime. Over and over and over...I seriously doubt the horrific images I see on posters would be tolerated if the President was a Black Republican President. The multiple mansions owned by CEO's who finance Religious GOP candidates who focus on the unborn but call a father trying to feed his family 'lazy' when he loses his job and can't feed his infant child. It's time for Christians to act more CIVIL. No one should vote only along party lines. They should vote for the best leader who can work with all kinds of people in a way that strengthens America. Many people are blaming Obama for everything when common sense says he's only been in office for a short time and the economic fallout is the result of YEARS of poor government. Certainly, the Government of the United States of America is NOT our enemy. It's the Enemy of the Taliban. My son & many other sons & daughters are in Afghanistan representing our government & Constitution. You can Hate and Love at the same time. Christ taught Love. Some Christians have turned politics into a religious war HERE in the US. They are doing it for book deals, media attention & fame. Some corporations are manipulating well-meaning groups in order to get laws passed later than may or may not hurt us. A few multi-millionaires shouldn't have that much influence on lawmakers. We've had enough division. MORE church leaders need to remind people of Christ's example and insist that followers follow his footsteps. I'm sure my comments will be met with the same negativity as some made earlier. Several seemed condescending towards what I think is a perspective long overdue in pulpits today. However, the REAL judge knows Mark 12:31. 'And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: there is no other commandment greater than these.' That Judge won't be impressed with worldly mansions, a strong portfolio or tax breaks. That Judge looks at how people treat...the least of these.
While I personally sympathize with the need for more moderate positions on many issues and cringe at the tired rhetoric of political extremes, I don’t believe a move to the center is the answer. And to call centrist political positions “Christian” is as misguided as it is for progressives or conservatives to assume that there enlightenment is generated by the Light of the World.
There is much for Christians and all people of good will to dislike about political campaigns and the methodology and practices of the major political parties, but the answer isn't fewer rigid political positions but more practical virtue.
More thoughts on this at
To Eric Smith: in another article by Stephen Monsma and Stephanie Summers, Monsma asks and answers questions such as "What is the common good?" and where in the Bible do you look for direction about government. I just read that article on the Q website under government, but can't remember its name.
The Center for Public Justice has done many years of excellent, deep, and detailed analysis from a thoroughly Christian and Biblical perspective on government and politics. This is a perspective that is not founded in the philosophies of either the Left or the Right and truly offers a Third Way. It also explains why both the Left and the Right are not deeply Christian nor Biblical alternatives for Christians today; they are flip-sides of the same coin of secular individualism.
As a long-time member of the Center for Public Justice (over 25 years), I believe it's time that it take the lead and join with like-minded Christian citizens and organizations (such as Q) to organize a national convention which would be addressed by leading Christian economists, lawyers, government-workers, political scientists, etc. Ahead of time, leaders of these organizations could draft founding documents and a public-justice-principled political "platform" or agenda. At the convention, this draft could be addressed and discussed and edited and eventually adopted. The convention might lead to the founding of a Christian Democratic "Party" or identifiable movement which could be active in both the Republican and Democratic parties. I think it's time for this, what with the growing frustration on the part of more and more Americans, including and especially Christians, with both the Right and the Left.
My husband and I are Christian missionaries in Muslim West Africa but will be leaving here in March for his retirement. I want to devote my last years of working life and retirement to helping to make this happen!
Leave a Comment
Please keep me informed with the latest updates from Q
ALSO BY STEVE MONSMA
Thinking as Christians in an Election Year
ALSO IN GOVERNMENT
Social Mobility and Power
by Andy Crouch and Michael Lindsay
The Power of the Ought
by Ambassador Kampelman
by M. Daniel Carroll R.
© 2013 Q |