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Living God's PoliticsA Guide to Putting Your Faith into Action
By Jim Wallis
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Jim Wallis
All right reserved.
Faith and Politics
The topic for this first section is the relationship between faith and politics. This theme relates particularly to the introduction of God's Politics as well as to chapters 1 to 3, 5, and 6. Chapter 4 is related as well, and it will also be associated later (along with chapter 6) with the concluding theme of hope. Be sure to review chapters 1 to 3, 5, and 6 during the course of working through this first section of Living God's Politics. The following paragraphs provide a brief overview of each of those chapters.
Introduction: Since politics is ultimately about ordering our communal life together, it is far too important an aspect of human life to be considered outside of God's care and attention. God has a "political perspective," one might say, rooted in God's identity as Creator and expressed in the Bible. However, God's politics always challenges our politics. We too easily pursue ideological agendas that serve our own interest. God's politics is never ideological, but always intends to benefit human well-being. In particular, God reminds us of our obligations to the persons we often neglect--the poor, the vulnerable, and those otherwise on the margins. God's politics challenges both the political Left and the political Right tooffer a new vision of faith and politics, a vision more in line with God's intentions and the common good.
Chapter 1: Many people feel that there is no political option that does justice to their understanding of the Christian faith. They feel that Christian language has been co-opted by the Right and used to accomplish ends that are not consistent with a full expression of the faith they hold. Likewise, they feel that the Left has tended to treat them as if their faith were irrelevant for political life. These folks long for a return to a genuine faith that transcends these options. They embrace a faith that unapologetically engages the public political discourse while insisting upon a moral vision consistent with that taught and lived by Jesus and the biblical prophets.
Chapter 2: "Without vision the people perish" (Proverbs 29:18). This ancient biblical proverb actually makes one point, but it implies an equally important second point. On the first, it is clear from history that where ambiguity and confusion are evident and there is an absence of vision, the people suffer. Without vision, there is no "road map" to a better tomorrow. On the second point, the people also suffer where there is wrong or misguided vision. When you are going in the wrong direction, "making progress" is not a virtue. Now is the time to develop an alternative vision for the intersection of religious and public life and to call public institutions to accountability for how well they serve the common good, rather than the good of special interest groups.
Chapter 3: To suggest that God is concerned only with our private lives implies a "household god"--a god who watches over our private piety but cares little about public life. Such a god is not the God of the Judeo-Christian heritage. God is deeply personal and is clearly concerned about our personal morality. However, even a quick read through the Bible reveals a God who is also very interested in the shape of our social values and public life. In particular, God is concerned that public institutions prevent the exploitation of society's most marginalized persons. God gives commands aimed at preventing such exploitation, and those passages dealing with divine judgment make it clear that God takes very seriously the extent to which our public life includes those concerns for justice.
Chapter 5: At its worst, religious fundamentalism seeks political power to impose a theocracy; secular fundamentalism, on the other hand, attempts to confine religious faith only to private expression or houses of worship. The real question is not whether religious faith should influence a society and its politics, but rather how: What form of influence would be most consistent with our faith and provide the best opportunity to positively impact our culture? For example, the religious Right that emerged in the 1980s preferred a more partisan approach, seeking to gain control of the levers of power in order to enact change. The civil rights movement, on the other hand, was more morally based and politically independent, seeking to motivate change from the outside.
Chapter 6: There are three dominant political options in America. One is conservative on everything--from cultural and family concerns to economic and foreign policy issues. The second is liberal on everything across the same spectrum. The third is libertarian--liberal on cultural/family issues and conservative on fiscal/economic policy. A fourth option, one that is largely missing within the current American political scene, is traditional or conservative on issues of family values and sexual integrity, for example, while progressive or populist on issues of economic justice and peacemaking. Some are beginning to see the false dichotomy embodied by viewing everything as either liberal or conservative, and Chris-tians have an opportunity to lead a significant change in the political landscape of this country.
Introducing the Topic
Early on, God's Politics makes the claim that "God is personal, but never private." In fact, God's Politics emphasizes that point by making it the subtitle to the third chapter. It is a point that is far more important than is often realized. While on the one hand God cannot somehow be relegated merely to the nonpublic areas of our lives, on the other hand God must be understood as also concerned with the personal aspects of our lives.
Central to the Christian faith is the idea that God is not a remote, uncaring, impersonal God, but rather is fully engaged and interactive with creation. But what does it mean to affirm that God is personal? Well, first and foremost, to be a person is to be in relation with others. In other words, the basic idea behind the term "person" is not that . . .
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