Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Split Ticket -- A Review

SPLIT TICKET: Independent Faith in a Time of Partisan Politics. Edited by Amy Gopp, Christian Piatt, and Brandon Gilvin. St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2010. viii + 184 pp.

If the reports are to be believed, young adults are leaving the church, either because it has become too politicized or because institutional religion has become corrupt and moribund. They are, for instance, turned off by their perception that churches tend to be anti-homosexual. And if truth be told, they’re probably correct in this perception, for at most, a majority of churches have followed the lead of the military and have instituted a policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” In other words, stay in the closet.

Of course, not all young adults are leaving the church. Neither are all young adults rejecting what some would call political agendas (definitions are important here, because many consider social justice advocacy/action to be political, while others see it as a proper extension of the gospel). As is true of people of every generation, today’s young adults are not of one mind when it comes to the question of politics and religion. Things are complex!

Split Ticket, the book that is under review here, is the second book in Chalice Press’s WTF (Where’s the Faith?) Series, a series that is edited by, authored by, and intended for young adults. The first book in the series, provocatively titled O God! O God! O God!, (reviewed here) looked at the issue of sex, and this book will be just as provocative as the first. Focusing here on the relationship between faith and politics, we are presented with a series of nineteen essays that range from anarchist to prophetic to politically engaged. The theology evidenced by the writers runs from evangelical to liberationist. Authors are gay and straight, male and female, clergy and laity, and from most every ethnic community. As is true in the first volume in this series, the essays are extremely personal. These volumes are designed to start a conversation, which is why each chapter ends with three discussion questions.

This volume is divided into three sections – “From Awakenings to Activism”; “God in the Voting Booth”; and “We’ve Got Issues.” To give a flavor of the essays comprising each section, consider that the first section includes essays about connecting faith to activism, including an essay by David Ball entitled “Thy Revolution Come: An Invitation to Radical Discipleship.” Ball frames his essay with the Lord’s Prayer, and suggests that radical discipleship is best expressed through “Christian Anarchism.” Christian anarchism, as the phrase suggests, calls for radical, even revolutionary action, even against one’s own government. Amy Gopp, one of the three co-editors, on the other hand reflects back to her time spent in Bosnia, and speaks of building bridges between groups and peoples in the pursuit of peace.

In the second section the essays range from the provocative essay by John Edgerton and Vince Amlin that charges that voting itself is an act of violence and coercion, and thus as Christians they have decided not to vote. They suggest that a better way of making decisions is one of consensus-building. As one who has long believed that voting is a national responsibility, this essay was disturbing to say the least, and yet it is a view that many are considering in our day. On the other hand, others see the value of one’s faith in influencing not just voting, but political action. If there is a consensus here is that, as Gabriel Saguero writes, “the Gospel challenges all political ideologies and denounces any obedience to any Lord but Christ” (p. 113).

In the final section, the essayists reflect on the leading issues of our time, from abortion to health care reform, and the way that we deal with them from a perspective of faith. What is clear from the essays is that this isn’t a clear-cut process. There is gray area to be considered, and the role of the church needs to be weighed carefully. Christian Piatt writes an intriguing and extremely personal essay about his own struggle with the pro-life/pro-choice debate in the context of the births of his own two children. Being strongly pro-choice, he found himself equally pro-life, as he fell in love with the “it” that was the fetus being carried by his wife. Christian reminds us that personal experience is a powerful contributor to the way we look at issues. Things become much less cut and dry, once one is personally engaged. As Christian puts it:

I’m not ready to jump the pro-choice ship, but the experiences of parenthood have had a permanent change on my understanding of life, the human soul, and our responsibility as joint stewards of those lives. . . . I may wrestle with this subject until the end of my days, but one thing is for sure: I love my kids, both of them. Even if one of them had never been able to join us in the world, and had never had the opportunity of loving and being loved, I would still love “It” all the same (p. 134).

So, are young adults calling for the church to be apolitical? No, however, they want the church to deal honestly with issues such as homosexuality, abortion, justice, the environment. They decry hypocrisy and want issues to be dealt with in light of faith and not just politics as usual being baptized into the church. They are passionate, but they also seem to want to keep the bridges standing (unless you’re an anarchist and the bridges lead to injustice). Perhaps Earle Fisher states it best:

Political truths may be something we’re willing to fight for, campaign for, or give money to. But a personal, spiritual truth, truly embraced as a foundational tenet of our identity as God-created beings, is something to which we’re willing to give our entire lives to, and perhaps die for (p. 148).
In other words, for these young adults, faith is the foundation, the guide, for their political engagement, even if that means deciding not to participate in the political process, because to do so would be to participate in a coercive, and therefore violent, system.

I heartily recommend this book to anyone wishing to understand the relationship of faith and politics. These essays may be written by and for young adults, but the issues they raise, and the solutions they suggest, are as pertinent to those who are well into their retirement years as those who are just entering the adult world.

While my recommendation of this book would not be any different, I should note that the editors, all members of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) are people whom I know and have worked with in the past (and in the present). I have high regards for all of them as individuals and for the work that they do in the church and outside it. Two of them, Amy Gopp and Brandon Gilvin, are Disciples clergy, while the third, Christian Piatt, is married to one. They are all committed to the church and to social justice (Gopp and Gilvin are in leadership at Week of Compassion, the relief and development arm of the Disciples).

As for the authors, many of the contributors are unknown to me, and while I agree with some and not with others, each of them offered insightful and challenging words that demand my attention, and the attention of any reader. If we’re to accept the premise that young adults are tired of politicized churches, then we must first understand what they mean by their critique, and this is a good place to start!

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