Public Faith in Strange Times
I have always believed that my faith has a public dimension. That is, my faith should guide the way in live in public. As a Christian that means Jesus should be the norm for my actions and beliefs. I may not always live out these beliefs fully and completely, but that is my intention. In every age we must figure out how this is going to work. Modern American political life is not the same is the first century Roman imperial context in which Jesus acted and Paul wrote. No voted for the emperor or Herod or any other political leader. People might not like the choices their presented with in the contemporary American political scene, but there are choices that are to be made.
I have written variously on matters of faith and politics. I think we need to have conversations about their intersection, lest we fail to understand how they connect. Too often we have equated God's realm with the political realm, as if creating a "godly kingdom" or "Christian America" will be the harbinger of the kingdom of God. But such is not the case. That doesn't mean that God is not active in our world (and even active beyond the church). I cannot enact the kingdom through my political acts, but the kingdom can guide my political involvement.
In first century, as Jesus and Paul tried to live out their vision of the kingdom in the context of the Roman Empire, they made choices that were contextual. Paul, for instance simply assumed the presence of slavery. Every society of the day practiced it, though in many ways it was different system than American chattel slavery, which was very much race-based.
The other day citizens of the United Kingdom went to the polls. They voted to exit the European Union, or at least they thought they had. We're not sure yet how this will work out. There are important ramifications to that vote, even for me living in the United States. I don't know how Christ as norm would guide such a vote. I'm not a Brit. I don't know the full context.
I do have the opportunity, however, to participate in the election of a President, a member of Congress, and other elected offices. There's a transit millage on the ballot in November as well. I know that the candidates for these offices are not perfect. They may or may not be religious people. Simply because they are religious, or a member of a particular religion, doesn't mean they are equipped for office. All I can do is look at them and decide which of these candidates will work for a vision of the common good that fits the vision I believe Christ exemplifies. What we cannot do is tie our faith too closely to any one partisan perspective. Yes, I'm a member of a political party. I chose that party in part because it, in my mind, is the party whose vision is closest to mine (and has the opportunity to actually accomplish something -- that is, I'm not a partisan of a third party).
These are rather odd times. People seem to be voting in ways that are counterproductive (in my mind). They're voting more out of anger at the system than with a vision for the common good. They want to destroy the system, but do they have an alternative ready (beyond anarchy)? I will vote for the person I think is the most competent to lead our country. I will hope that the checks and balances provided by the Constitution will help guide these actions. But, as important as the Constitution is as our legal norm it is not a perfect document. It requires interpretation and thus tweaking to achieve an outcome that is truly just. Since justices are human, and influenced by their own politics, such decisions will be imperfect.
All this is to say, my faith is public and it must be lived out even in strange times.