Thursday, October 23, 2008

Vote for Change

Jesus for President
by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw

I'm the first to admit that this title is potentially off-putting. I do not go in for the Ann Coulter-esque theory of "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity" as a way of dealing with those whom we perceive to be our enemies. I also do not believe that we should assume that our leaders always have to be Christians, or presume that the United States is a Christian nation. Claiborne and Haw, however, have chosen the title with the tension between politics and Christianity in mind. They are not making the assumption that we are to impose the Christian worldview and agenda on the political process. Instead, they assume that the empire is going to compromise the ideals of anyone who is trying to follow Christ. They raise the question "How are we to live?" when following Christ is going to necessarily put us at odds with the state. This is an important book to read right now, in the heat of a critical presidential campaign. Claiborne and Haw remind us that, regardless of the outcome of any given election, our first allegiance is to Christ and all that he hopes for the world.

In some respects, I was disappointed with the book. The first 2/3 traces the biblical story and the people who overturned conventional ideas of power. The authors remind us that God never wanted Israel to have a king in the conventional political sense - they only got one because they insisted, and that was when a lot of the trouble started. This is all good stuff, but familiar territory to anyone who is the least bit biblically literate. I got a little bored with it, as they seem to make the same point over and over again, although it certainly is not a point that I have any quarrel with. The last third of the book is better, as it has a lot of anecdotes and concrete suggestions for living "off the grid" and doing what we can to subvert the power of secular empire. However, much of this is a rehash of Claiborne's earlier (and in my opinion better) book, The Irresistible Revolution.

Nevertheless, it is a hopeful book that serves as a timely reminder that followers of Christ, if we really are following, are going to butt heads with the secular powers. There shouldn't be all this going along to get along. Too often as Christians we think we have to be "nice," when we should be more concerned about living in ways that are just and build up the human family. I have strong feelings about the upcoming presidential election, but this book helped me remember that whatever the outcome we are called to participate in the world that God has envisioned. Sometimes that will mean working within the secular political system, but more often it will mean working outside, subverting the dominant way of thinking and living.

However we cast our ballots on November 4, we all are intended to vote for change every day with the choices we make. We can choose to decrease our rate of consumption of the world's natural resources. We can intentionally reach out to people who think differently from us and figure out how to live in relationship with them. We can be more careful to distinguish between "needs" and "wants." We can choose to be faithful stewards of all we have been given, and share what we have with those who have less. Claiborne and Haw give us lots of creative ways that we can cast these votes and build the kingdom of God here on earth. I thank them for that.

Reverent Reader


At 10/30/08, 4:25 PM , Blogger Deb said...

I did read this book as part of the RevGalBlogPals book discussion this month. I could have been one of those little girls pictured in the front cover. It's been a long road to thoughtful, rational thought.

One aspect of this book that appreciated though was a reminder that we don't worship our country, we worship God. And symbols that represent the nation get some kind of icon status. Coming back to the States after a short-term missions trip I was made more aware of the USA worship. I'm not proud of that.

And, it gives me pause when I hear some of the jingoist slogans (my country, right or wrong...) that one can read in many sectors of American Christianity.

I don't think either political party holds a corner on the Truth... yet I also don't want to vote again for a party which has done such a lousy job in the past...

In any case, I appreciate a Christian voice that has a respect for God and Kingdom goals...

At 10/30/08, 4:46 PM , Anonymous said...

I would weigh in with not believing that a democracy is the best immediate fit for every country in the world, despite the teachings of Jesus for equal treatment among all people. Looking at where a nation is and then being able to calibrate that with where they are and should go is important, if not paramount. Moses had a few problems bringing Israel along. It took at least forty years, perhaps longer.


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