Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Evangelicals and Political Independence

Recently I read a number of books on the intersection of faith and politics, most of them written by progressive evangelicals — Christians who adhere to an orthodox view of Scripture but who are disenchanted with the way our faith has been co-opted by the Religious Right and the Republican Party. The authors discourage all Christians, evangelical or otherwise, from pledging allegiance to either major party and encourage them to instead become politically independent.

All well and good, but each author interprets "independent" from a partisan perspective. Not one mentions registering as an independent or adopting a genuine independent perspective on politics.

I've tried not to become dogmatic about my own political independence; I've been careful not to suggest that my way is the only way. While I believe that each person needs to follow her conscience, I'm baffled when I hear someone urging people to become independent but never once suggesting that they sever ties with the major parties.

Here are a few reasons why I believe all politically minded, thoughtful Christians should at the very least consider becoming true independents:
  • Registering as an independent makes a clear statement that you have distanced yourself from the two major parties.

  • The mere act of declaring yourself to be an independent works on you in subtle but significant ways. You begin to think more critically about the issues and the candidates because you've begun to shed your long-held partisan biases.

  • By remaining a party member, people who know that you are a Democrat or a Republican immediately assume — whether you like it or not — that you agree with your party's entire platform. You are automatically pegged as pro gay marriage or anti abortion, pro war or anti family values, and so on. It's not fair, but it's reality.

  • The major parties covet the independent vote. We have an opportunity to be heard like never before. You may end up having more influence as an independent than you would if you were a party member.

  • Jesus said no one can serve two masters. We've seen what happens when Christians try to serve both God and party, and it isn't pretty. When the party wins that contest, everyone loses.

What do you think? Are there valid reasons for remaining a party member (other than being allowed to vote in primaries)? Are there other reasons why Christians in particular should register as independents and adopt a genuine independent perspective?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

David Gushee on Faith and Politics

If you've ever wondered how the Religious Right became so politically powerful and how evangelicals can repair the damage done by the movement, a terrific source of information is David Gushee's most recent book, The Future of Faith in American Politics: The Public Witness of the Evangelical Center. Gushee is one of the organizer's of the Compassion Forum (transcript here) and a professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University in Georgia, and one of the rare Christian leaders shining the spotlight on the moral and political issue of torture and human rights.

His book covers a lot of territory — my brand-new copy is already so dog-eared and highlighted that it's aging prematurely — but Gushee does a great job of keeping the focus on what he calls the "emerging evangelical center," a descriptive term but one that he admits is not quite precise:

...It is not quite good enough to say we should move to the center from the right and the left. Any right-center-left language is political...We need a biblically grounded rethinking of Christianity's entire engagement with American culture.

Yes! Gushee's "center" is less a compromise between right and left and more a fresh vision of the way Christians can bring their distinct perspective to the public square. Here he underscores one of the main reasons I am an independent and why I'm encouraging other Christians to become independents as well:

It is impossible both to represent "the church" and to function as a bloc within a national political party. Because no one can serve two masters, and because where your treasure is there shall your heart be also, one can predict that ultimately those Christians (and Christian organizations) that give themselves over to allegiance to a political party will lose the ability to retain their fundamental loyalty to Jesus Christ. They will meet various forks in the road in which it is either Jesus or the party; having chosen the party once and then again and again, after awhile the choice of ultimate loyalty has already been determined, and it will set the course for all future decisions.

Gushee encourages Christians to become politically independent but views that independence through the grid of the two major parties. Lately I've read a lot of political books discouraging people of faith from becoming closely associated with the two major parties, but only one author — me — actually proposes becoming a true political independent.

More tomorrow about the reasons why Christians would do well to consider registering as independents. In the meantime, and keeping in mind that Gushee writes from a bipartisan perspective, I highly recommend his book, both for Christians who are fed up with the recent history of evangelical involvement in politics, and for secular readers who want a better understanding of how the intersection of faith and politics went sideways and what's being done to set it right again.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Why I Heart Jesse Ventura

If you missed last night's Larry King Live, you missed some of the most reasonable comments made so far in this most unreasonable of political seasons. King's featured guest was former Minnesota governor and pro wrestler Jesse Ventura, who was allegedly promoting his barely mentioned new book, "Don't Start the Revolution without Me." I haven't read that one, but I did read "Do I Stand Alone?" and consider it to be a rare commonsense treatise on American politics.

Anyway, last night I was reminded of why I like Ventura the politician. Here are a few of the things he said:

  • On the federal deficit: "We're $9 trillion in debt; that means a baby born tomorrow will be saddled with $30,000 worth of debt before they've even taken their first breath of life."
  • On Hillary Clinton: "We're a free country, and Hillary Clinton should be able to run until she deems that she can't compete anymore."
  • On Barack Obama: "He's making people aware...that's the best thing you can have for a democracy, is to have citizens that pay attention and hold their feet to the fire."
  • On Ralph Nader:  "He should [run]; this is the United States. We're free. You have every right not to vote for him."
  • On the Democratic Party: "If there's anyone that can blow the election, it's the Democrats."
  • On election spending: "I won't spend more money [on campaigning] than I'll make [in office]."
  • ON McCain's age: "How is it that a federal employee [is] required by law to retire at age 65, and yet you can run for president ... at any age. John McCain could not get hired by the federal government, but he can become the head of the federal government ... It's the hypocrisy of the system."
  • On ballots: "I want to see on all ballots now 'None of the Above.'"
  • On long campaigns: "You shouldn't be campaigning before you can file for the job."

Ventura announced on the program that he's considering running for Senate as an independent against incumbent Norm Coleman and contender Al Franken. I'm well aware that in his political life, Ventura has said and done some boneheaded and ill-advised things. But I'd love to cover his campaign --- or even work on it, even though it would mean a temporary move to Minnesota.

So, Mr. Ventura, if you choose to run, I hereby apply for a position as your media point person or chief official blogger or whatever. I may disagree with you from time to time, but I fully agree with your brand of independent politics. Please run. The Senate needs you.