My local paper recently carried an op-ed by a nationally syndicated columnist who is an evangelical Christian. He cited recent news reports of Fidel Castro beginning to move in the direction of embracing some elements of free enterprise for Cuba. He then contrasted this with Barack Obama’s moving of the United States towards bigger, “socialist” government. The columnist questions why Obama is embracing big government just when one of the few remaining socialist states is moving towards capitalism. His number one exhibit “proving” his point is that Obama is urging Congress not to extend the 2001 tax cut for persons making over $250,000 annually.
Put simply, this is nonsense. To imply that the United States under President Obama and Cuba under Fidel Castro are on contrasting trajectories—with President Obama moving the United States towards the big-government socialism that Cuba is abandoning—is simply parroting the latest talking points put out by partisan Republican operatives.
More than nonsense, it is destructive of what Christians can and should be offering the American people this election season. And young Christians—who increasingly are supporting creation care efforts, are taking part in feeding programs at central city missions, and in other ways are living out the gospel through acts of service—will be further alienated from the political process.
Don’t get me wrong. This is not an apology for the left, Christian or otherwise. From my experience the left and the right—including so-called spokespersons for the Christian right and the Christian left—are both guilty of oversimplifications and of being used by political operatives more cynical than they.
This leads me to plead for a radical Christian center. Centrism may appear to be wishy-washy and undecided or so apathetic that one refuses to take sides. But a radical Christian center is far from being either. It is radical in that it goes to the root of today’s political issues, asking basic questions of purpose, value, and worth. It puts the common good ahead of partisan advantage and narrow special interests. If you don’t think that is radical, you haven’t been paying much attention to this fall’s partisan election campaigns.
Such an agenda is Christian in the sense that in answering questions of purpose, value, worth, and the common good one turns to the Bible, to Christian leaders, to the two thousand year old wisdom of the Church for help and insight. One then views government as having an appropriate, God-given role to restrain evil and promote good. But it also views government with a certain skepticism and recognizes that what God intends to be a force for good can be turned to evil ends—or at the least will often be a mixed bag of good and the less-than-good.
It is centrist—and also radical—in the sense of refusing to embrace either today’s left or right. Nor does it simply split the difference between them. Instead, it seeks new approaches and new ideas that both the left and the right will have trouble embracing. Most of these new approaches and ideas will involve using government as a driver of reforms (this will drive the right nuts), but not as the implementer of the reforms (this will drive the left nuts).
Two examples may help. Government will be actively involved in helping those trapped in poverty, but it will turn to local faith-based and other nonprofit organizations to develop and run the actual, concrete programs. In regard to creation care, government will set certain standards that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce the toxins in our waters, and lead to more recycling of used materials, but will avoid dictating the exact means to reach those standards and then enforcing them with new government bureaucracies. Instead, it will craft economic incentives strong enough to encourage local communities and the free enterprise system to figure out how best to reach those standards.
Christians in the United States have the numbers, the commitment, and the incentive to free themselves from the clutches of both the left and the right. In doing so they can change the contours of today’s political landscape. If we are to do so, we need to go back to the basics of our faith, rethink for ourselves how to apply them to today’s challenges, and carve out a radical Christian center that is more faithful to our Lord and his will than any of the political positions being urged upon us right now.
How are you responding to the partisan climate in America? In your opinion, how can Christians work as restorers in such an environment?
Editor’s Note: The artwork featured above is by artist Dan May.