I was recently honored to have Len Sweet invite me to be a Charter Contributor on his still-in-the-works open source online preaching resource: www.wikiletics.com (get it? wiki homiletics!)
I've posted one rather messy attempt at an adaptable sermon there and plan on releasing another one soon. In the meantime, the Relevant Magazine article continues to develop, redevelop, and reshape itself entirely. By the time it's finished, it will look very little like the article I intended - but maybe that's ok. My prayer is only that God be glorified and the Kingdom be blessed in some small way by the continuing dialogue.
Here's more of my interview with Brian...
- Are Emergent affiliates getting too focused on politics? One example (and no offense intended by any means) is your arrest with Jim Wallis for the legislation protest... first clarifying that we (Len Sweet and I) realize you yourself are not the embodiment of Emergent.
Again, I can't answer your question without asking some questions about what you're getting at.
If you're saying that Christian faith is not or should not be political, I'd say it depends on what you meanby "political." If you mean "partisan," then I'd fully agree. We shouldn't let Christian faith be domesticated by a political party, left or right or whatever. But that is exactly what has happened, and that's one reason why I and others are speaking out.
For many years, I said, "I'm not political." But during those years, other people filled the words "Christianity," "Evangelical," and even "Jesus" with a lot of political freight in my country, and in much of the world, and that freight misrepresents my sincere understanding of each of those words.
So, if enough of us sit back and do nothing, the Religious Right defines our faith in the public sphere. For a person as deeply committed to evangelism as I am, that's unacceptable. So, a number of us would completely agree - that the gospel is not political, if by that you mean partisan. But it is political in the sense of being public and prophetic; it speaks truth to all parties, affirming them in some ways and challenging them in others.
I should also add that there are probably some people in the emergent conversation who don't understand or like what I've been doing or saying. But I think we try to respect each other, and ask questions, just as you're doing. I was politically uninvolved for most of my Christian life, and it's only in the last 5 years or so that I've felt called by the Holy Spirit and motivated by the Scriptures to study and learn and speak out more about things like politics and especially economics.
So I don't expect most people to immediately share what is for me a recent priority, unless they feel similarly led by the Lord. Since the Religious Right is so powerful, anybody who doesn't submit to it is typically labeled and marginalized as a leftist, liberal, Democrat… but that's just a trick.
I've examined my own political beliefs, and I can assure you, I don't believe God's interests are well served by either party in its current form. I hope I can have a prophetic voice that will confront and encourage any party, and that whatever party I join or vote for, I'll remain in the world but not of it. In other words, I'll be engaged, but not dominated or domesticated. A better definition of political, in my mind, is "how human beings organize themselves arrange and arrange their public affairs." In that sense, the gospel has so much to say about politics, because how we organize and arrange our public affairs matters to God. If we're silent on these issues, we're being unfaithful, since it is required of us to walk humbly with God, and to love kindness, and to do justice.
And again, if we only speak out within the constraints of a single political party, then we're being partisan, which is another form of unfaithfulness. But if we try as followers of Christ to address how we see our nation organizing itself and arranging its public affairs – in terms of justice and kindness, from a posture ofwalking humbly with God - then I think we're doing something productive and required. That's why I was honored to participate in a peaceful act of civil disobedience in December. It was a way of exercising free speech – a tradition in our country – about how our government was planning to arrange and organize financially. We were arranging our budget in ways that would make the lives of a small percentage of very rich people much easier, and would make the lives of many poor people quite a bit worse. And we were doing so during a time of war and skyrocketing deficits.
As a person of prayer, I felt that the Holy Spirit wouldn't let me opt out of expressing my opinion about this.
Earlier last year, I had similarly felt the Holy Spirit pushing me to get involved publicly on behalf of the people of Darfur, Sudan. I couldn't understand why our government was standing idly by while so many people were being killed in Darfur, and Congo, and other places. In both cases, I wasn't speaking out as a conservative or liberal, a Republican or Democrat, a mainliner or evangelical, but simply as a follower of Christ who was trying to be faithful to how I felt the Holy Spirit was guiding me, in harmony with the message of Scripture, and as an expression of my best understanding of Christ's call to seek justice.
The problems we face are going to call for unprecedented convergence and cooperation. When you think about the rise of unaccountable multinational corporations, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the possibility of a new "hot" war, global warming and ecological destruction, HIV/Aids, and so on … neither liberals nor conservatives have a chance of addressing these issues alone. The people of God and good will in each party in each nation must come together for us to have a chance to avoid some pretty terrifying disaster scenarios.
If the issue is my association with Jim Wallis, I would be quick tosay that we're good friends, and I was honored to take a short ride in a paddy wagon with him. I have lots of friends, people I genuinely like and enjoy and learn from, some of whom don't especially like my other friends. So I have friends who are very conservative politically, and they don't understand or approve of some of my other friends like Jim Wallis, or Tony and Peggy Campolo, or Shane Clayborne, or whomever. But I'm glad I have friends across the political spectrum – and the religious spectrum too, because I learn alot from all of them, and I feel a special calling to be a bridge – to try to understand people and relationally connect them if I possibly can. Otherwise, life is a lot more boring and we learn a lot less.
I hope that the emergent conversation will be a safe place for these kinds of boundary-crossing friendships. A lot of us have felt the Christian community being dominated by a monologue that responds defensively or aggressively when questions or divergent opinions are raised. There seems to be a preoccupation with boundary maintenance so that diversity of opinion is punished severely by verbal banishment. The last thing we need is a similarly domineering Religious Left.
None of my friends – least of all, I can assure you, Jim Wallis – is interested in that. What we need is respectful dialogue, both in the church, and in our nation. I think Jim models that beautifully, actually. He's constantly meeting with Religious Right leaders for respectful dialogue. He respects and agrees with their Evangelical faith, but he wants to expand the range of their moral concerns.