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Speculative Politics 3: Rebuttal By Kerry Nietz

Author Kerry Nietz agrees with fellow author Marc Schooley on politics in fiction. But he opposes some of Schooley’s views on politics in reality.
| Oct 21, 2012 | No comments | Series:

(In Speculative Politics 1, author Kerry Nietz shared his views on politics in reality, storytelling, and novelists’ profiles. In Speculative Politics 2, author Marc Schooley agreed with politics in fiction, yet not as much in reality — at least not for Christians. Here Nietz offers his rebuttal. Part 4 by Schooley arrives Sunday, Oct. 28, four days before Election Day in the U.S.)

“Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends than that good men should look on and do nothing.”

John Stuart Mill, in an address at the University of St. Andrews in 1867

How should politics inform reality, stories, and authors’ profiles?

Let me start my rebuttal with a caveat:  I agree that the primary work of the universal Church is to win others to Christ. I furthermore agree that the primary calling of individual Christians, is to bring others into a closer relationship with God through his Son Jesus Christ, and to do so through the power of His Holy Spirit. There is no more effective way to change the world, then by spreading the Gospel. And that includes through the stories we write!

That said, I’m unsettled by some of what Marc has written. He seems to have taken the backdrop of human history, found the terrible spots that might be in some way be attributed to the Christian church, or Christians, and used them as justification — I guess — as to why individual Christians shouldn’t vote. In America!

I’m sorry; I just can’t find the logic in that.

In fact, there were enough generalities, and tangential conclusion jumping in his post, that I’m unsure where the best place to start is. So, I guess I’ll start with scripture first.

A Biblical rebuttal

Regarding Romans 13:1-4, yes, the Bible states that authorities are established by God, and that God will use them to our good. It is a stretch to use those verses to advocate being disengaged from the process entirely, though.

Why?

Because the first rule of Bible study is to measure every scripture, particularly the difficult ones, in the context of the whole of scripture.

For instance, Jesus said, “Do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”

Taking that verse at face value, one might assume that a Christian could forgo all pursuit of anything, entirely. That he might forgo work, forgo preparing meals, forgo shopping or sewing … in fact, he might as well pick a spot on the ground somewhere and wait for God to drop food and apparel from the sky. No worries, no responsibilities. Have faith! God is taking care of it!

In the context of the whole of scripture, though, we know that such behavior is unwise. The Christian ground-sitter has to rectify his life with Paul’s later admonition, “If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.”

So how does this apply to Marc’s point about Christians and politics?

Well, his argument isn’t that different from the one used to support the idea that a Christian shouldn’t serve in the military. The easiest way to dispel that argument is to look at the life of Christ on Earth. The Gospels tell us that Christ met men in the military (centurions, captains, etc.) on more than one occasion. Yet we have no evidence that any of those soldiers left their professions, nor did Jesus ever command them to do so. In fact, He commended one soldier for having more faith than all of Israel (Matthew 8: 5-10).

So, did Jesus ever meet any politicians?

Of course he did. He met the worst kind of government officials, in fact — the dreaded tax collector. First, we have the record of Zaccheus, who after meeting Christ, vowed to change his life. Zaccheus’s attitudes, his behaviors, all radically transformed.

The one thing he didn’t change? His job.

We have the parable of the publican and the Pharisee. The Pharisee arrogantly praying while the publican prayed soberly in the corner (Luke 18:9-14).

Which did Jesus lift up as an example? The publican!

In fact, Jesus had many political associations, and whether they were Christ-followers or not, he never beat them up for being involved in governance. He never once encouraged them to change their level of involvement.  Never cited political service as anything other than honorable and necessary.

Given all that, the presumption that Christians shouldn’t be involved in politics, following Biblical precepts, is incorrect.

A Logical rebuttal

It is foolish to think you can escape politics. The effects of governance are everywhere. Whether it is how pothole-free your local road is, or the price you pay at the gas pump, you cannot avoid the effects of governance. Fail to pay attention, fail to contribute, and before you know it your employing agency is no longer exploring space — it is doing outreach to the Muslim community. (That change might validate the premise of my books, but it certainly isn’t going to help science-fiction writers in general. 🙂 )

Marc advises that every moment spent in politics by a Christian is a moment lost to spreading the Gospel. That may be, but taken to its logical conclusion it would tend to suggest that any moment not actively spent spreading the Gospel is a moment wasted. If that were true, then no ancillary activities for a Christian should be allowed. Not working in a secular job, not recreating with friends. No moment outside Gospel-spreading activity. Ever.

But perhaps Marc is merely suggesting that politics — this one sphere of human endeavor among millions — is something Christians should stay out of.

Under what grounds?

Not from Biblical admonition, certainly. So what makes politics, even the simple act of voting, less admirable than flying a kite or walking a dog?

Our God is bigger than that. He dwells inside of us through his Spirit, so we can safely take Him, and glorify Him—even witness for Him—in whatever sphere of human activity we engage ourselves in. And we should be proud to do so!

A Historical rebuttal

“First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

What amazes me most, though, is that someone who wrote a brilliant novel about the Nazis (König’s Fire) somehow missed the one event in modern history where Christian inaction led to absolute tragedy. I’m speaking, of course, of the Holocaust.

As the quote by Bonhoeffer suggests, during the meteoric rise of Nazis to power, the Church and Christians did stay out of politics, to world’s detriment. That lack of involvement not only led to the death of six million Jews, but millions more were lost in attempting to stop Hitler’s Germany.

So my question for Marc is this: Is there ever a point where Christian involvement in politics becomes necessary? Is it when I see the government taking some personal freedoms away? Or is it only when the gestapo comes to take my neighbors away …

Or do I wait for them to take my family away?

You see, there’s the rub. Political activism isn’t just about me. It shouldn’t ever be about me. It is about others. (Remember Paul protesting his treatment as a Roman citizen? What was the point in all that? A loss of his rights? Absolutely not. It was the loss of everyone’s rights, and the forfeiture of civic law.)

It is a good thing the founders of this country didn’t share Marc’s sentiments. It is good the America of Hitler’s time didn’t as well.

Conclusion

I fear Marc is playing the part of the Amish (or possibly the Hobbits of the Shire). Attempting to live in a world of their own that is wholly made possible by the world they’ve excluded themselves from. Other people (Christians and non-Christians alike) have spent time crafting the laws that govern the land; others have researched and solved problems that they (Amish or Hobbit) take advantage of. Other people have sent their sons and daughters to die in protecting their freedom.

Service to God comes in many forms.

And sometimes, like it or not, that involves politics.

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C.L. Dyck
Guest

Marc said:

“It is the Christian church that has largely promulgated Christian Nation Mythology. I have spent a good portion of my word count thus far criticizing it, because it is this myth that has enticed vast portions of the church to entangle itself in politics under the false premise that thereby the church may legislate America into virtue. “

Kerry says:  “He seems to have taken the backdrop of human history, found the terrible spots that might be in some way be attributed to the Christian church, or Christians, and used them as justification — I guess — as to why individual Christians shouldn’t vote.”

Marc said:

“Take a look around … it has not worked. Nor shall it, for the church does not belong in the political realm. Instead, the church should return to its mission: the worship of God…”

Kerry says: “I agree that the primary work of the universal Church is to win others to Christ. I furthermore agree that the primary calling of individual Christians, is to bring others into a closer relationship with God…”

Marc said:

“A vote has secondary causal power, but it will not override the sovereign will of God in choice of leadership and authority…In the case of Christians, what voting most accomplishes is division, discord, strife, and distraction within the body of Christ.”

Kerry says: “In fact, Jesus had many political associations, and whether they were Christ-followers or not, he never beat them up for being involved in governance.” 

Et cetera. Bold font mine.

As long as you guys continue to blur the Scriptural role of the individual and the Scriptural role of the earthly corporate church,  you’re arguing about why apples and oranges don’t look the same.

I happen to agree with both of you in large degree. I vote because I believe if one doesn’t participate, one should shut up complaining about the state of the nation. Because I don’t live in a swing riding, it’s a symbolic gesture. Nonetheless, I don’t find it conscionable to write a constituent’s letter to a candidate I neither voted for nor against.

IOW, the Christian who doesn’t vote, should not complain when gay marriage is instituted. However, Marc is not critiquing gay marriage or any other civic issue. He’s critiquing the institutional focus of the [earthly] church as an organized body.

Within that contextual frame, his arguments also fail to address Kerry’s statements about individual conscience and practice, which are commendable and accurate. So far all we have on that front is that Marc doesn’t vote, and he once wrote a character whose job becomes more important to him than his faith (the job is, incidentally, political).

Finally, Kerry says:

“What amazes me most, though, is that someone who wrote a brilliant novel about the Nazis (König’s Fire) somehow missed the one event in modern history where Christian inaction led to absolute tragedy. I’m speaking, of course, of the Holocaust.”

Which Christianity would that be? The Catholic church? The Anglicans? Eastern Orthodox? Individual believers in individual circumstances? I suppose they could have mobilized the various Christian denominations of Texas, and things would have been quickly settled. 😉

Konig’s Fire certainly follows in the vein of Kerry’s argument, with an individual Christian caught in the worst predicament of conscience and personal survival imaginable: Being conscripted to run a death oven.

Since today’s essay deals with the individual involvement of Christians, rather than the work of the church, I’d suggest Marc’s book should be Kerry’s Exhibit A. Seems like an agreement of principles to me, unless one makes an over-generalized, tangential leap regarding the distinction between an apple and an orange.

Now that Kerry and I are done plugging Marc’s book for him, I look forward to the next round. 🙂 Perhaps we’ll see a more developed church/individual consideration from yon Schooley than previously, as a result of Kerry’s prodding.

C.L. Dyck
Guest

Kerry, what are your thoughts on a libertarian approach to moral legislative issues?

I agree that a church has failed if it doesn’t measure practices such as abortion against biblical principle and precept. But I can’t help thinking of the degradation of the Greco-Roman world, which was roughly equivalent to our current society. In our legislative systems, “real-world decisions” can equate to implied or explicit direction from the church on who to vote for, if taken that far. (Well, not here–it’s illegal in Canada.)

Can the body of Christ be a successful advocate on social morality without reference to an en masse voting block?

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

I’ve thought that for a couple of weeks about the role of the Church versus the role of the Christian individual. 🙂

It did seem, though, that Marc had applied his analysis of the Church collective’s over-entanglement in politics to his personal voting. I’m not sure how that individual choice flowed from the analysis of the collective Church and its (perceived or actual) political over-entanglement. One could make a more-conclusive argument, it seems, that because of this nation’s balance of powers, it depends on an informed and voting electorate, and strongly implies this — meaning a Christian must participate and vote in order to obey the governing authorities (and be a governing authority!) per Rom. 13.

More thoughts coming on this, in reply to part 2, or as part 3 continues the discussion.

MS
Guest

Hey ESB,

I wondered what took you so long, but, if I have to respond to you as well, I may need an extra article or two. 🙂     

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

I’m not done.

😀

I also thought, well, as editor, I shouldn’t be saying a lot. Really, so many readers are saying what I would have said anyway, and much more effectively.

If I have more to say, I think I’ll put it out there in the form of questions …

All I can think of now is what C. L. Dyck articulated: this issue is really about the calling(s) of the Church collective compared to (or contrasted with) the callings of individual believers in the Church. The Church preaches and aids in those callings. It doesn’t supplant other callings in favor of one singular, capital-C calling.

I also believe many Christians — don’t-voters and Americanists — need a complete reboot, not merely a shabby remake, of Gospel-influenced political engagement.

D. M. Dutcher
Member

I don’t know. It honestly depends on what the specific duty is. 

I tend to agree with Marc, who is in line somewhat with what is called Christian Anarchism. David Lindsay wrote that the secular government is a response of sin, and while Christians should obey it, they aren’t to build it up or become entangled in it. Because even at its best, it’s at enmity with Christian values and is a necessary evil. I think we see one consequence of overentangling in the focus on certain life issues like abortion or euthanasia. I’m not advocating that inaction is right at all, but for many Christians, it seems we are more concerned with these than actually evangelizing or living a faith. Like we spend most of the energy in the political arena trying to enforce a christianity-lite top down by edict.

The problem though is that we really do need responsible government to prevent great evils.  We can’t be like the gypsies (People of the Leaf?) in The Wheel of Time books, thinking that we can dull axes if they cut enough of us down. It’s a tension that prevents easy answers or total explanations, and you are both right. It may be in times of safety over-emphasis on politics is dangerous, and in times of hazard we cannot shirk duty. I guess this is one of the many paradoxes of Christianity. 

Paul Lee
Member

We can’t be like the gypsies (People of the Leaf?) in The Wheel of Time books, thinking that we can dull axes if they cut enough of us down.

Those would be the Tinkers, formally the Tuatha’an, followers of the Way of the Leaf.

D. M. Dutcher
Member

 I don’t mean libertarianism, as that itself is just a different aspect of the same. I mean politics in itself isn’t really productive for Christians. At worst we end up creating a quasi-Christian space more focused on affirming our privilege and restricting  behavior, and at best we repair the understanding of natural law. But the best is very rare in practice, and politics tends to corrupt through compromise and the reality of getting things done.

It’s possible to build up the kingdom of politics at the expense of the kingdom of God, and the two may not be entirely compatible. There’s a difference between knowing how to defend yourself out of prudence, and the idea of defense taking over your life, to the point where you have a bugout place, and an unhealthy collection of rifles. Even benign things can build up to be an idol.