First off, before the strident atheists out there start lifting this post up as a “See, even, so and so, says Christians are a bunch of hypocrites!” let me be the first to stipulate that all people of faith are, at some level, hypocrites. Because we understand that we are not perfect, there will always be inconsistency. Of course, depending on one’s context, some Christians are more hypocritical than others, but in the end, very few people actually do walk the talk in totality. This reality doesn’t lessen faith for me, rather it is the way in which I hold myself accountable and am challenged to keep striving to live a life that is consistent God’s calling and claim on my life.
With that disclaimer, out of the way, as part of Patheos’s 2012 election coverage and in response to this week’s questions, What’s wrong–and what’s right–with the role of faith in American politics today? I offer this min-rant.
Like many of you out there, I am both frustrated and fascinating by the election season. Truth be told, I love it: the strategizing, the sociological implications and the constant challenge to be community. I do my best not to add to the negativity and unhealthy interactions that are in front of us all the time, but sometimes, like so many of you, I just want to scream/tweet out, “You are mean, lying poopy face . . . oh why do you hate America so?!?!?”
One of the instigators of my frequent potty mouth moments is seeing how supporters of both main presidential candidates* respond to one another and the claims that each campaign makes. It seems that supporters of both parties are pretty inconsistent when it comes to examining what the campaigns are putting out there about the economy, healthcare, foreign policy, taxes, poverty, etc. Generally speaking, when we like and support a candidate, we believe them and if we don’t support a candidate, we find every way to discount their every claim as an utter lie.
Seeing as many of the people who show up in my various news streams are of the Christian variety, I have noticed the same patterns when we approach Scripture. Now don’t worry, I am not trying to equate our political system and God’s movement in the world. I am only pointing out how we tend to approach our beliefs in times of disagreement. These are the things that I have noticed:
When we read the Bible, The Word of God . . .
- We lean into and take at face value passages that reinforce our already held beliefs.
- We dig deeper into the history and context of the passages in order to discount any that call our beliefs into question
When we hear words from politicians . . .
- We lean into and take at face value the words that our preferred politicians says.
- We dig deeper into the words from politicians we don’t like in order to discount their version of the truth.
In both of these cases we are basically doing two things: one, finding all the support we can to affirm our already held beliefs and, two, finding anything we can to discount the beliefs that others might hold as true. In the end, we are more concerned with making sure that we are right, rather than being open to the possibility that our beliefs might need to change, shift or . . . heaven forbid, be scrapped in totality.
Of course there are always exceptions to these two extremes and I would even go as far as saying that these approaches are not always “wrong,” ways to approach politics and faith, for sometimes when we dig for one truth, we unexpectedly discover another. At the same time, I think it’s fair to say that, at some point, each and every one of us falls into the trap of not thinking critically about our politics and our faith. Truth is, it’s exhausting to engage in the self-reflection and relationship building that might lead to a change of our hearts and minds. Despite what some might like to believe about themselves, NO ONE LIKES CHANGE. The only change any of us really champion is change . . . for other people.
Now I am not sure what we do about all of this other than try and be more consistent. I try to remain diligent in not always discounting everything that any candidates says, nor do I take, at face value, the truth that any candidate claims. I have found that following people on twitter with whom I disagree, while excruciating at times, has been helpful in maintaining perspective. I have also found that Politifacts, especially on twitter, seems to be a very helpful truth-o-meter for campaign claims.
In the end, there are no easy answers and I find strength in the fact that we will always fall short of perfection. But if we can all acknowledge these realities of shared hypocrisy and extend a little grace towards our enemies in these times of battle, maybe we will all see the other side of this election season a little less bruised and battered from the fight.
A small hope for sure, my hope for us all nonetheless.
* I will save this topic for another post, but I am seriously considering a vote for the Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala Green Party Ticket.
Bruce Reyes-Chow is a native Northern Californian and third generation Chinese/Filipino who has been living in San Francisco since 1998. Until May, 2011 he was the founding pastor of Mission Bay Community Church, a church of 20/30-somethings in San Francisco, CA and from 2008-2010 was Moderator of the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA). He is currently one of those “consultant” types who makes his way, writing, speaking, teaching and drinking coffee. His social networks of choice are Twitter, Facebook and his Blog