While I am admittedly relieved to see the mid-term election results this morning, I am also reluctant to feel much more than mild relief. I think much of the mid-term results are a repudiation of the last six years of the Obama-Reid-Pelosi era. However, there are several reasons why we should not be spiking the football in the endzone.
Politics and Culture
Politics and Culture: which is the cart and which is the horse? I would submit to you that culture is far more the horse than the cart. Certainly there is an interplay between the two but I think in our republic the culture is probably 70% horse and 30% cart.
Ideas or Energy
Did people in America vote for Republican Governors, congressmen, and senators because their ideas changed or because their voting base was more energized than the last election cycle? I cannot answer this question with any real data but my highly subjective opinion would be that it had much more to deal with a more motivated and energized voting base. I don’t think that Americans have all of a sudden read the Constitution, changed their mind on abortion, embraced supply-side economics, or read John Locke or the Federalist Papers. Perhaps some of those things took place in disparate circles but I am doubtful to think anything like this took place on a grand scale. I would have more cause for hope if these election results were a result in a resurgence of a Judeo-Christian worldview that provides the ideological foundations for human dignity, justice, and order.
The Culture War and the Christian Right
One of the big mistakes of the Christian Right is the presupposition that if you have your party in office then most things in the world will be as they ought to be. Hence, we must put a lot of faith in top down political influence. The problem with this is twofold – 1. politics follows culture more than not 2. There is no cultural center of America that all Americans can look to and identify as our common bond (perhaps with the only exception being 9/11 [for those over age 20]). I don’t mean to say that politics is irrelevant, it is relevant, but it is one piece in an incredibly complex landscape that we call “culture.” I attempt to portray the complex forces that combine to form culture here. I think in many ways the Christian Right and the Culture War has back-fired and served to exacerbate trench warfare and discourage dialogue in the few public spaces we have left. As a result, people don’t want to talk about ideas any more because ideas divide and hence should be kept private.
Modern Day Reformation
I have no illusion that somehow a GOP legislative majority at the federal and state levels will somehow usher in a modern day Reformation in America. There may be some dismantling of unpopular liberal policies but there will be no ushering in of golden age of American spiritual life. I am not entirely against top-down/institutional strategies – I think things like educational institutions, denominations, service organizations, the marketplace, and even political parties can make significant contributions to cultural change. That said, in an increasingly cynical, skeptical, and snarky world, we must have equal efforts from a bottom up perspective.
Individual humans need other individual humans who will walk humbly, lovingly, and understandingly with them. We need to be in the lives of our neighbors, co-workers, and friends. We need to be asking good questions about what they want and listening actively to what they are saying. We need to be asking them about how are the things they want working for them. Are they deeply satisfying? Are they functional? Are they just? Are they promoting human flourishing?
As we listen to the answers to these kinds of questions, facets of the Gospel will speak to the things that are broken and in need of healing and redemption.
Do your civic duty and vote your conscience… but…
The kingdom of God is not ushered in through an election. The kingdom of God is ushered in as Christ’s church does her job being faithfully on mission to the corners of the Earth.