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Goodbye to Politics

[Editor’s Note: This is another post in our series of “Why I changed my mind.”]

by Steve Kindle

Head-Brown smallI am the grandson and great grandson of two North Dakota state senators. In fact, my great grandfather, Steen Nelson, was the first state senator in his district when the state was accepted into the Union in 1889. His son and my namesake followed him in office. Steve Nelson’s only child was a woman, so that ended our family’s lineage in the senate. (Women earned the right to vote six years after my mother was born,) Norman Brunsdale, the state governor at the time, was my grandfather’s best friend. My family ate dinner at the governor’s mansion so often, it was like a second home. Later, when Brunsdale became a U.S. Senator, he called on my brother where he was serving in the army in Germany. The chief justice of the North Dakota supreme court was often a guest in our home.
My family was steeped in conservative Republican views. We loathed FDR and JFK. Barry Goldwater represented our views perfectly. I cast my first presidential election vote for him. I became the son and grandson that made the family proud. Naturally, I was encouraged to follow the men of the lineage into politics. This led me to a very conservative Christian college where I first majored in political science. My intention was to return to North Dakota with eyes on public office.
But, something happened. I became a Christian. I was convinced that politics was a secondary pursuit, and that I should change my major to Bible and enter the ministry. However, Right Wing politics would be my handmaiden in my ministry, as I saw it as what God wanted for America. My controlling understanding was this: If America can get its politics right, everything else that follows would be good and right.
A lot has happened over the years to move me away from right Wing politics in particular and politics in general. It parallels my move away from fundamentalism and into progressive Christianity. Where I once felt that what was best for the individual was best for the nation, I now believe that the community’s needs are prior. As an example, quality health care in America is based on one’s ability to purchase it. This leaves out millions of Americans who can’t afford it. For me, health care is a right, on par with any right articulated in the Bill of Rights. To achieve this end, those who can afford it, will be the source for those who can’t. My model for this is the idealized conception of early Christianity practiced by the Jerusalem church where everything was held in common, and everyone’s needs were met by the whole church.
Today, I am as far removed from the political as possible. It has become increasingly apparent to me that not only is politics not the answer, it is largely the problem. As long as we believe that a political solution will cure our ills, we will never attempt to implement God’s realm on earth.
I recently conducted a seminar I call “Jesus versus Caesar.” In it, I attempt to show that Jesus’ ministry was the counterpart to how Rome ruled the world. Jesus vision of how God wished the world to work was in opposition to Rome’s view, and led to his crucifixion as an enemy of the state. Rome’s use of military might, oligarchy and its patronage, usury, and income inequality, all reinforced by Imperial Religion, served as a contrast to Jesus’ message of the Kingdom of God as an egalitarian community ruled by Jubilee. Luke  4:16-19 In this community, the only rule is the Golden Rule. The only ethic is love God and our neighbor as ourselves. There are no enemies, only each other and our call to work for the well-being of one another.
Politics works on another plane altogether. Its notions of “to the victor goes the spoils,” divide and conquer, us versus them, winners and losers, has no place in God’s vision for the world. Therefore, I engage in political conversations merely as a good citizen. I have no illusions that anything resembling the Kingdom of God will emerge from political activity. With the church’s consumerist mentality and unwholesome entrance into the political sphere, I have my doubts that it can do any better than Rome.
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  1. Interesting. I found some resonance with your post. I too started college as a political science major, though my program was intended as pre-law, though my family was very much not involved in politics. As soon as I was old enough to vote I registered and then worked as a precinct poll watcher for the Reagan campaign in 1976. In registration line for my second year, at a new college, I was overcome by hearing God’s voice telling me to change my major. I startled people everywhere by setting down a stack of class cards (they’d just implemented class registration using those old punch cards for a computer), going back to the start, and changing advisors and majors. There were lots of shocked people. My parents, on the other hand, didn’t even blink.
    I have remained interested in politics, but it has gotten much lower priority over the years, until I avoid talking specifics, because I think that the best thing I can do for this world and the next is to live as God’s steward. It’s not that I object to others being in politics; that may be precisely where God wants them to be. But I’m certain it’s not for me.

  2. Politics may be a problem. US politicking sure looks like one. But governance is critical and an argument could be made that the entire OT is about the failure of governance. Psalm 146 comes back – the care for the less fortunate is in Yahweh’s character. It is not in current politics. See this remarkable article from Sri Lanka https://vinothramachandra.wordpress.com/2016/01/20/how-to-get-super-rich/
    The conclusion at the bottom that American Christians believe the church should help the poor and not the government fails to see the ripping of the veil of the temple. They re-erect the profane-sacred division. In fact nothing separates us now from the glory of God. We better start paying attention.

      1. Bob, both your links are very helpful. My only point is that when we put too much emphasis on political solutions for the world’s problems, we neglect the Kingdom’s mission, which is to make Jesus’ phrase in the Lord’s Prayer, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” a reality. The church for the first three centuries had no political clout yet converted an empire. When the church is the church, not merely a social or political club, God’s love is loosed on the world–and it changes things for the better.
        Thank you for adding to our discussion.

        1. Steve – I think one of the problems is that there are so many “sides” to this issue, and when one suggests backing off from politics, others can “hear” that politics are useless, to be ignored, stupid, ungodly, and so forth. I didn’t hear you say any of that, but people have reacted to my own comments on the same subject in that way.
          I was so very involved and then backed off so much that it’s hard for those seriously involved politically to understand it. But it’s simply a matter of priorities. I don’t have time to keep up with everything, so I have to choose something to back off on. I’m also, by personality, incapable of being significantly involved without going all out, so despite calling myself a moderate, moderation in involvement is hard for me. So I drop the debates.
          I do believe our most important activity as Christians is to be Christians. For some of us, I believe that will involved the political sphere. For me, it does not, at least in a direct sense. I still follow politics. I still vote every time I’m eligible. My vote still reflects my Christian convictions. I’m just less intense about the result, and I stay largely out of the debates.
          It’s not that politics is bad by nature. It’s that I don’t believe it’s where I’m called to spend my time.
          I don’t know how accurate this is, but I got something similar from what your wrote.

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