catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 10, Num 19 :: 2011.10.28 — 2011.11.10


It’s complicated

There are a lot people who have done a lot more thinking about the notion of “good government” than I have.  Some are political junkies who avidly watch the world from the sidelines like a football game, while some feel a special call to be in the game more directly.  Most are at least informed voters and advocates.  And most will concur: it’s complicated.

As I read through the contributions to this issue, several themes emerge, perhaps the strongest one being the complex nature of government, particularly in relationship to the practice of Christian faith.  Not one of our contributors advocates complete retreat from the world, but neither do they advocate complete immersion in the status quo.  Involvement, particularly in or with or against government, is always tempered — with doubt, with self-reflection, with lament, with hesitancy, with uncertainty, with detachment, with paradox.  There’s quite a notable difference between these humble voices and the tide of popular opinion that weds Christianity to the (conservative) state, elevating a certain brand of patriotism to the level of a litmus test for orthodoxy.

In large part, this humility comes from an awareness that there is a mysterious Kingdom above and beyond and behind all this that is always breaking through into the present, whether we have eyes to see or not.  For this reason, I would say that any conversation about good government should include conversation about good churches.  We need storytelling communities of faith that can foster robust prophetic critique of government, but also of business, education, media, art and church itself.

In The Sacredness of Questioning Everything, David Dark begins his chapter on questioning governments by quoting Thomas Merton: “The church has an obligation not to join in the incantation of political slogans and in the concoction of pseudo-events but to cut clear through the deviousness and ambiguity of both slogans and events by her simplicity and her love.”  Dark’s subsequent exploration of movements led by the likes of Martin Luther King Jr. and Dorothy Day lifts up not spectacular lone rangers, but Christian visionaries who thoroughly depended on the body of believers, the Church, to challenge their country to better government for all people.  Of the Civil Rights Movement, Dark writes,

The Nashville sit-ins rendered the status quo untenable and violence ineffectual.  And in countless similar exchanges that came to be associated with the name of Martin Luther King Jr., activists would often manage to regard their violent opposition with a degree of mirth and affection.  The aggressors, acting out of fear and anger, were shown love and respect in return.  In the New Testament sense, an earthbound evangelism that showed love for the enemy was taking place.

Now, not all who participated in the non-violent resistance of the Civil Rights Movement were Christians, but all depended on a storytelling community to sustain their difficult commitments.  For many of King’s followers, this sustaining community looked beyond the Baptist preacher to the suffering servant who undermined the powers not with violent force, but self-sacrificing love on the cross.  The Civil Rights Movement has been just one manifestation of the Church uniting to question the powers that be and to act as an agent of transforming love. 

Good governments and good churches alike ought to welcome people who ask hard questions, even — and perhaps especially — when the best attempts at answers begin with: “It’s complicated.” The challenge to today’s communities of faith is to discern what questions need to be asked on local, national and international levels and then to begin living out equally complicated responses to those questions.  If we’re going to do this, we need each other.  We need each other’s perspectives, we need each other’s strength and we need each other’s reminders.  Such daily and weekly connections with one another serve to prepare us for the times we might need each other to wipe the blood off our wounds or even bury our bodies, because a good church is not, as a rule, a safe church.  But as King reminds us,

When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows.  Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.

And at the end of that rainbow, there is the enduring promise that we are in good company all along the weary way.

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