By Geila Rajaee
There was a time in my life when I truly enjoyed talking about politics. I think in college it was fairly well known that I would engage just about anyone in a rousing debate about foreign policy (especially in the Middle East), the failings of the criminal justice system, and benefits for those who were under or unemployed. Part of my energy came from a sense of calling as I listened to God’s call in my life and a true desire to serve people. The other part came from my desire to tell stories that shed light on things that, according to my eyes, seemed broken.
Now, before you start shutting down because you have inferred from the start of this post or my other writings that perhaps my political beliefs are left of yours. Take a breath. I promise, you’ll be ok and we can probably still be friends after this…
There is a reason I stopped talking politics as frequently – granted, you can catch me giving some holy hell to some political issues – and most of those centered around what it meant to engage in politics mindfully. And in our world and the 24/7 media machine, that is really hard to do. Now, I know I just said that we should practice/engage with politics “mindfully” and not “Biblically” and my reasons for that are mostly grounded in the reality that the Bible is often used as a lens or a license to commit/affirm/passively support heinous acts. For example, before the start of Iraq war my college campus held prayer meetings; in those meetings I listened to my peers pray for war so that people could be saved. Yes, they actually prayed that we would use troops to invade another country – not because a cruel leader was subjugating people but – because we wanted to make sure their souls were headed in the right direction when judgment day came.
And it did… as bombs killed tens of thousands of innocent people.
Yeah, I know, it’s harsh to put it that way… but it’s how my heart understands what happened. Never mind that it was one of the places with higher populations of confessing Christians… it’s not like we cared to learn that much about the country before we took aim. Ok, yeah, I know… painful…. Again, I’m sorry for being raw about this but it’s not a wound that has entirely healed for me.
That, it turns out, made me start doubting the positive relationship between the Bible and peoples politics. Not that everyone gets it wrong. When I read stories about people feeding people who are homeless despite laws that restrict them from doing so because it’s part of the Christian life. Well, then, I release an irresistible smile. (I wish that happened more often, to tell you the truth.)
What does it mean to be a person of faith and political integrity? Great question.
I can tell you what it’s not: it’s not ignoring history for sake of quick and dirty sound bites that distort reality; it’s not choosing a single issue and voting in favor/against it and sacrificing everything else; it’s not using scripture to demean, hurt, or discriminate against others; it’s not a platform for your needs above everyone else’s; it doesn’t destroy creation for the sake of profit; it’s not a path that provides no opportunity for growth, transformation, and upward mobility; and it isn’t blindly voting and supporting for someone from a pulpit or the television screen who may suggest would be on the more ‘godly’ path.
It is, however, damn hard.
Gospel politics mean putting the needs of others above your own, not condemning but reaching out with own arms. Sometimes it means being like Zacchaeus and coming out of trees to repent and follow Christ’s path. Or maybe being like the father of the prodigal son and opening our hearts wide for those who seriously made mistakes in their lives and need a chance at redemption. It requires humility to see other people, outside of the circle of those who you/I care about, as little incarnations of Christ that deserve to be honored and loved.
Retired Arch-Bishop Desmond Tutu has said, “we are God’s human partners” and through our hands, hearts and minds – God is working. God trusts us to do the hard work of listening and learning before reacting and to make decisions with God’s love of the world in mind. That, my friends, is impossible if we are not focused on what it means to live into and for the Kingdom of God on earth. Gospel politics allows us to take down our defensives and to see the ‘other’ in our lives (on the small scale and globally) and to care for them well through our votes and voices.
I admit to you all that politics are hard for me… the feelings I have that come up are usually sadness and anger. I don’t know why I feel as wounded as I do… but I do. You probably don’t know that politics are at the heart of my biggest caverns of doubt… it’s hard to even begin to put into words what writing this has brought up for me. I want for something better – for all of us – and I hope I can be brave enough to respond the way that Christ wants and needs me to.