In the Larger Scheme of Things

Should the church engage in politics? John Allen answers, that’s a no-brainer:

And that ministry inevitably has a political edge. Yes, Jesus Christ said “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and God what is God’s,” which is a charter for church/state separation. However, Christ also said we will be judged for how we treat the least among us, which is a standard with a clearly political dimension.

Popes represent a tradition rooted in prophetic denunciations of injustice and abuses of power, and a Lord who chose to be born into a poor family in an occupied corner of the world’s leading empire of its day.

To insist, therefore, that popes remain apolitical would be to demand that they betray their office.

As if politics were all about finger-wagging. Lobbyists make lousy politicians.

J. Peter Nixon worries what happens when the church’s ministry becomes too oriented to this world:

Last week Pope Francis presided over a Mass to mark the end of the Year for Consecrated Life. Robert Mickens reported here that the Holy Father also gave a short talk to men and women religious at an audience prior to the Mass. “Why has the womb of religious life become so sterile?” he asked.

The answers to that question are complex and manifold. . . . I know enough men and women religious to realize the dangers of sentimentalizing their lives. Those without property can often become proprietary about their roles and responsibilities and unhealthy power dynamics can afflict any community of human beings. The spiritual risks of celibacy are well known, even if they are sometimes exaggerated.

The lives of ordinary believers and the lives of those called to practice the counsels should complement one another, embodying the tension between a Kingdom that is already present and yet still to come. In the past, the balance may have tipped too far in the direction of the latter, leading to the suggestion that the married state was somehow inferior to religious life. Over the last half century, however, we have tipped far in the other direction. Somehow, we must find balance.

The balance may not involve the monastic life, but it could include something like recognizing that this world, and even its attempts to right social wrongs, is not all there is:

So while politics is important business, there are strict limits to what we can achieve by political means. There are no limits at all, on the other hand, to what we can achieve by prayer, fasting, and almsgiving; for that we have the Lord’s promise! We can revive our own faith, awaken the strength of our neighbors, and thereby accomplish what not even a presidential candidate dares to suggest.

“America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” So wrote the most acute of all observers of our political scene, Alexis de Tocqueville. Perhaps the most appropriate “political” task for Lent would be to embark on our own private campaigns to make America good again, beginning with ourselves.

Of course, Protestants don’t believe we make ourselves good. But confessional Protestants do understand, in ways that challenge followers of the papacy, an institution fraught with power and political intrigue, that ministering the gospel does more good in the long run than making policy or running for office.

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7 thoughts on “In the Larger Scheme of Things

  1. We should note that the article above is attempting to achieve a balance, but it does so without mentioning any specifics. And those specifics are necessary.

    But there is also a problem in the above article and that problem revolves around the following quote from the Phil Lawler article:


    So while politics is important business, there are strict limits to what we can achieve by political means. There are no limits at all, on the other hand, to what we can achieve by prayer, fasting, and almsgiving; for that we have the Lord’s promise! We can revive our own faith, awaken the strength of our neighbors, and thereby accomplish what not even a presidential candidate dares to suggest.

    The problem with the quote is with what it suggests. It suggests that using political means is a luxury because while it has limits while our spiritual activity knows no bounds. So if you are not inclined to engage in politics, you can accomplish all you want through prayer and fasting. And such a relationship between politics and praryer from politics is akin to passing by a poor person and offering no help because you are praying for them. Yes, there are limits to our political means; but there are also limits to prayers, fasting, and almsgiving.

    At the same time, while trying to be good stewards in the political sphere of life, we also need to continually remember the parable of the 4 soils.

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  2. D.G.,,
    Is that your reasoning behind denying corporate sin against the poor? In fact, according to that reasoning, you should support policies that impoverish not just the nation, but the whole world.

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  3. D.G.,
    First of all, in which of my comments on this thread did I say that Capitalism as a whole is a sin? I did say that we have committed corporate against the poor; but I was never specific. It wasn’t my objective to talk about Capitalism.

    Second, if one wants to talk about Capitalism, then the following is required: one must account for all stakeholders involved, one must account for the main motivations that an economic system provides for its people, and one must compare that economic system with others. To me, that kind of discussion is large in scope to include here. But if you want, I will oblige as much as you want.

    Third, go to your first response because it seems designed to bless the negative effects of our economic system so othat even its negative effects produces an overall good. That was kind of a different approach to poverty than was practiced in either the Old or New Testaments.

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  4. The biased exegesis is laughable… “However, Christ also said we will be judged for how we treat the least among us, which is a standard with a clearly political dimension.” How so, since Jesus did not seem to care what the Romans did.

    “Popes represent a …a Lord who chose to be born into a poor family in an occupied corner of the world’s leading empire of its day,” and seems to have shunned politics.

    Sure speak truth to power. But don’t expect power to knuckle under. Why would it? And we know what happens when Christians get power…

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