June 19, 2007
Faith & Politics After the Religious Right (Part 2)
Brian McLaren on the future of Christians in politics.
Brian McLaren believes the Religious Right movement has lost credibility, but what will replace it? In part 1 of our interview McLaren called for a more mature Chrisitian engagement with politics, and warned about linking political ideology with our identity as followers of Christ.
In part two, he discusses the various models of Christian political engagement that have been attempted, and why a more imaginative model is needed.
You travel internationally quite a bit. Do you see a place where Christians are having that kind of positive impact on the government outside the United States?
Let me first say the same kind of religious right rhetoric happening here is being exported through religious broadcasting all over the world. I've been in countries where abortion is illegal and the church is constantly talking about it, even though it's already illegal, because they think this is what Christians are supposed to do because they hear it from the US. So it's strange. But to answer your question, yes, I do see it working out in powerful ways but most often in very local ways. In terms of national affairs I think it's a little harder to find, but that's also harder to do.
One of the issues I think we're really facing is that in the last sixteen hundred years we basically had three options. We've had the idea of the Holy Roman Empire where the church was the umbrella under which the state existed. And then in the Protestant era of civil religion the church existed to help the state achieve its goals. The third option makes the church into an isolated subculture where it withdraws from society and sees politics as dirty.
I think one of our great crises now is that we need a fourth option - a new option. It's an option that takes us back to the first three centuries of the church. I would call it more of a prophetic role. We often use prophetic to mean negative. It's thundering against sin. But the prophets were also poets, and a big part of what they did, as Walter Brueggemann says, is they funded the imagination with good possibilities. They created pictures ? like swords being beaten into plowshares ? that gave believers in God something to believe God for.
Prophets criticize and energize, I believe that's the way he put it.
Exactly. So we need that prophetic voice not just in the critical sense but also in the energizing sense. We have to imagine. We have to imagine what it would look like to have a nation where the gap between rich and poor was not so great. We have to imagine how that could that happen in an equitable way. I'm not saying in a painless way. The fact is we have a lot of pain now. You always have pain. But at any rate, that to me is the role that the church needs to have.
And I think one of our terrible realizations is that in the first three-quarters of the twentieth century mainline Protestants were the civil religion of America and evangelicals were more the isolated subculture. Then I think we had a shift. So now evangelicals have become the civil religion of America and mainline Protestants feel like the isolated subculture. And now the question is, are we willing to look for a new option, a better option beyond the either/or's we've been stuck with.