The answer to the question the title of this essay poses is quite simple. Christianity, for the most part, has been a failure. While Christianity may be on the decline in America, there are still millions of us around. Most politicians want to at least be seen in a church.
And yet, politics in America is toxic. The two parties are at war. Political campaigns are characterized by personal assassination, misinformation, half-truths, and even lies. Policy considerations take a back seat. Political opponents of former President Trump receive daily threats of violence toward them and their families necessitating the need for private security at their own expense.
While this toxic environment is preventing the two parties from working together to solve important issues, the climate is burning up, economic inequality is at record levels, legislation is being passed for the purpose of suppressing the vote of people of color, laws protecting the minority rights of the LGBTQ community are being overturned, and gun violence is out of control in most cities. I have not heard one candidate or public officeholder speak out about the threat posed to the future of the planet by nuclear weapons. Defense spending increases every year in America. All this is happening in a country where the majority of its citizens claim to be followers of Jesus, the prince of peace, the champion of the underprivileged, the man who invited everyone to his table.
I see three reasons for this distressing state of affairs. The first is that for many Christians their religion is about belief. It is an ideology that fails to touch their hearts. It is not about loving one’s neighbor and affirming all that is good about life, but rather it is about correct belief, belief in Jesus Christ as your savior who will guarantee you a place in heaven. If these Christians ever read the New Testament with eyes free from ideological blinders, they would discover that Jesus’ focus was not on heaven, but rather his kingdom was on earth where God’s love would define the political order.
The second problem is the Christian Bible. Most Christians take their cues regarding ethics from passages in the Bible. The problem is that the Bible is a human book with passages to support any political position one chooses to take. Let me bring to your attention two books on the subject by passage pickers.
The first is Politics According to the Bible by Wayne Gruden. This book could have been written by a staff member of the Republican National Committee or the Trump White House. Gruden finds a passage from the Bible to support small government, school choice, lower taxes, a strong military, laissez-faire capitalism, greatly reduced government regulation, an out-of-control Environmental Protection Agency, and the absolute right to own a gun.
Jim Wallis, another biblical passage picker, comes to very different conclusions. In God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong, Wallis cites scripture to support nuclear disarmament and the massive transfer of wealth to poorer nations. He supports responsible gun control legislation, policies to reduce economic inequality in the United States as well as policies to combat racism. His politics reflects the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic party with a biblical passage to support each position taken.
One suspects that both men made a decision on a political issue by their own reckoning and then searched the Bible for passages to support their position. In doing so, they gave the strong impression that God was on their side, a rather arrogant assumption. It’s next to impossible to discern God’s voice as it relates to twenty-first century political issues from reading the Bible. In addition to the problem of the many contradictions, there is the question of relevancy. The New Testament was written by human beings who lived 2,000 years ago in a world that has no parallels to modern life.
The third problem that explains why the Christian religion has failed to make the world a better place is because many Christians believe their religion has nothing to do with politics. Religion and politics should not mix. Christianity is about personal salvation. It’s about declaring your belief in Jesus as your savior. These Christians worship Jesus, but have little interest in following his path. This seems to be especially true of political officeholders. Politics for them is about achieving self-interested goals, not the pursuit of moral concerns for the good of the entire community. I will explain why this is a big mistake in concluding the essay.
There is a much better way to relate religion and politics I call Whisper Ethics. Whisper Ethics begins with the assumption that humans are decision makers, that humans make decision based on the thoughts that float through their awareness. One source of these thoughts is the ego which generates thoughts with a self-centered perspective. When I pay attention to what’s going on in my head, I detect thoughts with a very different perspective. These thoughts reflect off of a ground of deep love and a sense of goodness.
The God that nourishes me is embedded in every day life. I sense wonder gazing at stars or watching a bumblebee pollinate plants. When I relate to another as that person wants to be seen, my heart brims with a sense of goodness and love. When I think about the evolution of the universe or the functioning of the human body, I am filled with awe regarding the great mystery of life.
Whisper thoughts are those thoughts that float through one’s awareness whose ground is the divine love which is embedded in life. It is important to note, however, that these thoughts are not God speaking to us. So much damage and ugliness have resulted from people claiming God was speaking to them. The thoughts that reflect off of divine love are processed by human beings, and we are all different. As a result, the conclusions we draw from these thoughts may not be the same.
While a thorough analysis of the thinking behind Whisper Ethics is not possible in a short essay of this kind, you can test the proposition quite simply. What floats through your awareness when you hear on the news that another innocent black man was shot by a group of police officers investigating him for a taillight that was not working? What were the first thoughts that floated through your awareness on February 24, 2022 when you heard the news that Russia had invaded Ukraine? What were you thinking when the most recent incident involving a mass shooting took place?
Those thoughts were whisper thoughts, thoughts that reflected off of the love mysteriously embedded within the universe. Each one of us may have come up with a different solution to the problem of injustice, but the thoughts urge us to decide in a direction that goes beyond our immediate self-interest. Because these thoughts were inspired by God, I, for one, think it is important to act on them.
It is now possible to answer the question of why Christians should engage in politics. The answer is simple: God is calling on them to do so with the whisper thoughts that float through their awareness. Even small acts have consequences. You sometimes hear people say they do not know enough about the issue to take a political stand. The fact that they are receiving whisper thoughts on the issue at hand should be reassuring. God is trying to nudge them to take action.
Imagine if the two billion Christians in the world learned to tune in to their whisper thoughts and acted on them. We could literally start building the kingdom of God on earth. In America, politicians would learn to differ with civility, and the many issues facing the nation would find resolution. We would be working with God to make the world a better place. I can think of no higher calling than to join with God in this effort.