I told you the title was misleading. I have no intention of telling you how to vote. My last post, “Orthodox Christians, You Might Have the Wrong Religion,” met with a combination of approval, disapproval, and confusion. All that those who disapproved did was prove my thesis for me. The idols of political conservatism and progressivism proved far dearer to them than the cross of Christ. As such, it is only the confusion I would like to address. I did not perform an extensive diagnosis of all that is wrong with progressive and conservative politics, I merely pointed out that both are religions—proposed solutions to what is perceived as the greatest problem in human existence. One can make a religion out of anything, no matter how mundane or how necessary. Indeed, this is one of the fundamental problems of the human condition. This was the sin of our first parents. Based on the lie of the serpent, they came to believe that Yahweh was trying to cheat them out of something great and that the solution to that problem was to take matters into their own hands. They turned to the creation as an idol—a thing to be desired in and of itself. We are still suffering the consequences of their poorly conceived religion.
It is necessary, therefore to define politics in the proper sense as opposed the sense in which they are considered religion. Every society in history has been founded upon polity—the manner in which we social creatures dwell together in the polis. What do we owe one another? Should justice be the basis of polity? What is justice? These necessary questions affected how one treated the man in the street as well as how one fit into the state itself. In the ancient world, the state was markedly different from the modern Hegelian phenomenon, which is almost universally considered the greatest good. In the pre-modern world, the state was a divinely-sanctioned apparatus in which the king was understood as the son of a deity (and in many instances) the high priest of the deity. His role was to intercede to the deity on the people’s behalf. What the people owed to one another may or may not have been spelled out by the deity. The greatest good, therefore, was bringing oneself into accordance with nature and all the asymmetries and inequalities therein. The state was merely a manifestation of nature and not the absolute means by which human life was improved. The modern state, by contrast, is seen as the greatest good. “Justice” (which is largely predicated upon popularly delineated “rights”) is not something the people can exercise with one another—it must be mediated by the state in all matters. There can be no justice without the state. This attitude is idolatrous, as it removes agency from the common person and disregards any notions of divine justice.
Those who found my thesis confusing had questions regarding my intent. They fell into variations of the following three questions:
- “What if my political beliefs are genuinely subordinate to my Christian faith?”
- “Are you advocating some kind of a Christian third party?”
- “Are you advocating that Christian people do nothing about their country and simply pray?”
“What if my political beliefs are genuinely subordinate to my Christian faith?”
If that is truly the case, may God bless you. You are able to do something many cannot. Be aware, however, that a vote for either party results either directly or indirectly in politicians making policy that results in innocent people being harmed. The Democratic Party wants to make sure that the nation’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, gets federal funding. They are also gung-ho about entanglements in foreign wars—something for which they once routinely derided Republicans. The Republican Party regularly seeks legislation which benefits corporations which have no regard for the welfare of the people they exploit nor the devastation to the environment. They have no intention of passing legislation that challenges Roe vs. Wade, because this would cost them the Christian vote.Both ways, innocent people are killed. It is not helpful to discern which vote results in fewer deaths. A vote for fewer deaths is still a vote for death.
“Are you advocating some kind of Christian third party?”
Absolutely not. Apart from the fact that third parties never gain traction on account of both major parties claiming, “We address that and a whole bunch of stuff the third parties don’t,” the Gospel of Jesus Christ lacks the materialist worldview that drives both major parties. As a political option, the Gospel will never work, because the only person of whom it demands anything is the one you see in the mirror everyday. By contrast, politics demands change from everyone but us.
“Are you suggesting that Christian people do nothing about their country and simply pray?”
I found this question the most troubling, because it reveals the materialist worldview of those who ask it. Where in all of Scripture are practicing the virtues and prayer held up as “nothing”? The Apostle Paul admonishes us to, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17). As in, we don’t get to take a break from it. The Apostle James reminds us, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (Jam 1:27). Both before and after Christ spent time with the multitudes, he departed to a solitary place to pray. Prayer is powerful, because it brings us into alignment with the will of God. Likewise, the criteria for the final judgment spell out quite clearly that we are to actively show mercy to those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, strangers, sick, and imprisoned (Mt 25:31-46). The Roman Empire was famous for many things. Mercy was not one of them. It was the prayer, works of mercy, and unflinching valiance in martyrdom of the Christians which made an impression on the people of the Roman Empire. By the time Constantine issued the Edict of Milan granting tolerance to the Church alongside the mystery cults, twenty-three percent of the Empire was already Christian. The notion that a woman is equal to a man, that a child is equal to an adult, or that a slave is equal to a citizen quite simply did not exist before the Christian era. Christians built hospitals and designated a large portion of their monetary offerings to care for widows and orphans who otherwise had no one looking after their welfare. And yet with all of this, at no point were the Christians consulted regarding how they were governed. They rendered unto Caesar that which was his (Mt 22:21; Mk 12:17; Lk 20:25), not grumbling about how he spent the money, which at times was less than savory. The saints of that early period are a resounding testimony to the saving power of Jesus Christ. Those who worked out their salvation in fear and trembling (Php 2:12) gave those around them a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven which will stand alone long after the kingdoms of this world have vanished in dust.
Orthodox Christians being entangled in politics is nothing new. The Church’s history is rife with clergy and wealthy laity alike trying to get the upper hand over their opponents and into the Emperor’s or Tsar’s good graces. In our current era, Orthodox Christians have taken up the banner of the Democratic or Republican Parties in order to “do the most good.” Doing so, however, is a failure to follow the example of Christ, because we fail to recognize that in choosing the lesser of two evils, we wind up choosing the evil we prefer. How is this consonant with the way of the cross?
The American experiment in government is rapidly approaching its limit. This is not due to sabotage by either conservatism or progressivism (as both sides would have us believe of their opponents). Nor is it due to anyone abandoning the vision of the Founding Fathers. There are plenty who would like to take me to task on these points, and that is fine. I know the arguments, and they are wanting. George Washington, John Adams, and others warned that the new Democratic Republic would only work if its people were virtuous, but they rather naively overlooked the fact that the people of their own era were not virtuous. The question at hand is of the very nature of the experiment—the longevity of ideas. Every idea has a shelf life. When it approaches its end, those who hold to it ask, “Now what?” I have a hard time believing that the civil unrest burning through the major cities of this nation will abate based upon who wins the White House in November. Where will this lead? Anarchy? Civil war? Another experiment in government? One could speculate and fret about outcomes, but I do not recommend it. If anything, these current events should be a call to Orthodox Christians in this country to repent of their sins and to cling to Christ Jesus with everything they have. We must not retreat. We must advance and show mercy, acknowledging the sovereignty of the state, but not trusting the state to do it for us. How are our neighbors doing? Do they need help? Are our pregnancy crisis centers well maintained? Are our streets clean? How are the old people down the street doing? How is that single mom in your parish doing? These are our responsibilities and tending to them is the practice of justice.