In his book, Ministries of Mercy, Tim Kellar reminds me why government is so ineffectual at addressing the social injustices our our society, and why the church needs to get back to the business of demonstrating the love of Christ, not just beating people over the head with our Bibles.
First he quotes Francis Shaeffer. "Christians may be at times, 'co-belligerents with the Left or the Right, but never allies. If there is social injustice, say there is social injustice. If we need order, say we need order...But do not align yourself as though you are in either of these camps: You are an ally of neither. The church of the Lord Jesus Christ is different from either--totally different."
Kellar goes on to say, "The ideology of the Left believes big government and social reform will solve social ills, while the Right believes big business and economic growth will do it. The Left expects a citizen to be held legally accountable for the use of his wealth, but totally autonomous in other areas, such as sexual morality. The Right expects a citizen to be held legally accountable in areas of personal morality, but totally autonomous in the use of wealth. The North American 'idol'--radical individualism--lies beneath both ideologies. A Christian sees either 'solution' as fundamentally humanistic and simplistic."
When I was in college I heard Dietrich Bonhoeffer's brother-in-law speak. Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor who took a public stand against Nazism and was executed by Hitler in the concentration camp at Flossenburg just weeks before the camp was liberated by the Allied Forces. He spoke about how quickly the religious leaders of Germany got in bed with the Nazi party as Hitler was on the rise. Only when it was too late did they realize they were sleeping with the devil.
When I see the religous right and religious left lining up with the political right and political left, it makes me wonder where our faith really is--in the transforming power of Christ, or in 21st century American politics? In the years since I first voted for a president (Jimmy Carter, 1976) I have never seen the church well-served by political investment. I have seen the church lose all credibility with the greater society, because unfortunately, the media has no problem finding strident, ill-tempered, dogmatic, fat, white men who speak as though they represent all who claim to follow Christ.
My favorite quote on the subject: "Mixing politics and religion is like mixing manure and ice cream. It doesn't hurt the manure at all, but it sure doesn't help the ice cream." (I guess you could take that both ways, depending on whether your disdain was greater for the church or politics!)
Certainly Christians have engaged the political process to bring about social reform (abolition and civil rights were both considered 'liberal' causes in their day and pastors were thrown from their congregations for supporting them), but to align oneself with either party seems dangerous and narrow-minded to me.
I will certainly exercise my responsibility as a citizen to vote, but I'm not expecting government at any level to address the deeper issues people face. Neither economic growth nor more government programs can match the impact the church could have if we would identify the immediate needs in our own communities, then roll up our sleeves and get on the solution side.
Small things done with great love can change the world. When you get down to the root, that's the only thing that ever has.