political engagement

Isaiah 51:1-6
For Sunday August 24, 2008
Proper 16

This weekend witnessed the continued Russian occupation of Georgia, the continued U.S. actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, the incredible feats of Michael Phelps at the Olympics, and a Faith Forum hosted at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church. For me, one thread that runs through all four of these events is the question of engagement with the world. Should the United States, my home country, be engaged in Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Georgia? Related to this, should the church be engaged in politics, and specifically, should an evangelical church be hosting a forum for the presidential candidates?

Regarding the engagement of the United States, clearly the key point of contention is Iraq. Some like Francis Fukuyama in the Wall Street Journal and my acquaintance Dan Clendenin in his Journey with Jesus webzine argue that despite recent successes the Iraq war will still prove to be not worth the cost of $500+ billion dollars and 4,000+ American lives. I disagree for two reasons. First, it’s important to remember that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 decisive hard power action seemed warranted in the face of an imminent WMD threat. True, without the WMD threat, the situation would probably have been handled differently. Yet given that the U.S. did invade, it would be foolish to pullout now. Second, why not make the most of the investment already made and proceed to see if an Arab democracy can indeed be established? To bury our heads in the sand now would simply mean Iran takes over Iraq and that war most likely breaks out with either Israel or any dissenting Arab powers.

Regarding the church’s engagement with politics, what should we make of Saddleback’s Faith Forum? I would be concerned if Rick Warren came out and endorsed one candidate or another, or declared that Christians have to vote Republican. At the same time, if what is spiritual encompasses all of life, and so much of life gets reflected in politics, shouldn’t the church seek to have a redemptive influence? I heard one talking head this morning note, “Rick Warren asked some questions that none of us would have thought to ask.” Score a small victory for the Christian worldview!

A part of one of this week’s readings seems to put this all into appropriate perspective:

“Listen to me my people; . . . My justice will become a light to the nations . . . the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will where out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies (democratic or republican I wonder…). But my salvation will last forever, my righteousness will never fail.” (Isaiah 51:4-6)

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