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Zizek, Obama and the Emerging Church

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : February 23, 2008

I had made the editorial decision to avoid political articles for a month or so…but David Fitch wrote a great article today that has already stirred up some important feedback. Here’s some of the juicy stuff from his article:

…In essence, we listen to all the new political speeches and new political options given the electorate and we know nothing will really change. Yet we participate in it anyway, because in essence subconsciously this is what we really want: we wish to protect our own specific pieces of the economic social pie yet feel good about doing it (there’s the classic Freudian split in the subjective consciousness). Political ideology serves a cynical function now, giving us a Big Other to participate in, making us feel better about ourselves (morally), all the while we hope for keeping the status quo in place protecting our own personal pieces of the pie.

And here’s more Fitchy goodness:

When it comes to Christians of my evangelical tradition, I would suggest this “ideological cynicism” could work another way. We participate in National politics, its political ideologies of a more just society, even though we deeply suspect the corporate national machine insures nothing will change. We do this because it is much harder to think of the church itself as a legitimate social political force for God’s justice in the world. It is simply a lot less work to support Barak Obama for president than it is to lead our churches into being living communities of righteousness, justice and God’s Mission in the world.

And still more…

I know some expect me to get on the Obama bandwagon, especially those who know of my criticisms of the current president. Yet I continue to want to press for the church to be the primary political instrument of true justice in the world. The church must be FIRST as initiator for social justice, from which we can then push for governmental cooperation. I have always been concerned about the marginal status given the church as the foundational center for justice in society by my various spokesmen/women/friends of the Emerging Church (I hope to review Brian McLaren’s Everything Must Change in this light). I know many fear fundamentalist sectarianism. I fear the democratic capitalist Symbolic Order (ala Foucault) shall subsume us all. More and more however, people like Jim Wallis are seeing the insights of a tempered vision of what is possible in national politics (see The Great Awakening). More and more, people are understanding a new possibility for a Hauerwas radical politics (see for example Mark Van Steenwyk here and here). SO GO AHEAD AND BY ALL MEANS VOTE FOR OBAMA, but do not allow false ideology to sap our energy or distract us from the task of being God’s people, his embodied Kingdom in submission to His Lordship, birthing forth His justice amidst the world that was made possible in His death and resurrection until He comes.

There is a lot more in the article…and I’ve got to say that I’m tracking with him on this stuff. We see a rising Christian Left that is likely to fall into all the same traps of the Christian Right. And in the midst of this shift among Evangelicals, is the Church learning to be the Church? Maybe my hope in the Church as the primary location for Christian political action is misplaced? After all, Tony Jones, in his reasonable response to David’s article writes:

David and Mark: You accuse any of us who have hope that a US president might actually be an ally in overcoming the disparities in society of being blinded by our love for him. But I wonder: Is your ecclesiophila blinding you to the fact that the church has rarely been the counter-cultural force that you want it to be? I hope you’ll see in my book, David, that I think the church’s role in society is unique and important, but I’m also a realist that it’s always going to be just as screwed up as it is now. The church is great. I love it. But it’s just not the end-all-be-all. We also have to be engaged in society in myriad other ways: jobs, politics, hospitals, volunteerism, athletics, etc. All sphere’s are God’s.

This is dialog is what blogging is all about! Here we have two men that I know and respect–both very thoughtful people–pinpointing a clear area of disagreement. I am clearly with David on this stuff, but I appreciate Tony’s perspective.

I could say more here, but I will instead chime in on the conversation over there, and I encourage you to jump into the fray! And, if you want to add more fuel to the fire, check out the conversation brewing over an email Tony recently posted on his blog.

Mark Van Steenwyk is the general editor of Jesus Manifesto. He is a Mennonite pastor (Missio Dei in Minneapolis), writer, speaker, and grassroots educator. He lives in South Minneapolis with his wife (Amy), son (Jonas) and some of their friends.


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Viewing 21 Comments

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    I think the crux of this is the unreasonableness of Christianity. If it were a matter of pragmatics, well, screw the faith. Do for yourself and be done.

    But to dedicate your life to a cause that ensures personal persecution, give sacrificially of your time and resources, loving those that wish to do you harm, forgiving those who have harmed you, restoring relationships beyond repair, healing impairments beyond the reaches of medicine and therapy, and living righteously; does that sound like realism?

    The only thing the church has going for it is it's lack of realism. To make a better church does not mean making it more practical, even though that yields better short term results. It means making it precisely as impractical and insane as it was meant to be, filling a niche that is not capable of being filled by any government or institution.
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    I can't imagine the Apostles trying to change the Roman Empire thru politics and yet we are instructed by Scripture to pray for the emperor and pay our taxes to him. We are living in his domain, after all.

    "The Kingdom of God does not consist in words, but in power." The world (empire, system, Babylon, whatever) needs to hear what we have to say prophetically, but more importantly, it needs to see God working thru us. This is more than social programs or support of nationalized health care; it is worship of God and good works that glorify Him. It is Pentecost.

    My kids keep asking me, "do you like Obama?" Sure, I like him, but that doesn't mean I'll vote for him. The political system is designed to perpetuate itself and support the "woman" that rides on its back.
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    thanks for posting this Mark. I totally agree with Fitch here, at least insofar as it is 'important' that we as American's play into the role of 'politics as the Big Other.' But then again I disagree to a point, I think you've seen my recent endorsement of Obama so I won't hide that fact, but I am a Quaker for heaven's sake, I believe in the most radical politics of all - so how does this play out? Am I just selling out? I don't blame people for not voting, I see that as a valid Christian response to the political order. But I also see that voting, and endorsing may be rather subversive if it is with done with a mind towards a new hope and possibility for American Identity within the Global world, and with a mind towards the fact that the kingdom is coming and it is the church's responsibility to help this process (while unfortunately it often times gets in the way).

    I don't think by endorsing we have to automatically be seen as naive (to the fact that politics in America is an Ideology), nor do I think that by voting we are somehow playing into a binary of church vs. the world. Rather, the church continues on its way, knowing the powers are fallen, yet the church is outrageous enough to still hope for the powers to be redeemed.
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    Oh and the Jones comment bugs me a lot. He's played into the Mainstream Christian hegemony which continues to overlook the radical reformation as a faithful tradition that has really has been a cultural force (I'll refrain from playing into (his assumption) that the Niebuhrian category of radical reformation equals 'counter-culture').
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    it seems to me that the word "practical" has become a bugaboo, like "pragmatic".

    I see the matter as not a rivalry between Church and State but whether Xtns can and shd participate in the administration and reform of the state's mandate to use the threat of violence to constrain human sinfulness. This has and does play a role in the ability of the Church to overcome evil thru self-sacrificial giving.

    When people do protect their interests, they are not necessarily denying God's Law, inasmuch as we are called to love our neighbor as our selves. This implies the right to love ourselves. What matters is that we participate in politics apart from our own self-interests but not to exclusion of such. People can and do support missions work with their wealth gained/supported by the status quo arrangements of the state. We can value that, while at the same time critiquing how people have become far too self-centered.

    I agree that it will be bad for us to spend too much time on the upcoming prez election and need to check my own tendencies in that regard. I've been hoping that Mark wd share with others in his sphere of influence about my own idea of Project Democratic Renewal, which I think wd change the dynamics of US politics and help provide better options for Christian political activism, particularly of the type that opposes the Constantinization of Xty.

    I don't know if that makes any sense, but the significance of voting or not voting is part of what's in debate. I perceive non-voting as implicitly accepting the status quo and by no means freeing oneself from the Matrix. I believe that we shd have house-church models for becoming swing-voters pushing selectively issues that will assist with our dominant modes of missions without sucking up too much time and energy.

    I wonder how this moderating perspective seems so missing in these discussions?
    dlw
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    People are always more protective of their privilege than they are of their right. They would willingly sacrifice a right to gain a privilege. When asked many would prefer to live in a world where they earned $100,000 to the average $50,000 than a world where they earned $150,000 to the average $ $200,000. Just so long as they come out ahead of the Joneses (no pun intended here).
    The piece of the pie language is very useful in illustrating the point.

    As Christians we will be unpopular because we point to the emptiness of privilege, and illustrate its illegitimacy.
    Nathanael Snow
    ndsnow@gmail.com
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    Well, that's a natural rights approach.

    My pov is to not frame the issue so starkly. I think if we win people to following Xst with all their heart, minds, strengths and souls that they'll be willing to relinquish or rededicate their "privileges" and some of their "rights" to manifesting Jesus before others more authentically.

    In the meanwhile, we can emph that Xtn unity is not about political solidarity and take a minimalist approach to pointing people to ways they can think about their political actions so that they'll be better integrated with the Great Commish
    dlw
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    dlw,
    How is a natural rights approach inconsistent with the gospel? My moniker, juris-naturalist, means natural law. Is there not some consistency within human nature which can be observed and predicted? I predict people will act in their self-interest. The question is whether they will focus on the short run or the long run.

    As for actual Christian Action, we ought to fulfill the gospel. Care for the least of these. But we must renounce the use of the state in achieving that objective. We must be peculiar in doing it on our own, voluntarily, and sacrificially.

    Any action that the church can take in the political sphere ought to be to make room for itself by destroying all political privileges. The first step is to renounce our own privileges, and then to make the legitimate argument that privileges lead to inefficiency and injustice. Examples abound. The arguments for anarcho-Capitlaism leave out the poor. The Christian can make this argument only if he has first assumed full responsibility for the least of these.
    The arguments for Objectivism leave out the needy and the mediocre. I am not concerned about the leeches, but the poor can be served best by Christians realizing the fullness of their capabilities and using them in service to their One King and Lawgiver. This is the form of human greatness that even Ayn Rand could not fathom, a man flowing in the power of the Holy Spirit, not to his own glory, but to the glory of his Creator.
    Nathanael Snow
    ndsnow@gmail.com
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    I'm not saying it's wholly inconsistent with the gospel and what we're saying is not that different, we just bring different vocabularies and somewhat diff root-metaphors. As such, I'm saying it's a diff approach than the one I use, because my understanding is rooted in the "Creation, Fall and Redemption" metanarrative that applies to all human relations with Creation and God. I don't think "redemption" is natural and I don't think we observe empirically what "human nature" is really meant to be apart from what is gradually taking place because of the advancement of the kingship of God. I also believe that the long-run and short-run are analytical conventions whose "value-added" are variable....

    Your approach seems to dichotomize politics and economics. This is also a misperception. Microeconomic theory builds on property rights which are a direct function of the manner in which the legit monopoly in the use of violence, or the sword of the state, is practically used. As such, it is a matter of selective perception, or snowjobbing ourselves somewhat, to renounce the use of state.
    We use the state whenever we make economic decisions, including the purchase of Mark Van Steenwyck's book that's going to be coming out...(That capitalist...!)

    I'm too busy right now to respond a lot until maybe next weekend, but do read my project democratic renewal writeup...
    dlw
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    Funny, Fitch seems, at first, to be moving along just fine. Then he substitutes "the Church" for Obama. Funny, because he seems conscious of a (perhaps necessary) distantiation between political subjects and one Big Other, but oblivious to his overidentification with "the Church".
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    Sure, but he has theological reasons for making that move. David isn't oblivious to his hopes in the Church. In his thinking, if I may feebly try to speak fof him, one cannot adequately speak of the transformative role of Christ's Spirit in the world apart from the church.
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    dlw,
    I think you are saying that you believe eschatologically that there is an earthly redemption, including the redemption of government. Is that right? I don’t think the existing governments will be redeemed. I think they will be replaced by the only legitimate law-giver.

    I agree that redemption is not natural, and I don’t think that natural law has to rely upon it. Does that mean that redemption and thus God gets left out of the equation? I think it does in terms of what we advocate for the state, but not in terms of what we insist upon for the church.

    I have absolutely no hope left in the state. It does mostly good, but that good is just a second-best solution. We can do good things, and sometimes grace reaches through and does something purely good and non-self-interested through an unregenerate individual, but apart from regeneration the best any human is capable of is the second-best solution of the market. So for pagans, the market is the first-best solution, and the best we can hope for them, and it leaves no space for arbitrary laws or idols. I suppose my dichotomy is in there somewhere.

    Perhaps property rights are impossible without a legitimate monopolizer of force. I fall back on judicial monarchism. Let there be judges such as there were before Saul became king, and such as there were after the exile. Let there not be an arbitrary law giver.

    I perceive in scripture precedent for common law systems for discovery of and enforcement of natural law. Beyond that, I see no room for the state.

    As for IP, we should forget about it altogether, it is just a matter of time anyway. Patronage will be the incentive for production of information in the future, not per-unit sales. No one pays us to comment on blogs, and yet we both experience gains, plus all the readers gain spillovers. If it is worth knowing it can be learnt for free.

    I’m trying to hold my own here, but I don’t think I’ve committed any intellectual dishonesties.
    Nathanael Snow
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    if a president wants to do some of the things the church is about, it can only do it through oppressing someone else. they have take. we are asked to give.

    the body of christ offers His kingdom to the world. a government is going to offer socialism. let's be realistic, when a government offers the idea of health care for all, equal wages and free education, it can only do it through oppression of one person or another. it isnt the same as sharing all things in common.

    when the kingdom of god offers hope, freedom, and change it offers it to all. it doesnt have to take from one and push someone else down to raise another. it may ask us to give and be generous and sacrifice, but it isnt heavy handed oppression. we give and share and care out of the love and grace of god and as a follower of christ and his kingdom.

    make no mistake - socialism is no more a partner of god's kingdom as democracy is. arent we just trading the religious right for the left?
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    Exactly right Joe: a Socialist or Capitalist, Fascist or Anarchist, if it's not Christ-centric then it will not last or bring forth joy, hope and loving-kindness.
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    A previous post Nathanael Snow wrote:
    "People are always more protective of their privilege than they are of their right. They would willingly sacrifice a right to gain a privilege."

    As Christians we will be unpopular because we point to the emptiness of privilege, and illustrate its illegitimacy."

    Very well written. People prefer 'petty perks of power' over almost anything else.
    This is why The Church and The State look so damn similar; uniforms/special seating/monikers/titles and lets not forget transportation expenses. How about a
    driver? People don't change just they're in inside the institutional church, that
    org. does not truly transform us only christ can do that.
    • ^
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    In defense of Obama, I will say that the source of his cash is small donations
    under one hundred dollars. This may bode well for true representational democracy. I like him, and I'm voting for him. That said, even if we do manage
    to transform gov into something more fair and responsive, it is still, at the end of the day just government.
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    Joe Tr:if a president wants to do some of the things the church is about, it can only do it through oppressing someone else. they have take. we are asked to give.

    dlw: Yoder puts it differently in his "the state in the new testament". The state uses sinful means to restrain human sinfulness. The church overcomes sin with self-sacrificial love. The question then is whether the church may also participate in the administration/reform of how the Sword of the State is wielded.

    It is true that every time policy is changed, there are winners and losers, but this does not mean that the losers are being oppressed.

    JT: the body of christ offers His kingdom to the world. a government is going to offer socialism. let’s be realistic, when a government offers the idea of health care for all, equal wages and free education, it can only do it through oppression of one person or another. it isnt the same as sharing all things in common.

    dlw: Let's be self-reflective. Socialism is basically a swear-word in much of our country. The issue is the "fairness" of the rules/way in which the monopoly of legit-violence is wielded. Socialism* is first and foremost about saying that the rules shd be applied to all individuals equally, not that equal outcomes must be guaranteed. (Note * diffs what I am speaking about here from Socialism as what was practiced in FSU or as is disintegrating in much of Europe.)

    JT: when the kingdom of god offers hope, freedom, and change it offers it to all. it doesnt have to take from one and push someone else down to raise another. it may ask us to give and be generous and sacrifice, but it isnt heavy handed oppression. we give and share and care out of the love and grace of god and as a follower of christ and his kingdom.

    dlw: Well, we need to have private property rights to constrain our human sinfulness and facilitate the division of labor. The issue with politics is then often a matter of changes in private property rights. Now, our devotion to God and desire to advance the kingship of God shd lead us to release our own private property in displays of hospitality and peace-making, but the change of private property isn't the same as "oppression". The latter has more to do with when a small group dominates the state to its own benefit and the burden of many.

    JT:make no mistake - socialism is no more a partner of god’s kingdom as democracy is. arent we just trading the religious right for the left?

    dlw: Or are we taking missional holism seriously by acting politcally apart from our own perceived intere$t$.

    dlw
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    Mark,
    let me know...

    dlw
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    dlw - i am not so concerned about winners and losers. what i am saying is that government does not reflect the kingdom of god and cannot be a partner with it. they have 2 different agendas and methods of operation.

    one does wield the sword and the other the cross. i am yet to see where the two are reconciled in scripture. there are plenty of examples in history. none of which worked out too well for the church. it's funny in the marriage of church and state, the only one asked to sacrifice is the church.

    what is legit violence?

    oppression - Main Entry: op·pres·sion
    Pronunciation: &-'pre-sh&n
    Function: noun
    : an unjust or excessive exercise of power: as a : unlawful, wrongful, or corrupt exercise of authority by a public official acting under color of authority that causes a person harm b : dishonest, unfair, wrongful, or burdensome conduct by corporate directors or majority shareholders that entitles minority shareholders to compel involuntary dissolution of the corporation c : inequality of bargaining power resulting in one party's lack of ability to negotiate or exercise meaningful choice

    democracy is not exempt from oppressing people and neither is socialism.

    i dont know if being socialist is missional holism. i think it is just that, being socialist. for better or worse. living missionally has nothing to do with the government taking from me to give to someone else. it is me sacrificing and giving of my own free will in obedience to christ, not obama.
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    Suzanne Stenson O'Brien 8 months ago
    However, Obama's Christian profession is absent from this discussion. Since we're going to have a president, whether we think it serves the Kingdom or not, should we not at least look for one with some interest in the Everlasting?

    On a different note, after 20 years in political work, I've retired because I think, generally, the QUEST for power can only yield illegitimate power: as a friend of mine says, it's the difference between trying to be the "power over" and accepting one's lot as the "power under". Whether you like his theology or not, Dr. Greg Boyd's "Myth of A Christian Nation" has great analysis about this topic.

    What ever happened to turning the other cheek?
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    I have done a lot of research into the Emerging Church movement. I have found that by doing the meditations and other practices in this movement, one can combine with all other religions of the world. It is not so much a combining of religions as it is the combining of minds.

    The Emerging Church movement's goal is to join all religions in the One World Religion under the authority of the Pope in Rome.

    Now, O'Bama talks about a change. Could this be the change he is really referring to? This new movement is certainly a change. It changes the way people think and view Jesus. The new Jesus is the Euchrist Jesus. A false Jesus.

    If O'Bama is thinking along these lines, he can actually combine Muslims with Christians through this new movement. There is that meeting of the minds.

    I would like to hear more about O'Bama's views on this new movement.
    Sandy
 

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  • David Fitch: Christianity, Leftist Reformism, and Obama « Compassion in Politics

    February 24, 2008 at 1:24 pm

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