Sometimes I can’t decide if I’m a bleeding-heart Democrat, a Libertarian or an Anarchist at heart. Depends on the day of the week and how much fiber I had for breakfast, I guess.
On the one hand, I feel morally compelled by my faith to advocate for social support programs that help the poor or marginalized. I’ve been a vocal advocate for single-payer universal health care and for so-called “welfare” programs. I’ve also been a member of the ACLU and I’ve spoken out for the rights of people to do, believe or say things I find reprehensible.
So what the hell am I?
When I look to the Bible for guidance, I find many cases where we are called, not just as individuals, but also as a community, to care for those with less than us. So this seems to be an argument for a more left-leaning, almost Socialist kind of system.
But then I consider things like the teachings of John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg, who point out that it was the creation of coinage that led to the relative enslavement of so many from the Biblical era. Whereas people had lived as subsistence laborers and had bartered for what they needed, the introduction of money allowed governments to control – and therefore, tax – everything from the land to the fish in the seas and lakes.
I also look at the institutional church and convenient marriages that have led to theocracy, genocide, mass persecution and oppression of millions, even to this day, in the name of God. Maybe, I wonder, we’d be better off if the whole thing was dismembered, piece by piece, until we were back to what we started with: a movement consisting of passionate studiers and preachers of the ways of Jesus. No budgets, no staff, no power over others.
In my Utopian imagination, groups like the Church (big “C”) nonprofits, families and individuals would fulfill all of the needs of their sisters and brothers, thus eliminating the needs for such government-run social safety nets. But again, this is just a dream. After all, the counter to this Democratic system of governance is our capitalist economic system that depends on self-interest, greed and excessive consumption.
So what’s the answer? More government? Less government? No government? And the same goes for the church. Are we doing more harm than good?
We can ponder and worry over these kinds of things to the point that we end up paralyzed by it all, but that’s not what we’re called to as Christians. Even Jesus acted or spoke, and then changed course as his eyes were opened to a greater reality (see the story about Jesus calling the Canaanite woman a dog). Fred Craddock actually said something recently in a sermon that helped me sort this out for myself. I know, leave it to Fred to lay some heavy thing on your in his trademark, “aww shucks” way.
Fred was preaching about Jubilee, the time in the Jewish calendar when all debts were to be forgiven. He suggests that this probably never actually happened. So why bother talking about it? Are we making empty promises to string along those shackled with indebtedness?
The notion of Jubilee actually is a necessary hope for us to maintain, Fred says, much like my image of a society that is mutually nurturing enough that we have no more need for nonprofits or government support services. It’s that ideal, whether attainable or not in reality, that draws us forward toward the place where we need to end up.
It’s the same sort of hope that undergirds liberation theology, and that is woven into the words “Thy Kingdom come” in the Lord’s Prayer. Is God’s love fully realized in the world? In some ways yes; in others, not yet. Are government, the institutional church or private nonprofits the silver bullet we seek, or just another cog in an opportunistic, soulless machine?
If we maintain that hope of Jubilee, whatever form that takes in our God-inspired imaginations, then the tools we use to strive toward that goal are less important than the aspiration itself. For now, I’ll keep voting, and I intend to keep on paying my taxes, but the day I breathe a sigh of relief and begin to believe that I’ve divested myself of personal responsibility because any of these institutions are taking care of it, I afford them the power to become something much worse.
Christian Piatt is an author, editor, speaker, musician and spoken word artist. He co-founded Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado with his wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, in 2004.
Christian is the creator and editor of the BANNED QUESTIONS book series, which include BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.