RESISTING THE URGE TO MAKE JUSTICE ABOUT POLITICSFrom politics to a politic.
I offer one last post on this whole subject â€¦ here goes.
If we are to avoid making justice into another program at our church we must resist the urge to make justice first about national politics, and then second about our own local politic. For inevitably we get caught up in national politics believing that finally now we are doing something. This then becomes an easy program to establish in our churches. Especially if a national television or radio show personality gets involved. Inevitably, the work of local justice becomes an after-thought. Because political activism is always easier than living as a presense with the poor.
I contend we necessarily should reverse that order of priority: put our local politic first and national politics second. (By “politic” I am referring to the way the word is used in the common phrase “body politic” meaning the ethos, the embodied way of living together inhabited by a collective entity). Others will surely argue that they can do both at the same time. I ask in response, can we engage the world with language about justice without a way of life that makes sense of the language we speak? I assert that there can be no “justice” detached from a social embodiment whereby it makes sense to those we preach. In the Great Giveaway, I argued that “our justice becomes just another disingenuous argument without a living visible representation of what justice looks like among a people of God” p. 154. In another place I argue that “without a Bodily presense in the world, there is little true engagment with the world except via individualist arguments â€¦ until we have a church that lives justice, it’s just Jim Wallis arguing against Jerry Falwell.” I think Jim Wallis would probably agree with most of what I have just said (at least I hope so).
This requires that we see God as working in a people not just in individuals. This requires a shift from the seeing the church as a recruiting station to get people saved as individuals and then prepare them to go out and be individual agents working to relieve suffering in the world (or to vote for the right policy). This requires that politics becomes more than a monolithic concept the church must participate in to seeing that a local church itself can embody a politic.
One does not have to read long in the pastoral epistles to see the ethos of justice that had developed among the earliest communities of Christ. Notice the justice that takes place around the Eucharist Table (1 Cor 11:22). Notice the way the widows and orphans are treated (James 1:27 etc.). Notice how the poor are treated (Gal 2:10; James 2). Notice how these discernments are not easy (Gal 6:1-10). Notice how they all shared responsibility for one another (2 Cor 8:13-15). This then spread justice into the world. My contention is that if we want to talk to the injustices in the US medical system, we begin first to undermine that system of immense predatory capitalist power by showing the world how to practice medical care to one another in our churches. From here we march in immense social authority in Christ to bring down the strongholds of the unjust powers that grip our nation’s (US) medical system. That’s just one example.
Foucault and Zizek
Foucault is well-known for seeing power as a homogeneous totality (the Totalizing System) incorporating all resistance within it. Zizek on the other hand, sees power as always disturbed by an excess which it can never quite control. For Foucault the Symbolic order is total, for Zizek the symbolic order is a field always in mediation between the subject and the political. Therefore, the Real is always in danger of irrupting (Badiou’s term). Zizek advocates a politics therefore which does not resist the politics in power thereby becoming subsumed by the politics of power legitimating it and reinforcing that which is in power already. Instead, Zizek says “play the symbolllic order game to the hilt, revealing its own lack, bringing it down by the power of its own excess.”
I know, for those of you not versed in this rhetoric it’s heady. My apologies. But would you try to let it stretch you?
Put in other words. Foucault would take a look the Vietnam War protesters as playing into the hands of the governmental powers who sought to keep the war going for their own purposes. Richard Nixon etc., could say “see, I told you so! Here in the US we have freedom to be able to protest. They don’t have that in North Vietnam.” The protests became subsumed by the powers and actually legitimated the ongoing injustice. I think Zizek would prefer (I’m conjecturing here) the Jane Fonda move – “oh you say I am free, OK I’ll go to Hanoi and speak what I really think.” An even more effective strategy I believe is for hundreds of evangelical churches to gather together and resist allowing any young men/women to participate in the war altogether (and ask the Vietnamese Christians to join in). In other words, dare the powers to wage war against the religious freedom it claims to be fighting for. Imagine if 1,000’s of evangelical churches in the 60’s had refused any of its members the moral authority to fight in an unjust war? How soon would that have ended the war. This gets to my point, until we embody the justice we are talking about locally in our communities, our justice in the wider context gets subsumed by the dominant forces, even injustice itself.
I hope to discuss at the evolving church conference some more examples of how I see that local justice always leads us to be a better participation in national politics.
I don’t anticipate presenting all these 4 posts at the evolving church conference. What I hope for is a brief presentation on the hottest of these topics and then generating discussion of how we’re all doing these things. Should be a great time. Looking forward to it!
Final question – CAN MEGA CHURCHES DO THE WORK OF CHRIST’S JUSTICE?
I think the kind of churches that will have the hardest time with a MORE ORGANIC, LOCAL and EMBODIED JUSTICE are the mega churches. Because if justice is relational, mutual and sharing of all things, this is just plain harder the bigger you get. I would argue that the mega churches with the most resourses often do the poorest job of social justice per capita. Don’t get me wrong they are doing plenty of mercy projects. SOME VERY HIGH PROFILE â€¦ but is it justice? Or is it a large relief and mercy program, which again is important, but from post #1, I suggest it is not justice. Then again, I know at least 2 larger churches (2500+) that are doing awesome work for Christ’s justice.