Friday, September 25, 2009

Speaking Truth to Power?

"Speaking truth to power" is not a phrase that one hears very often either from political or theological conservatives. I always assumed that it just had to do with someone who was a theological or political liberal having used it; and that it was picked up in one of those cultures. It has always felt presumptuous to me.

However, I have never seen a critique of the phrase. Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed pointed me to a "an old blog that deserves a wide readership" - and if this post is any indication then I agree.

The name of the site, and the author, is Allan R. Bevere; and he speaks

"On Why The Church in America Cannot Speak Truth to Power"
". . . perhaps the most useless political phrase of all is the high-sounding but irrelevant phraseology of "speaking truth to power." -- Allan Bevere

Bevere gives two reasons:
  1. the vast majority of Christians in America have accepted the Constantinian notion that the primary political task of the church is to rule, to be in charge. What that means at the very least is that Christians are to play a prophetic role in the political court of Washington DC.

  2. it means that most Christians have accepted the modern dichotomies of left/right, liberal/conservative, Democrat/Republican
"And therein is the heart of the problem. That most Christians in America believe that the church's primary role is to affect policy in Washington DC betrays the mistaken belief that the primary political action in this world is to be found in the White House and on Capitol Hill, when the New Testament clearly indicates that the primary agency of politics is located in nothing less than the community of faith known as the church. In order for the church to speak truth to power it must recover its unique polity apart from the earthly polity known as the nation state; for it is God and not the nations who rules the world.

My great concern is that when Christians in America want to play the role of prophet in Pharaoh's court, they end up looking, not like the wise sage, but the court jester that gets used by the king for his or her own comical and unsavory purposes.

The people of God have been co-opted; it is time for the church to recover the politics of witness." -- Allan Bevere
One of the examples Allan uses is feeding the poor:
For Christians to be concerned for the poor, the outcasts, and those on the fringes of society is a given. The problem is that it is not always clear how Christians should care for such persons.
Another writer who tried to lift Kingdom priorities over politcal priorities was J. Budziszewski in his two essays on political liberalism:
The second moral error of political liberalism is expropriationism. According to this notion I may take from others to help the needy, giving nothing of my own; according to Christianity I should give of my own to help the needy, taking from no one. We might call expropriationism the Robin Hood fallacy. Today, the expropriationist is usually a propitiationist too, confusing the needy with some subset of the merely wanty. So we are speaking of a style of politics in which the groups in power decide for us which of their causes our wealth is to support, taking that wealth by force
and political conservatism:
The eighth moral error of political conservatism is meritism. According to this notion I should do unto others as they deserve. With the addition of mammonism, matters become even simpler, for then those who need help are by definition undeserving, while those in a position to help are by definition deserving. That meritism is not a Christian doctrine comes as a surprise to many people. Large numbers think the meritist motto “God helps those who help themselves” is a quotation from the Bible. What the New Testament actually teaches is that in what we need most, we are helpless; the grace of God is an undeserved gift. According to Christianity I should do unto others not as they deserve, but as they need.
Read the rest of Allan Bevere's thought-provoking post; and I would suggest you put his blog on your reading schedule - I am going to.

I even like his quote of the week from G.K. Chesterson:
"The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected."

No comments:

Post a Comment

How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly