Emergent Politics

By Julie Roys
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By Julie Roys

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it’s probably a duck. At least, that’s how the popular duck test inductively arrives at the true identity of an unknown subject.

I’ve thought a lot about this test as I’ve tried to classify Emergent Politics. For the uninitiated, Emergent refers to a developing Christian movement marked by its disillusionment with modernism and its distinctively post-modern orientation. Emergents emphasize that Christ’s kingdom is present now and as a result, have become a very politically active group. But they’re also diverse, so defining their politics is a difficult task.

Jim Wallis, probably the most well-known Emergent political activist, wrote a New York Times bestseller called, “God’s Politics – Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It.” And this truly has become the Emergent mantra. Emergents, supposedly, are neither left nor right. As Tony Jones of the Emergent Village put it, Emergents look for “points of intersection and moments of potential cooperation with politicians on both sides of the aisle.” They claim to be forging a third way – a way that refuses to be co-opted by either Democrats or Republicans.

However, if one applies the Duck Test, Emergents are liberal Democrats. Although there’s no firm data on how Emergents voted in the last election, indications are they overwhelmingly supported Obama. Relevant Magazine found Obama the top choice when it polled twentysomething Christians – the group most influenced by Emergent thought. Wallis, himself, spoke at the Democratic convention. And, Wallis’ Sojourners political advocacy group reads like an apologetic for the Democratic platform: from promoting socialized medicine to fighting Global warming to advancing the United Nations as the vehicle for achieving world peace.

That Emergents would lean left is no surprise. Emergents are reacting to what Jones calls, “a match made in hell” – the combining of the Christian Right with the Republican Party. Emergents I believe rightly perceive that the Republican Party corrupted the Christian Right. But they don’t rectify this error; instead, they simply repeat it – except as puppets of the Democratic Left. One egregious example was deceiving many pro-life voters that President Obama – arguably the most pro-abortion president ever –would somehow reduce abortions.

But, another reason Emergents lean left is more subtle. In fact, I wonder if many Emergents are aware of it themselves. That is, they’ve bought into the liberal argument that government can reform society. God clearly enjoins Christians to care for the poor and fight social injustice. But, Scripture gives this responsibility to the Church and individual Christians, not to civil government. Growing government in an effort to respond to social needs, as many Emergents advocate, will only put more money and power in the hands of sinful men. Government can restrain evil; but only the church can do good. To expect a secular institution to act benevolently is like – well, expecting a duck to act like a fish.

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3 thoughts on “Emergent Politics”

  1. Should Christians be so pre-occupied with a political party ideology or theological doctrine? From a Christocentric view which asserts that the center-point of all history and the focus of all the scriptures are in Jesus Christ; God in Christ continues to function in grace as the dynamic life of the risen Lord Jesus lived out in Christians who have received Jesus Christ to live in them by faith. Saying that, I see Emergents as a group of Christians striving to give a voice to the voiceless, empowers the oppressed, restoring peace, achieving economic justice and protecting the environment.

    Should we be more concern about the community of Christians working together? The scriptures are clear about God’s concern for and solidarity with people living in poverty and on the margins of society. Scriptures are equally clear that God calls us to be stewards of creation. As Christians we must bring into the public square a commitment to service for the well-being of all God’s children and a faith conviction that government is an important catalyst in God’s work of restoring peace, achieving economic justice and protecting the environment.

    The record of effective and transformative work by Christian organizations demonstrates the belief that people of faith can help change the world in practical ways. But our broad long-standing experience also teaches us that our faith-based response to human need is enhanced and more effective when supported by government with the wisdom and will to provide resources to fulfill its basic constitutional mandate to protect the well –being of all citizens.

    There’s republican worldview, a democratic worldview and a Christian worldview of which at times will overlap in ideology with one another. When this occurs am I a republican, democrat or Christian?

  2. julie,
    Thanks for your post. You are right about Sojourners and Jim Wallis’s liberal Democratic leanings. I read their daily emails and am regularly baffled by their political correctness and desire to see secular government do what the church should do. I’m sorry that they are so intent on having nationalized medicine and are looking to Obama and his administration as the true savior for our nation’s ills.

  3. Emerging Chrisianity and all of her cousins with different names and descriptions ’emerges’ from something. I think that something, for lack of a better term, is the church growth movement– mega-churches and programatic churches led by generational builders and boomers.

    I can see almost a direct contrast between the 2 groups. One form of Christianity focused on personal morality: illegal abortion, difficult divorce, defined marriages, and even prohibition of alcohol; and wants government to enable that morality. The latter group focuses on group morality: economic fairness, care for needs, willingness to reopen closed discussions, and wants to government to enable it.

    I think our worldview should be deeper than trying to correct the mistakes our fathers and grandfathers did. Underneath all the flowery language, it seems to me that young politically active believers are exerting their indepenence.

    Of course we should be concerned about individual and societal justice, but rarely do we get to choose that in the political arena.

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