Recommended for: Anyone wanting a well-rounded view of American politics / politics & faith
Read from September 29 to October 05, 2012
What got me into this book was my concern over the lacuna of Christian voices showing civility in American public discourse. It is easy to find examples of strident, unloving and even damaging rhetoric parroted by people of faith who genuinely care about the direction of the country. Christians seem to have little trouble stating convictions on issues, but we rarely articulate those convictions effectively. We often sound our victim-whines, complaining that we feel shut out from political power. And we are, too often, silenced by our own ignorance or clumsiness. After a quick scan, I judged that Honoring God in Red or Blue would echo my concerns and address them.
Amy Black, a Wheaton professor with an M.I.T. doctorate in political science and experience as a Congressional Fellow, speaks directly to fellow Christians in an encouraging tone, educating and informing her audience on the basics of American government and politics without condescending. Though much of the book covers what we should have learned in Civics 101, Dr. Black's explanations target adults who need not just reminding, but refocusing. Part 1 reviews the reasons for political involvement, the relationship between religion and politics and the purpose and limits of government. This section alone makes the book worth reading, especially for those who may be expecting too much from a system that was designed to work slowly, through compromise rather than through tyranny of anyone's platform or party.
"Black and white" may be helpful stereotypes for categorizing moral issues, but those absolute categories do not realistically reflect the process of politics. Dr. Black counsels, "It is possible to stand on Christian convictions and still make compromises." Honoring God in Red or Blue advocates active political involvement, but as a means of demonstrating love in action rather than sanctioning lust for power in the name of Christ. Listening, humility, respect and informed action are the means through which Christians may pursue a better society.
After giving a primer on the roles of local,state and federal government in Part 2, which also features a helpful discussion of the relationship between church and state, the book explores the question of how faith and politics may interact. (Part 3 is the "how to" section.) How have various faith traditions interacted with the state? How do we disagree peacefully, and what if Christians have serious political disagreements? The author unpacks her core premise here--that humility and respect are necessary for fruitfulness in political involvement--and applies it to how we tackle debate and disagreement over the "hard issues," things about which we may have a common goal but a different solution than our opponents. The book highlights the issue of poverty as an illustration, offering several plausible solutions that may differ, yet be acceptable within a Christian worldview.
The final few chapters offer a helpful analysis of political campaigning and informed voting.
Throughout Honoring God in Red or Black, the author speaks with a voice that is as non-partisan and ideologically dispassionate. This stance results in a guide that is practical and informative. Sidebars on how to understand statistics, how to fact-check, the rise of the Tea Party, separation of church and state, etc. add to the book's value. Yet for all these strengths, a significant weakness of Honoring God in Red or Black is its failure to build a strong enough biblical and theological foundation to support a positive Christian vision, one that does not detract from the author's core assumptions, but takes them and goes farther and deeper in seeking to redeem what is broken in American society and politics. The principle of love is too broad. Even humility and respect are not enough.
While American Christians need Christian character if we are to effectively engage in the political sphere, we also need a philosophy that embraces and applies the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) as discipleship of "the nations," the Great Commandment (Luke 10:27) as loving God as well as neighbor,and the cultural mandate (Gen. 1:26-28). Core biblical assumptions like these have implications for respecting life AND the environment, for upholding the design of marriage AND not hating or fearing others who do not agree but are also made in God's image--moral and societal issues that require a greater prophetic voice from the church, yet not absent love and respect. Such a developed, positive political philosophy may be beyond the scope of this book. Still, Honoring God in Red or Blue provides sane, useful and faithful counsel and wisdom for those who want to be involved and make a difference in a pluralistic culture that is desperate for clarity and sanity.