As Christians, should we abandon the political parties that have moved to the left and right and establish a radical center? Calvin College professor Steve Monsma argues that we should, in a post at the fine new blog at Q Ideas. He has tired of the polarization of politics and finds much of it unchristian. He writes:
This leads me to plead for a radical Christian center. Centrism may appear to be wishy-washy and undecided or so apathetic that one refuses to take sides. But a radical Christian center is far from being either. It is radical in that it goes to the root of today’s political issues, asking basic questions of purpose, value, and worth. It puts the common good ahead of partisan advantage and narrow special interests. If you don’t think that is radical, you haven’t been paying much attention to this fall’s partisan election campaigns
I’m not surprised that Dr. Monsma is exasperated. Generally, Christian academics don’t like partisan politics, for two good reasons. First, in the heat of political fights, there tends to be a suspension of godly character. Second, political campaigning is, for the most part, the repetition of simple messages.
While I personally sympathize with the need for more moderate positions on many issues and cringe at the tired rhetoric of political extremes, I don’t believe a move to the center is the answer. And to call centrist political positions “Christian” is as misguided as it is for progressives or conservatives to assume that there enlightenment is generated by the Light of world.
There is much for Christians and all people of good will to dislike about political campaigns and the methodology and practices of the major political parties, but it isn’t rigid political positions that make partisan politicking distasteful or less Christian.
It would be a shame for Christians to eschew partisanship, which is the sinew of our political process and has helped produce nearly 250 years of stability and peaceful transition of power. Instead we should call and work for three things in political argument– at all times, but especially in the most virulent campaign months:
Flamboyant language, exaggerated charges, and the demonization and stereotyping of the opposition are particularly distasteful when they rely on borrowed passion. We roll our eyes at the repeated talking points that are foisted upon by an endless stream of political spokespersons or candidates who fail to do their own thinking. Our response is totally different when we hear the deep groans of an aggrieved soul, whether it is a partisan of the left or right. Authentic passion is the lubricant of healthy and vibrant political discourse.
Nothing makes political argumentation more unChristian than dishonesty. We have to continue to insist on honesty from the left, the right, the center, or the uncommitted. We need to end not only bold lies, but the disguised lies the pervert understanding. Christians in the political process will not only tell the truth, but will refuse to tell a sideways truth that gives a false impression, or will lead the listener to a false conclusion. We suffer from an avalanche of statements that—although not lies—routinely hide the truth. We are disgusted when politicians use statistics or characterizations that are true on the surface but impede genuine clarity. Robust honesty in the political process will restore confidence.
Just as damaging and unChristian is campaigning that tears apart people, disrespects opponents, and inflames the base obsessions of constituencies. Ad hominen attacks damage politics and keep good people from choosing to subject themselves to the character assassination of the political game. Candidates and campaign leaders often decry negative campaigning, then turn to the tactics if they fall behind. Poll numbers improve when candidate tear at the fabric of the opponent’s character, but they leave us all disgusted with partisan politics. As Christians, we should insist on uncommon civility from those who seek to represent us in government.