I've discussed my political perspectives briefly in two posts: one on the relationship between conservative Christians and the Republican party, and another on the philosophical concept of "rights" that so dominates American politics. It's an issue that I'm interested in, and yet a little reluctant to discuss in a public forum, partly because emotions run so high and partly because so many people have certain political opinions so wedded to their faith that questioning one appears to involve apostasizing from the other. And yet, that's all the more reason to speak out.
Dr. Witherington writes,
[T]he alliance between Evangelicals and the hard line conservatives in the Republican party has made it difficult for many Evangelicals to see the difference in our time between being a Christian and being an American, and in particular being a certain kind of an American—namely a Republican. The problem is that this reflects a certain kind of mental ghettoizing of the Gospel, a blunting of its prophetic voice on issues ranging from war to poverty, and sometimes this even comes with the not so subtle suggestion that to be un-American (defined as being opposed to certain key Republican credo items) is to be un-Christian.In other words, many people have adopted being a conservative Republican as a part of their faith--for some, the most important part. I actually do understand this point of view, partly because of the hostility held by many on the liberal side of the political fence to Bible-believing Christians, partly because of the overwhelming nature of abortion as a political and social issue, and partly because of the ever-increasing social agenda of those who wish to push the normalization of practices that many Christians find intolerable. Social-issues conservatives have felt that they had nowhere to go but the Republican party, and have as a result largely adopted its economic and foreign policy positions as well. The war in Iraq may have done us the inadvertent service of forcing us to reconsider this political alliance, and look to see if there are issues that demand our moral attention other than the ones focused on by the leaders of the "religious right."
This is largely Dr. Witherington's point. He argues that the moral issues discussed in the New Testament have to do with wealth and poverty, taxes (paying them), sexual behavior (mostly heterosexual issues), behaviors and attitudes that divide believers, and war; many of these issues have been ignored or glossed over by the "religious right." He also sees the body of believers as responsible for the amelioration of social ills, rather than the government; and he is a (self-described) pacifist, so he sees no New Testament support for war at all and therefore no reason for Christians to support a government that is prosecuting a war.
My own response to Dr. Witherington's post is mixed. I'm not sure I agree with his list of issues that the NT focuses on; it doesn't seem to me that taxes and war are discussed in great detail, and there is plenty of evidence against the pacifist position in the Old Testament that is not contradicted in the New. Moreover, to argue that the New Testament writers don't place a burden on the government for the amelioration of social ills is to ignore the fact that all of the NT documents were written to people who had no immediate hope for any influence on governmental policy; they focus on individual and group behavior in the context of a hostile, pagan ruling order. The NT simply doesn't address principles for running a government; once again, one has to go to the OT for that, and there the evidence is clear that rulers were to care for the socially disadvantaged ("widows and orphans") and even to practice some degree of economic redistribution (the "year of Jubilee"). Ezekiel 34, which rails against the "shepherds" of Israel for a lack of care for the sheep, is almost assuredly referring to secular rulers--i.e., kings and lower governmental rulers.
It's my conviction that no political party will ever (or can ever) represent Christians fully. I see a greater openness these days to rethinking what Christians should regard as important in our political discourse. I think that doing that rethinking is important. What shouldn't be done (and what I have seen rather frequently) is a dismissal of the traditional foci of religious right issues (opposition to abortion, the gay rights agenda, pornography, euthanasia, etc.) so as to favor traditionally liberal policies (social justice, assistance for those in need, environmentalism, internationalism, reluctance to pursue war). I don't see why both of these foci cannot be pursued (if indeed we view them to be biblical); the only trouble is in finding candidates who support all of these issues. We may have to weigh positives and negatives of various political candidates, instead of following a more narrowly construed agenda that can be identified with a single party. But who said being more biblical would be easy?