Thursday, March 29, 2012

Irreconcilable Politics with the ways of Jesus

For clarity, my politics continue to be challenged by my belief in the ways of Jesus Christ. While I once found myself a strong far-right conservative, I always appreciated integrated faith and politics regardless of the political persuasion of someone.

The former Paul Henry of Grand Rapids, Michigan is my most admired local politician of the past century. Unfortunately his life was cut short due to cancer, but his example continue to shine in the lives of some of us who knew him or studied him and his politics. Vern Ehlers, while more conservative than Paul and less likely to cross the isle on issues, also made an incredible attempt to have an integrated faith that included his political persuasion.

Those who might suggest that Paul or Vern were pushing their Christian values into the U.S. government fail to recognize most of the positions of these men. Paul Henry lived a life of goodness, kindness, faith, hope and love. Regardless if you were a Muslim, Hindu, Catholic, or Atheist, Paul wasn't a threat to you. His life and his politics embodied the best of an American politician. While you may not have agreed with him, he always exhibited respect and honor regardless if you agreed with him.

I write the previous because Paul is my example, and I often dream of another politician from West Michigan rising to the level of integration of faith and politics that reached exceptional levels. Living in the Second District of Michigan, my Congressman is Mr. Bill Huizenga. We attended Calvin College together, and we both studied political science. We are both products of the Christian Reformed school system in West Michigan. As graduates of a Christian college where integrated life and faith are central to the mission and vision of the school, I would hope that Mr. Huizenga would be forming his political positions in the shadow of Paul Henry.

In reality, whether it be due to the shifting winds of politics in the decades since Paul Henry left us behind, big corporate money, or blind loyally to the political party of our birth, Bill Huizenga has not but for a few passing moments walked in the shadow of Paul. I am both saddened, disappointed, and angered that we as the electorate in the 2nd District have allowed Bill to continue in the identical footsteps of his former boss.

When the good people of the 2nd district were tired of Guy VanderJagt who has represented us well for decades, we chose to look to Peter Hoekstra. Mr. Hoekstra represented us, but like the Mr. Huizenga who followed him, his politics were largely driven by rugged liberty and far-right convictions. Given the party people of the 2nd District are largely in this vein, it is no wonder Pete and now Bill have chosen this as their political safe haven. Their convictions found them financial funding for their campaigns and in turn votes for election and re-election.

While re-election and holding power seems to be the way of politics in America these days, Paul Henry didn't bite on towing the party line, and neither did he cater to the politics winds of the moment. He held a faith that was so integrated into his politics that he was virtually beyond reproach on the issue. Why have we not seen such a representative since his passing?

In a West Michigan culture where we care dearly for family, life, faith, education, society, and work-ethic. In our West Michigan society with excellent private colleges that push for an integrated life of faith and politics, most notably Calvin, Hope, Aquinas, and Cornerstone, we need to soul search as to why we don't seriously pursue elected officials who hold more than our political persuasions but hold a life of faith and politics in accord, in balance, with integrity standing and living before the Creator of all good things.

What have I missed? Perhaps I am naive, but I still hope the ways of Jesus win the day. I still hope for a day when blacks, whites, protestants, catholics, jews, married, single, straight, gay, men and women will together stand together and claim "Free at last. Free at last. Thank God almighty we are free at last."

By this I am not simply reminding us of Reverend King. He was certainly a man, though flawed, who lived with hope for a better tomorrow. It was a contagious hope that spoke not only to individual hopes and dreams but of corporate hopes and dreams. His were the dreams that society could be bettered with. The hopes and dreams of Paul Henry made us as a society better - much better.

Yet, we have been succumbed by partisan money and partisan politics, and we have settled for our U.S. Representative being less than the shadow of the hope I observed in Mr. Paul Henry. Why have we settled? Why do we claim to hold a faith that cares for the least, for the poorest, for the marginalized of society and yet adhere to a politic that is anything but this.

Instead, we have been led to believe individual liberty and protecting our hard earned money are our greatest values. Thus, we 'have who we have' as our representative. If these are indeed our highest values, then we are only paying lip service to the ways of Jesus. We are much less than 'poor reflections' as the Apostle Paul says about the shaping of our lives.

I can already hear opposition voices claim that the government should not care for the marginalized. Ironically, those of us in the reformed tradition should be influenced by the theological mind that shaped our tradition, John Calvin. If one is to study the life of Calvin, it is abundantly clear that faith and politics is not limited to the church and the good works of the church. For Calvin it was an integration of the goodness of the Jesus-centered life that could positively influence government for the sake of corporate society.

In the tradition of catholicism, Thomas Aquinas and so many theological minds before him, faith and politics were also integrated. While catholic churches created hospitals and often had/has a parish nurse that is paid by the local church, the corporate good was always held in highest regard.

Today we settle for a U.S. representative who believes taxes are too high for the wealthiest, health insurance should be only for those who have a high paying job, and individual liberty should be held in the highest regard. In the tradition of the Apostle Paul, John Calvin, Thomas Aquinas, and Paul Henry, I ask why have we settled for a politic that is neither honoring to our forefather nor honest with the Christian faith?

It is time we hold our money less tightly, our individual rights as valuable but not of the highest value, and again find a faith the breathes hope into a society and broken lives that often are without hope. In so doing, we will search for elected voices who represents the ways of Jesus that strive for an integrated life. As much as I want to stay away from this issue, holding a politic that adheres to the tea party platform is far less than the requirements of living as a follower of Jesus Christ. For us to believe such ignores the best politicians, theologians, and ultimately the life of Jesus Christ.

Join me in longing for an elected voice from the 2nd district who would aspire to walk in the footsteps of Mr. Paul Henry. If that day is to come, our country and our world will be a better place. Justice and mercy will again be central to our societal values, and our reflected politic will be Christ-like, more fully human.

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