The mentor of one of my friends from Oxford, one of the leaders of the so-called “Radical Orthodoxy” group, is a professor at Calvin, who, despite his hatred of Bush’s policies, did not sign a letter of protest or wear an armband. (For those as yet uninformed, Calvin invited Bush to speak at commencement. This met with stern opposition from about 1/3 of the faculty, many of whom expressed this disappointment publicly. Read about it here.) Having been censured by his more boisterous fellow faculty members, Smith wrote in reply on his blog, Fors Clavigera, stating the reasons why he did not join in the protest, though he didn’t attend the ceremony.
While I openly disagree with Smith’s politics, his theology, and the way he is trying to influence evangelicals, Smith’s critique of his fellow progressives is, I think, very insightful and wise. Here are some excerpts of his post in italics:(To the question of why so many Christians support the obviously crazy President Bush) My answer would be both simple and complex: this represents a failure of discipleship. If we find the climate of highly-churched West Michigan to be so complicit with institutionalized social injustice, then we have no one to blame but ourselves. Clearly, our churches, far from forming us otherwise, are actually contributing to the formation of docile subjects of the GOP machine.
Let me quickly distance myself from his cutting statement that churches are making us puppets of the GOP. That’s just bad leftist rhetoric and is quite uncharitable because, while evangelicals don’t tend to be intellectuals, they are, as a people group, more educated than the average US citizen and more involved in politics. Smith also uncharitably assumes there are no good arguments for being right-leaning.
He does, however, have an excellent strategy to overcoming the “problem” of political ideologies of Christians. Smith insightfully understands that deep seated beliefs cannot be changed by mere rhetoric and symbolic protests – indeed, unless done tactfully, these behaviors usually alienate the other side. Discipleship and mentorship is what really gets the job done. I just wish Smith was a traditional Christian like Dr. Dallas Willard at USC or Dr. Reynolds at Biola.
So I’ll continue to see my adult Sunday School class or our Bible study group as political spaces where, slowly to be sure, disciples of Jesus are shaped by the politics of Jesus.
Smith astutely sees that teaching those classes steadily and patiently is the best way to see results.
As a side note, I’m not sure what Smith refers to as the “politics of Jesus”. What are Jesus’ political doctrines anyway? And for him to claim knowledge of them seems more than a bit arrogant. I’m ardently committed to the right wing agenda, but I have some humility to say that those particular political views don’t necessarily mean the politics of Jesus. Perhaps I misunderstand, but some clarification by Smith is in order.