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Politics, Love, and Alisa Harris

September 2nd, 2011 | 2 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

Andrew Walker on Alisa Harris' new memoir:

Harris gets a lot right in her book—namely, that “something is deeply wrong with the evangelical politics in which our childhood were immersed” (8). Her volume reminds us that however we vote, we must be vigilant and chastened in how we arrive at the decision. Truly, no party in American politics is theChristian party, for no party up to this point in time has adopted (nor should they) any particular religious creed into its platform. Her book offers both an important reminder in how Christians often wrongly use their rhetoric to support their positions and also a strong rebuke to the “politically obsessed.” She approvingly quotes Peggy Noonan, who warns, “Beware the politically obsessed. They are often bright and interesting, but they have something missing in their nature; there is a hole, an empty place, and they use politics to fill it up. It leaves them somehow misshapen.” A wise warning, indeed.

I can't comment about the accuracy of the review, not having read the book.  But this bit from the first chapter raised questions:

I think a political act can’t be an act of love. It can be a good act, even noble and heroic, but love is not something that takes place behind a barricade; it happens in the breaking of bread and the passing of cups. Political love is theoretical, directed at some vague “humanity,” and Jesus didn’t say to love humanity but to love your neighbor.

I would heartily lift a glass to the emphasis on the particularity of the individual, though I might also take it to its conclusion that we should all vote conservative (or Republican, if the two happen to overlap) to leave as much room for those acts of love which Harris touts.  But I also think it would come as something of a shock to this fellow (not to mention one of his best modern expositors) that the orders of politics and love are fundamentally incompatible.  We may think that the picket line isn't the right expression of love, but...abusus non tollit usum, a phrase which you should have memorized by now.

One more thought:  The narrowness of 'neighbor' here would undermine most of the immensely popular international development work being undertaken by American evangelicals.  You may never meet those WorldVision kids, but dropping the check in the mail seems to count for something.

Of course, the subtitle of the book is "How I Untangled my Faith from Politics," a phrase that raises the possibility of an apolitical Christianity.  Harris may go on to more carefully articulate through her journey a more careful understanding of the apolitical faith she calls for in the first chapter, and I'll certainly note it if she does.  But in the meantime, the question takes us straight to the heart of Andrew's review:  whose politics?

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.