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?

Posted by 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.

  • David Blymire

    As a Christian who has wrestled with these issues for the past 25 years — 11 of which were spent as a dreaded newspaper reporter in the “liberal media” — I’m extremely interested in reading this book.

    From what I’ve observed, the problem is not whether Evangelicals should advocate political positions, but that we have had a tendency to inject the gravity of eternity into every policy stand while forgeting our own feet of clay. Any public policy is a limited, contingent, finite thing, developed by fallen people, that sometimes is good for one group of people and bad for another. In a 1982 song, Mark Heard accused some believers of “taking their cause for His own” and bulldozing anyone who disagrees. Even today, I still see people in the Church who judge others’ faithfulness to Christ by their political allegiances. Where is our view of Grace? If only we Evangelicals could express our views as our opinions, rendered up in humility in the hope that something good will come of them despite their faults. I get the sense that if you talk this way in many churches, you’d be taken as a liberal softy, as if loving your neighbor with your words is too “squishy” for “solid” believers.

    • Matthew Lee Anderson

      David,

      I agree with the problem in principle. However, I think we need to be careful that in expressing our policy positions humbly we also recognize what really can be known and as confidently proclaim that as well. And in that regard, I think not all policy positions are created equal.

      Somehow, though, I don’t think this will be the last time this election season that this issue gets discussed here at Mere-O. : )

      matt