A More Excellent Way
It is often pointed out that some of the places most lacking in hope are not the industrial wastelands or the bleak landscapes shorn of beauty, but the places where there is too much money, too much high culture, too much of everything except faith, hope, and love.
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- Bishop N.T. Wright
Surprised By Hope, p. 232
Much of our contemporary political discourse is taken up with one question: how do people of faith speak in the public square? Framing deliberative democracy in this way places too much emphasis on epistemology and often exhibits an overly anxious concern about the establishment clause.
Scholars like Princeton University professor Eric Gregory, however, are turning the conversation in a much-needed direction: What kind of citizens are we producing? Are we pastoring churches, leading corporations, and guiding schools that cultivate loving, justice-minded citizens, or are we churning out individualistic consumer citizens who measure the success of all our institutional arrangements by the metrics of efficiency, competition, rational choice theories, and the guiding "invisible hand" of Adam Smith?
To be candid, I appreciate the low-priced consumer goods, technological innovations, and the (occasionally) efficient allocation of market mechanisms. But how far is too far? When frigid, career-oriented, cost-benefit analysis drives our decisions, I submit, we have gone too far.
College students pull all-nighters for term papers and prepare endlessly for job interviews, but complain when church runs a little too long. Professionals shuffle appointments around on BlackBerries and datebooks to accommodate networking events, but find it hard to make time to cultivate healthy friendships and romantic relationships. Lest I come across as too detached from my observations, let me hasten to add that I often find it easier to invest discretionary money in mutual funds than to give charitably.
Perhaps I am not alone ... perhaps I am. But I suspect that the powers and principalities of consumerism and market morality dominate and over-determine all of our lives, especially our civic imagination.
Maybe, there is another way. A more excellent way. What if a deep Christocentric love for justice, wholeness, and peace forged -- and fortified -- our identities as citizens? What if we understood ourselves, not as assets or liabilities on a balance sheet, not even as human resources, but as dual citizens who exercise our democratic citizenship according to the person-prioritizing ministry of the Spirit-kissed prophet from Palestine?
If we vote, organize communities, intervene in public policy discussions, and -- if we so choose -- govern as dual citizens driven by a love for concrete human beings, a love that reflects the social bonds within the Triune God, maybe, just maybe, we might show our fellow citizens, believers or not, a more excellent way to serve.
Andrew Wilkes is a former Sojourners policy and organizing intern and second-year student at Princeton Theological Seminary.