The Common Good
February 2011

Can I Get A Witness?

by Jess O. Hale | February 2011

Split Ticket: Independent Faith in a Time of Partisan Politics, edited by Amy Gopp, Christian Piatt, Brandon Gilvin. Chalice Press.

In the U.S. it seems almost every policy matter gets entangled in a war of partisan politics from which little emerges, too often only a shadow of what is needed. Just look at the results of health-care reform, immigration, and climate/energy initiatives.

With anger from the tea parties -- and to a lesser extent the left -- challenging both Republican and Democratic politicians, political ferment bewilders and frustrates many citizens of Christian faith who seek the welfare of the city in which they dwell. We do not find a deliberative democracy. Instead, people speaking out of a faith perspective to issues of national importance, such as health reform, are frequently vilified as partisan, even if those outside the partisan and media echo chambers would consider their participation quite tepid.

To speak to this poisoned atmosphere, Split Ticket's Amy Gopp and her fellow editors have assembled several often powerful essays from faithfully committed 20- and 30-somethings. They sketch a response from younger voices to the challenge of living faithfully as Christians in a broadly conceived politics in American society. As a 50-something in public service, I found this effort to be both powerful and encouraging.

From a progressive yet distinctly nonpartisan perspective, the editors have brought together essays covering a spectrum of policy issues -- including health care, gay marriage, immigration, human trafficking, and abortion. Their concerns of method touch on the morality of voting, the theology of empire, and the role of clergy in policy advocacy. In these essays, evangelicals and theological liberals make a common cause seeking faithful politics. Marches, liturgy, legislator visits, and many of the other tools of community and political organizing naturally give expression to these efforts. Men, women, Asians, Latinos, African Americans, gay and straight people -- they are all part of this conversation.

Although geared for young adults and a popular audience, the voice of rank and file lay folks regrettably does not find a significant place (oh, for a William Stringfellow!), as the contributors are mostly seminary-trained clergy. Also, I yearned for the honest reflections of at least one young public servant or politician.

A few chapters stand out. Amy Gopp writes of her experience with an interfaith choir in Bosnia, wrenchingly showing us that Christians must embody the practices of peace, reconciliation, and justice that will allow a politics of shared community. Kharma Amos laments the lack of connections that many activists make between “their issue” and the broader spectrum of justice issues, yet curiously she does not seem to contemplate that coalitions within political parties are one way of making those connections. Former lobbyist Kat Banakis makes real the notion behind the Greek word politeuomai as "live out your political life," because politics matters as a part of the prayer and work of Christians. In "Exodus," Brandon Gilvin poetically captures the tragedy of trafficking.

Making clear the necessity of a faithful Christian witness to the politics of our time, Split Ticket argues for one that naturally flows out of the embrace of both God’s love and justice. It expresses an independent faith for our partisan times -- but it fails to go the last mile to discuss the prudent politics that employs negotiation to bring in at least half a loaf. In the civil rights movement, the black church brought along other people of faith and joined politicians who practiced their craft to enact laws that brought some real fruit of justice to American society. Today, politicians will still have to exercise their craft -- but can our faithful witness bring forth a similarly fruitful politics in our more partisan times?

Perhaps Split Ticket's voices are willing to leave the political end game to the working out of God's wisdom. However, while eff'ctiveness is not the final word on our work in God's eyes, a polis where there will not be infants that live but a few days (Isaiah 65:20) is God's kingdom. For the hope of that polis, I look forward to where the political witness of Gopp and her compatriots takes us.

Jess O. Hale Jr. is an attorney who attends Eastwood Christian Church in Nashville, Tennessee.

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