author interview: Charles Drew, Body Broken

Anyone paying attention to the political discourse over the past decade will admit we have become a polarized nation. The political tension observed in Washington continues to trickle down into many areas of society. Fueled by media outlets of every kind, the lack of respect, partnership, and collaboration demonstrated by elected officials in positions of political leadership is reflected in communities, businesses, and, of all places, churches across the country as members of differing political associations rub shoulders. I believe we’ve hit an all-time low in the deplorable ways in which Americans treat and respond to one another over differences in political standing.

To this end, I am in the process of reading a fascinating (and thought-provoking) book called Body Broken: Can Republicans And Democrats Sit In The Same Pew? With a review forthcoming, author Charles Drew has kindly provided the following Q&A on themes touched upon in his recently revised book.

~Susan

Why did you write Body Broken? To help Christians stay united without ignoring their social and political responsibility. Neither may Christians withdraw from social and political engagement (Jesus is the Lord of everything, including political life) nor may they permit politics to divide them from each other (Ephesians 2 tells us that Christ had ‘broken down the dividing wall of hostility between them”).  Republicans and Democrats ought to be able to worship together in the same church.

What is new about this new revised edition?

There are two changes.  First, it is updated with reference to developments since 2000—the economic crisis, the election of Barack Obama, etc.  Second, the book is more sharply focused on the necessity and possibility of Christian harmony in the midst of Christian social and political engagement.  The first book was a bit more generic, focusing on Christian political responsibility in general.  The second asks, “How can Christians ‘maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’ (Ephesians 4) while also being politically and socially engaged.

Why not make peace in the church by withdrawing from all political discussion and involvement?

I can think of two reasons.  First, Jesus commands us to “love our neighbors as ourselves.”  We are his hands, voice, and feet, called to make him tangible in this world. We cannot be these things if we withdraw from political and social life.    Second, we misrepresent Jesus if we withdraw from public life.  Jesus is much more than “my personal savior.”  He is “Lord of lords”—who has been given authority over all things—over every institution, every way of thinking, and every relationship.  He is not about to withdraw from the world he died to renew.  Neither can Christians. 

­­Why is it so important for the church to be united despite its political differences?

Because Jesus wants us to.

He prays for it in John 17 and, according to Ephesians 2, he died to unite Jews and Gentiles (the most deeply hostile social groups in the ancient world), creating in them “one new man. ”  If, therefore, Christians cannot find a way to live together in harmony (even when they disagree politically), they deny the power both of Jesus’ prayers and his cross.  The credibility of the Christian story is at stake.  Observation: One of the reasons some churches do not blow up is that they have already divided along political lines (evangelical black churches tend to fill up with Democrats, evangelical white churches tend to fill up with Republicans).

Why do people disagree so heatedly on political issues?

Sometimes there is something deep and legitimate at stake (say, slavery in the 19th century). But more times than not the chief reason is idolatry:  We have come to depend too much on someone or something other than God.  That someone or something is often threatened by people who oppose us politically—and so we get angry.

Examples of Idolatry: Our vision for America (We desperately need America to “look” a certain way), Our strategy for realizing that vision [The ‘right’ candidate; the ‘right’ platform; the ‘right’ legislation…], Our ability to fix things by our plan,  Our need to win and to stay on top.  Often a strong principled beginning degenerates into this. (the most common idol is myself!) Our right to privacy—which can show up on the Left (sex life) as well as the Right (taxes).

How do Christians reduce political heat while staying involved?

There is a lot to say here.  Much of the book is dedicated to it.  Here are some answers.

a) Recognize and repent of political idolatry

b) Make prayer our most significant political strategy

  • Prayer tends to calm the heart—steering us away from the fear that often drives us to demonize the opposition and to use underhanded means
  • Prayer tends to humble us, so that we are less apt to have to “win” at all costs.
  • Prayer for the opposition also tends to increase love for the opposition.
  • Prayer is something anybody can do—however disenfranchised.—thus reducing the angry frustration that arises when we feel marginalized.

c) Be more realistic about the change that power politics can bring.

  • We sometimes find ourselves hating the candidates we once loved—because our former enthusiasm was unrealistic. (Consider the swing toward the right in 2010 following the enthusiastic endorsement in 2008 of a democratic administration)

Do you have any other thoughts on how to reduce political heat in the church?

a) Trust God for results: Our ‘job’ is to be faithful.  God’s ‘job’ is to change the world.

b) Recognize that character is more important than political success.

  • To follow Jesus in God-honoring service to people—even those whose politics we despise—is something anyone can do and it gives those of us with limited power (and that is most of us) an alternative to lashing out in anger and frustration.
  • Jesus does not call us to “win”.  He calls us, whatever else we do, to follow him in godly self-denial:

c) Don’t let yourself get stuck in the “power politics rut”—thinking that forcing change through 

politics is the only (or even the best) way to bring about change.  

  • Remember that the sword that Jesus wields when he appears to John in Revelation 1 comes out of his mouth—not from his arm.  He rules by persuasion, not by force.
  • Trying to force change can often be frustrating (it often produces back-lash that makes things even worse)].  It also tends to increase polarization and anger—making the whole political climate (not to mention one’s heart) unhealthy—a far cry from “love your neighbor as yourself”. 

What are some of the ways to bring change that do not depend on power politics?

Talking up change in non-politicized settings (say, in church forums in non-election years, or one on one over coffee). Living an exemplary public life .Using the arts for change.  Doing what you can—even if it seems small—trusting God (rather than your plan) for the results. Looking for common ground together with the “opposition”.

Should we legislate morality?

Everybody legislates morality: laws are the instrument we use to enforce or promote what we value—and values are an expression of morality.  The important and interesting question is a different one: “Which morality should be legislated and why?”

Which morals should we seek to enforce by law?

Sorting this question out is difficult and we need to be patient with each other as we seek to do so.  Some of the following distinctions can be helpful:

  • The distinction between theocracy and influence. 
  • The distinction between moral principle and political strategy
  • The distinction between the calling of the church and the callings of individual Christians.

What do you do when you deeply disagree with a fellow Christian about politics? 

  • Think biblically about what is going on, about what is at stake:
    • The disagreement is a chance for you to grow in love and faith.
    • Jesus is praying for unity in the church Jesus died to make you one with this person.
    • Your relationship with this person will outlast the end of every political strategy and disagreement.
  • Pray for yourself and this fellow Christian
  • Talk honestly and openly, looking for common ground in hopes that you can do something together
  • Sit together in the same pew.

Should there be an American flag displayed in a church sanctuary?  If so, where?

This is a good question—it makes us think hard about the relative importance of our allegiance to Jesus Christ and our allegiance to America.  We should be patient with each other as we try to sort it out.

  • Jesus says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s’—which suggests that we obey Jesus by honoring our country.  Displaying an American flag in a worship space in the United States might for this reason make sense.
  • Jesus also says, “Give to God’s what is God’s”—which demands that our allegiance to our country must never be absolute.  Displaying an American flag in such a way as to suggest that God and America speak with one voice would for this reason be problematic.

Should the church support foreign wars, encouraging its members to fight in them?

This is another good question aimed at pressing us to sort out our dual allegiance to God and to our country.  Once again we need to be patient with one another as we try to sort it out, guarding each other’s consciences in areas where the Bible is not explicit.

  • Some (pacifists) will say, “Never.  For the state to ask me to use force against another human being is for the state to step beyond its proper limits. Jesus says to “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5). 
  • Others (positivists) will say, “Of course.  The state is put in place by God and we obey God, therefore, by exercising loyalty to the state, even if it means putting ourselves in harms way” (see Romans 13)
  • Still others (normativists) will say, “It depends on the war (is it a just war—a necessity brought about by a great evil that must be resisted) and upon what particular deeds I am asked to perform (What happens if my commander orders me to shoot or maltreat prisoners of war?). 

__________________________________________________________________________________

Author Bio: Charles D. Drew received his education at Harvard (BA in English) and Westminster Seminary(M. Div.).  He has pastored for thirty years in Virginia, Long Island and New York, all in university settings. He presently serves as the senior minister of Emmanuel Presbyterian Church, which he founded in 2000 near Columbia University. Drew speaks frequently to universities and churches and is also the author of A Public Faith: Bringing Personal Faith to Public Issues, An Ancient Love Song: Finding Christ in the Old Testament and A Journey Worth Taking: Finding Your Purpose in This World.He and his wife Jean, a science teacher at the Brearly School in Manhattan, have two married children and two grandchildren. Sailing and music are two of Charles’ great loves.

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