Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Discussion With Chuck Colson and Shane Claiborne

Hi folks.

Hats off to Marcia (Paparazzi) Erickson and Jen (Doc) Halverson for the outstanding summary they wrote about our vacation and my poor little toe. Do I not hang with the coolest tribe on the planet? I'd never had a chance to see Doctor Jen "in action," and while I wish the circumstances had been a bit different, it was quite an experience to see this young master at work. This doc rocks! When Jen was a student and T.A. of mine at Bethel, I recognized her exceptional giftedness and tried to steer her into theology. (The world needs more brilliant female theologians!). But on this night more than ever I thanked God she ignored my advice! Thank you Jen. The toe is healing nicely. (P.S. Jen, who is usually very calm, has a wild streak that comes out on the dance floor!)

Now onto current events.

I'm in San Diego attending the National Pastors Convention. (Mexico last week. San Diego this week. Tough life, heh?). My older brother Chris and his family live out here and last night I was able to get away from the convention and visit them. I hadn't seen them for years, so this was a real treat. Lisa (Chris' wife) is a lovely, environmentally-conscious vegetarian (yeh!). She served this incredible veggie dish with artichokes that led me into the sin of gluttony (I've since repented). I played drums with their 17 year old son Josh (who has great double pedal footwork!) and had a sweet conversation with their intellectually-inclined 15 year old daughter Lauren. And Chris and I had a chance to share a brew while reminiscing about the good-old-days (and the not so good-old-days) of growing up. It was a memorable evening.

Before that, I participated in a public debate with Chuck Colson and Shane Claiborne, moderated by Krista Tippett (who hosts the program Speaking of Faith on National Public Radio). The topic was Evangelicals and Politics and the ballroom was packed (they had to open an overflow room). I've read the works of both of these gentlemen but had never met them personally, so this was a real treat. The discussion may be aired on Speaking of Faith and/or shown on TV, depending on the decision of NPR's program directors. I'll let you know if and when this happens.

I'm planning on posting a review of Colson's book God & Government later on, so I won't go into the details of our discussion now. But here are a few quick reflections on the debate.

Shane Claiborne is awesome. I love this guy! I love his life (read his book The Irresistible Revolution) and adore his radical vision for the Kingdom. We fed off each other throughout the discussion. I'd often make a theological point and he'd illustrate it with a story -- and this kid (he's only about 30 years old) is a great story-teller! One person in the audience told me after the debate that he thought Shane and I were going to interrupt the debate by giving each other a bear hug. (We did, but only after the debate was over).

I also have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed dialoguing with Chuck Colson. I love his heart, profoundly respect his character and praise God for the way he has used Chuck to minister to prisoners around the world. But we have some profound disagreements on the issue of faith and politics. The exchanges between him and I were at times intense, though always respectful. (Shane is too winsome to debate intensely. He'd sometimes diffuse tension with a great story). Here are a few of the disagreements:

* Chuck believes Christians have a “dual allegiance” to God and country. I and Shane argued that the only allegiance followers of Jesus should have is to Jesus. We cannot “serve two masters.” (By the way, Shane is coming out with a book entitled Jesus for President. I think this is a brilliant title and said so in the debate. I pointed out that one of the reasons the confession "Jesus is Lord" is rather meaningless today is because we don't refer to those over us as "lords" any more. So it doesn't seem that the confession of Jesus as Lord rules out having other people or things rule us. But if we instead confessed "Jesus as President," it would immediately become clear that this confession rules out pledging allegiance to any other president, nation, the military, etc....Way to go Shane!)

* Chuck believes Christians have a duty to participate in government. I and Shane agreed that we are to obey laws and respect leaders, but nowhere in the New Testament are we told we have a duty to participate in government. In fact, the New Testament depicts governments as under the control of Satan. Shane and I argued that our only duty is to obey our one President, Jesus. This isn’t to say Christians are forbidden to participate in government. But it’s certainly not our duty to do so.

* Chuck believes there’s a rather unambiguous way Kingdom values translate into politics, at least on a number of matters (the ones he deems most important). He argued that our faith tells us that abortion is wrong, that homosexuality is sinful, that poverty is unjust and that all people, including criminals, deserve humane treatment. I responded by pointing out that Jim Wallis agrees with every value Chuck just mentioned, yet he espouses political positions that are on almost every point antithetical to Chuck’s (see Wallis' recent book The Great Awakening). This alone demonstrates that people who share the same faith and values can fundamentally disagree on politics -- which is fine, so long as they acknowledge that the Kingdom isn't about impacting politics in a certain way. Chuck’s response back to me was to say he respects Jim and doesn’t question the sincerity of his faith, but that his books are basically carte blanche endorsements of Democratic politics.

I rest my case.

* The most intense exchange of the debate occurred between Chuck and I on the issue of voting pro-life. Chuck believes that Christians have a duty to vote for pro-life candidates. In fact, in his book God & Government he says that Christians who support candidates who aren’t pro-life “have taken themselves out of fellowship with us” (p.329). (Yet he said he regards Jim Wallis as a brother in Christ. Maybe I'm missing something). I tried to get Chuck to see that a person can be against abortion (which I am) and yet not vote for a pro-life candidate. There are other factors to consider, I argued.

For example, many believe the best way to fight abortion is not by criminalizing it, but by eradicating poverty. So, precisely because they're pro-life, they might support the candidate they think will do the most for the poor even if this candidate isn't a staunch anti-abortion candidate. Others believe that the main reason unborn children are being aborted in America is because the two camps are so polarized and unwilling to compromise. The vast majority of Americans agree that the fewer the abortions, the better. But we aren’t working together to make this happen because both camps feel that if they give in an inch, the other side will take a mile. The only reason many pro-choice people defend the barbaric practice of “partial birth abortions” is because they’re afraid that if they surrender this the other side will gain momentum in criminalizing the use of the morning after pill! If this assessment is correct, then the very refusal to compromise on one’s pro-life stance when voting is actually contributing to killing unborn babies!

I’m not saying Christians should necessarily agree with this assessment. Some may, some may not. But it once again demonstrates how sincere Christians can have differing views on how their pro-life values translate into politics. Vote your faith and conscience (as everyone of course does), but don't label it "the Christian way" to vote.

Chuck couldn’t see my point – which was a little surprising to me given that in his book God & Government he admits that participating in government usually requires compromise (e.g. he encourages Christians to aspire to governmental offices even though it may require them to tell lies when it's in a nation's best interest to do so).

* Finally, I have to say that the best lines of the debate went to Shane. Three times the crowd applauded after he spoke (Chuck and I got zero). The most insightful, I thought, was when he responded to Colson's citation of Bonhoeffer's attempt to assassinate Hitler as an example of how Christians need to participate in politics and sometimes resort to violence. Shane told a story (of course) of a film he watched that interviewed Hitler's chief secretary. She said that it was "miraculous" how Hitler escaped unharmed when the bomb Bonhoeffer's group planted exploded. This reinforced Hitler's sense of divine mission at a time when it was wavering and encouraged him to carry out his genocidal programs more enthusiastically. Shane said that as much as he respects Bonhoeffer, "the cross lost when that bomb went off." Wow.

Well, I've got to run and conduct a seminar. I'll discuss Chuck's book in a later post.