Saturday, September 02, 2006

Religious Political Activists

In a column appearing at National Review Online under the headline "The Activist Trap," Colleen Carroll Campbell offers thoughts that should be considered by all Christians who would engage the church in political affairs. She writes:

Church teaching clearly exhorts Catholics to work to alleviate poverty, promote peace between nations, and work toward a just society, as Benedict reaffirmed last year in his first encyclical, God Is Love. But Benedict warned Catholic activists against adopting a materialist worldview wedded to the welfare state or to utopian visions of social justice, neither of which can substitute for the authentic, person-to-person charity that is the Church’s direct concern and every Christian’s obligation.

Benedict also distinguished between the role of individual lay people working in the world — who have a “direct duty to work for a just ordering of society” — and the role of the Church itself — which “cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. … She has to play her part through rational argument and she has to reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice, which always demands sacrifice, cannot prevail and prosper.”

This spiritual energy that transforms cultures and promotes peace concerns Benedict the most, and he has warned his flock — particularly the Church’s most visible representatives — against becoming so immersed in activism that they fail to fulfill their primary vocation of bringing God to the world. On Holy Thursday of this year, he urged priests to be primarily men of prayer rather than activists. The world has plenty of activists, the Pope said, but “the world needs God.”

Though directed primarily to Catholics, these are thoughts that deserve the attention of evangelicals, both on the right and left, as well. Christianity is de-legitimized if it becomes first and foremost a political enterprise. Certainly, Christian faith has political implications, and the church as a whole may speak to those to one degree or another. However, the church should also believe that it offers change primarily through the redemptive power of the gospel, not through political coercion. Too many Christians have lost sight of that priority.

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