Positive politics: a little bit of foundation

Before I start in on specific political topics, I want to lay out some foundation that will lie under the specifics.

First, I’m a Christian, so my approach is necessarily rooted in Christian values and a belief that the Bible gives us God’s direction for what is best for human flourishing.

Second, the Bible provides very little direct instruction on what a government should look like other than some basics like punishing evil, encouraging good, being righteous and just. There has been a lot of teaching and assumption in the American evangelical church over the past 40 years that “Christian values” are closely aligned with Republican party positions. I’m going to challenge that assumption while hopefully not irrationally rebelling against it.

Third, politics is the art of the possible, and inherent in good politics is compromise. If all stakeholders are a little bit happy and a little bit unhappy with an outcome, it’s probably a good result from a political viewpoint.

Fourth, I believe that tolerance and freedom are values that should be promoted in our society. While I am a Christian, I do not believe that the best government would promote the Christian faith over other faiths. This includes not compelling uniquely Christian rules or practices simply because they are Christian. The government should foster a society that encourages the flourishing of all its members, regardless of their faith.

Finally, while I would hope the evaluation framework I’m borrowing from Brian Zahnd (as amended by my friend Misty Granade) is rather self-evidently good, I’d like to briefly outline my justification for each principle.

1. Is it good for the poor?

God cares deeply for the plight of the poor, as is demonstrated across the full sweep of Scripture. Old Testament laws command farmers to leave food on the edges of their field for the poor to glean and define jubilees that revert bought/sold property wealth. The New Testament gives instruction to provide for the poor and examples of offerings being taken up for them. This one seems pretty clear.

2. Is it good for the planet?

God is the creator. The earth displays His handiwork. Man’s first task is to care for the garden in which he was placed. God’s ultimate plan is for restoration of all things, including creation. In the same way the government should promote human flourishing, it should also promote the flourishing of all creation.

3. Does it promote peace?

I’m going to hope this one is self-evident. While peace is not always possible, it is always the goal.

4. Does it challenge the powerful?
5. Does it let the marginalized have a seat at the table to speak for themselves?

These two are closely related. It’s a given that there will always be power imbalances, and this isn’t inherently wrong or unreasonable. But power corrupts. Look at any government and you’ll see too many in power who are using that power not as good stewards promoting general flourishing but instead as selfish stewards out for their own gain.

James Madison summed it up brilliantly in Federalist #51:

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

As such, having systems designed to challenge the powerful and let the marginalized have a voice are good because they put an elements of self-regulation into the system.

Onward!

With that set of background and caveats in place, I think it’s time to start writing on specific topics.

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