If you’ve been reading along, you probably realized pretty quickly that I haven’t attempted to lay out a comprehensive political program for the Church. Rather, I have sought to understand, in light of some fundamental Christian ideas, why we should engage in politics and some starting places for thinking about that engagement.
So the question remains – what is the Church supposed to do?
At the [less and less] recent Faith and Politics Conference at Regent College, Peter Leithart argued persuasively that martyrdom is the hinge of political history. He suggested that martyrdom is, in fact, the only thing that the Church has that has truly changed the shape of political history. Leithart pointed out that in the early days of the Church, the gladiatorial events were affirmations of Rome’s supremacy. By being unafraid martyrs, Christians upended this, turning the Colosseum into a stage for Passion Plays, re-enacting and witnessing to Christ.
The key work of the Church, then, is not to seek to affect legislature (although there may be an appropriate place for that), but to cultivate true disciples, or to pick up the language of martyrdom, faithful witnesses.
There are multiple ways the Church goes about this, but certainly one which has been discussed far less than it ought is that the Church needs to create an imaginative space which offers a competing liturgy. Jamie Smith (also at the conference) repeatedly pointed out that to just call for political engagement fails to recognize the deep power of the political liturgy. The Church must be a liturgical Church, teaching and leading its followers into a life that is marked, like those of the early Christian martyrs, by faithful witness.
It’s not easy to do so in a culture in which we are comfortable. We can even “do church” from our couches, and watching on our television or computer screens. This sort of comfort is antithetical to building faithful witnesses – if there is nothing poking us, why should we poke back?
So we are reminded that in cultivating faithful witnesses, in being faithful witnesses ourselves, the Church is ultimately dependent upon God’s grace. It is a fitting place to end this series, as without the movement and ongoing work of the Spirit in the life of the Church, we can never hope to engage the political sphere in a constructive and shalom-spreading way.
May we strive, in prayer and action, to depend ever more on God, that we may be faithful witnesses in the political sphere – partnering with the state when it is wisest, proclaiming against it when it is needed, and, above all, witnessing to the goodness, truth, and beauty of Christ.