Chris Blake, associate professor of English and communication at Union College, wrote the cover story of the January 16 Adventist Review, titled: “In Christ There Is Neither Conservative Nor Liberal. We asked him some questions about his politics and the piece he wrote.
Question: Chris, are you liberal or conservative?
Answer: The short answer is “No.” Those labels long ago lost any consistent, substantive meaning for me. As I mention in the article, they serve principally to brand, divide, and dismiss.
For example, I am for decreasing the U.S. deficit, primarily through military cuts; am against drinking alcohol, for sociological reasons; am pro-life, and hence am for supporting social safety nets and against capital punishment; believe in a literal Resurrection and Second Coming and distrust highly selective literalist interpretations of the Bible; and am a committed Adventist who writes for Spectrum and Adventist Review. Which am I: liberal or conservative?
The far more important question to me is, “Are you a follower of Jesus?”
Question: You argue that "Conservative and liberal stickers will never appear on the new earth.” Here on this earth, don’t you think labels can sometimes be a helpful shorthand?
Answer: Sure, I get it: They’re merely shorthand. But that doesn’t mean those stickers are ultimately ennobling or even accurate, particularly when their use emboldens our dysfunctional culture of miscommunication, what Paul Tournier termed “dialogues of the deaf.” People have always employed shorthand labels for all manner of stereotyping—racial, religious, gendered, educational, geographical, political.
Language matters because it’s the fabric of thought and action: change our language and change our lives. People in think tanks are paid well to shape our dominant discourse and support the designs of a preferred mindset. The brilliant cognitive linguist George Lakoff has explained how framing leads us to respond predictably. For instance, when asked, “Are you in favor of lowering taxes?” most will say Yes. But if asked, “Are you in favor of civic responsibility?” nearly everybody also agrees. How we frame ideas is decisive.
Question: Would we, as church members, be better off staying away from politics altogether—or at least not talking about politics among ourselves?
Answer: Politics is like breathing; you can escape it, but do you really want to? Politics is people interacting to accomplish shared goals, so in that sense we’ll have politics forever on the new earth. Of course, missing will be self-absorbed narrowness, systemic corruption, and intentional obtuseness—what poet e. e. cummings called “expediency and exploitation.”
Should we be talking among ourselves how best to answer what Jesus declared (in Matthew 25) will be God’s final exam—the spiritual issues of hunger and drinkable water, homelessness and dignity, health care and prisons? When 49 percent of black males and 38 percent of white males in the U.S. have been arrested by age 23 Jesus cares about that and He asks us to care. This can only mean moving past partisan sound bites by truly engaging deepening discourse toward redemptive action.
We can’t fulfill the gospel commission if we’re hung up on binaries of “conservative” and “liberal.” Somehow we must individually determine what’s central and what’s peripheral. Jesus and His words are absolutely central. He aims us toward deeper matters of the spirit and essential living.
Question: Do you think that if Jesus were here now he would be in favor of Obamacare?
Answer: Now there’s an incendiary question. First, Jesus is here now through the Person of the Holy Spirit inhabiting anyone who offers a sanctuary—a safe place—for others and for God. Jesus is here. Now.
Is Jesus conservative or liberal? No and Yes. As with virtually everything about God, the closer we get to truth the closer we get to paradox. Give to gain, die to live, be least to be first, discover freedom through discipline. Is Jesus in favor of meeting everyone’s basic needs? Of course. Most civilized countries recognize access to competent health care as an imperative safeguard in a healthy society. So how can we meet those needs? Ay, there’s the rub. And it’s likely antiseptic.
Regarding the Affordable Care Act, I find it intriguing that Social Security isn’t called “Roosevelturity” and Medicare isn’t called “Johnsoncare.” Also, I have yet to hear from staunch opponents of ACA a plausible alternative.
Question: What responses have you received to your Review cover story? Why did you write the story? What do you hope it will accomplish?
Answer: A sampling of the bouquets and bombs:
“After reading this article, I'm feeling more and more like we are labeling each other and operating on assumptions.”
“I am very concerned about the trend of this article.”
“In the centrality and unity of Jesus, ALL else is peripheral—and in drawing closer to Him, labels and differences fall away.”
“You are giving us stones for bread and this nice talk doesn't fill the need when actions are NOT congruent with your idealism.”
I choose every day to live with defiant optimism, encouraging people to consider “what if” solutions. My sons at times think I’m tilting at windmills, but that’s how Rocinante and I roll. In the classroom our mantra is “Communication is the key to life.” Perhaps I can move someone, including myself, to communicate beyond inconsequential squabbles and consequential labels—maybe even on this blog (wink).