How Would Jesus Vote?
Politics in Process Perspective
By Jay McDaniel
Politics in Process Perspective
Is there a Process Political Theory?
Yes, there are several. Much has been written in scholarly circles on process thought and political theory. The Center for Process Studies keeps an excellent online thematic bibliography of materials of which scholars rightly partake.
I write this as a non-scholarly, layperson's complement to those more scholarly materials. Generally speaking the articles in JJB avoid political questions. Our focus is on cultural transformation not political transformation.
Nevertheless, readers may realize that some articles in JJB are devoted to matters of public policy. Consider two of our most influential articles written by the well-known process theologian, John B. Cobb, Jr: Ten Ideas for Saving the Planet and Five Foundations for a New Civilization.
Or consider the article on the Economics of Happiness written by Patricia Adams Farmer. Her focus is on Ecuador and how it might offer hope for the larger world. These articles illustrate the kinds of public policies that follow from process thinking.
The Current Situation
But if you live in a western nation, you may be looking for something a bit different from policy considerations and political theory. You may be looking for an honest assessment of the current political situation in many western nations and also for practical hope.
If this is the case, I encourage you to listen to the audio lecture below, offered by Matthew Taylor * of the Royal Society of the Arts, based in London, you'll find both. Taylor is not a process thinker, but he does indeed think in a process mode. Regular readers of JJB may recall the Twenty Key Ideas of process thought. Taylor's ideas resonate with many of them, especially those concerning relational power and concern for the vulnerable.
Three Kinds of Power
He proposes that our need today is (1) to recognize three kinds of power operative in society: hierarchical, social, and individual. (2) to recognize that each can be healthy or unhealthy, and (3) to cultivate healthy forms of each, mobilizing their energies to solve real problems.
Many in the process community will agree with Matthew Taylor and add that each form of power -- hierarchical, communal, and individual -- can best be developed in the spirit of relational power, concern for the vulnerable, and so, we will add, concern for the well-being of the planet.
An Ethic of Leadership
It may seem odd to say that hierarchical power can unfold in a spirit of relational power, but many of us in the JJB community believe that it can. Hierarchical power is the power of politicians, experts, strategists, and chief executives. It is the power of leadership. Process thought points to an ethic of leadership by which leaders lead, not with authoritarian impulses aimed at control and domination, or with airs of secrecy and an absence of transparency, but through listening and respect for others. They lead with an eye toward maximizing the other forms of power: the power of local communities and the power of individual aspiration. And they recognize that local communities and their institutions are the very place where good things, sometimes the most important things, happen.
The Importance of Mayors
This means that, in some respects, mayors are among the most important political leaders in the world. They have a power to make a constructive difference that emerges out of listening. We process thinkers believe that, when it comes to politics, the future of the planet may well depend on the future of mayors who have the freedom to help encourage local communities that are creative, compassionate, equitable, ecologically wise, and spiritually satisfying, with no one left behind, and that understand themselves within the larger context of a small but gorgeous planet which is a community of communities of communities.
Certainly Matthew Taylor points in this direction, Grateful to him, we offer a brief outline of his talk,often using his words verbatim, which you can read along with his lecture or apart from it. And don't forget to learn more about the RSA. It is one of the world's best hopes.
Notes on Taylor's Talk
Some of us have lost hope in solving complex problems:
1. How can we solve problems of inequality and exclusion?
2. How do we provide dignity and care for an aging population?
3. How can we create sustainable communities?
4. How can we have high quality but accessible public services?
5. How do we modernize our infrastructure?
6. How do we tackle long-term unemployment?
In order to find hope, we need to remember three sources of social power in society. They are:
This is the power of politicians, chief executives, strategists, and experts. They have the right (or think they have the right) to tell us what to do. They are represented in our minds by an inner voice which says: I'll do what I'm told. People who think in hierarchical terms about, say, climate change, typically think that the problems are best solved by new international treaties written by experts.
Today in western nations -- and perhaps in others, too -- trust in leaders and this kind of power is at an all-time low for several reasons: in some respects have failed to deliver the goods; they have not always been accountable; and society as a whole is less deferential.
This is the power of smaller communities and institutions to which we belong clubs, unions, churches, school boards. The power of a group of people with whom we share values and responsibilities. They are represented in our minds by an inner voice which says: I'll do what everyone else is doing. People who think in these terms typically think that changes come through lifestyle changes on the part of groups.
Levels of trust in strangers is at a low ebb. There is also a breakdown of "congregational institutions." In addition, there is a fracturing of class, where there are wider gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged peoples.
This is our will to survive and succeed. It is represented by an inner voice which says: I'll do what I want. People who think in these terms typically think that problems will be solved through individual ingenuity, markets, and technology.
The main problem with individualism is that it has become narrow and materialistic, overridden by consumer culture. Part of the reason for this is that people have bought into the myth, fostered by neo-economic thinking, that we are homo economicus: that is, self-centered creatures whose primary motivation is to satisfy individual needs. The problem is accentuated by the propaganda of consumerism.
We live in a society where hierarchical power is enfeebled, social solidarity is weakened, and unhealthy individualism is overburdened. There are two consequences:
1. We are not developing the kinds of solutions that mobilize the three forms of social power: healthy hierarchy, strong communities, and healthy individualism. Our solutions are feeble.
2. Many people have fallen into a crisis of confidence, a loss of hope, a sense of fatalism. We have become social pessimists.
Moving forward in Hope
We must think about society as a whole, recognizing that a healthy society involves and requires a balance and tension between the three kinds of power. Often they are in conflict but all are important, and they get their energy from jostling with one another. We have to renew and reshape the forces of power.
How might we renew hierarchy?
1. We need leaders who tell us the truth.
2. We need leaders who can inspire us but who are not inordinately controlling, helping engage people at a local level.
3. We need a new ethic of leadership.
How might we renew solidarity?
1. We need to find ways of encouraging and deepening empathy, as illustrated in the Roots of Empathy project.
2. We need to understand social networks better, coming to see how they might bring us together.
3. We need to renew old institutions that are said to be in decline.
How might we renew individualism?
We need to recast individualism so that it is seen in its relation to community.
Novelty: Matthew Taylor also notes that there is a fourth way of thinking about change: namely fatalism. We can think that everything is already decided and that there is really no hope. We can think that we live in a universe that is entirely predetermined by past events - or by divine blueprint -- or by powerful and wealthy people. This is the view that process theology rejects. It proposes that the future is open, even for God, and that God is at work in the universe and in human life as a source of novelty.
* Matthew Taylor became Chief executive of the Royal Society of the Arts (The RSA) in November 2006. Prior to this appointment, he was Chief Adviser on Political Strategy to the Prime Minister. The Royal Society is a 250 year old charity in England. You will learn from Wikipedia that is members have included Charles Dickens, Adam Smith, Benjamin Franklin, Karl Marx, William Hogarth, John Diefenbaker and Stephen Hawking. Today it has more than 27,000 Fellows from 70 countries worldwide. The RSA's Medal winners include Nelson Mandela, Sir Frank Whittle, and Professor Stephen Hawking.
How Would Jesus Vote?
How would Jesus vote?
The questioner is a member of the local church I attend. The context is an adult Sunday School class. Our subject is religion and politics. Mary is a single mother of two young who works as a nurse in a local hospital. She is named after the mother of Jesus.
Mary does not speak of herself as a liberal Christian or a conservative Christian, a progressive Christian or an evangelical Christian. She simply calls herself a traditional Christian. She finds God in Jesus and his healing ministry, understanding her nursing and her parenting as a way of extending his ministry and adding light to the world. She calls it walking with Christ.
Voting as if Jesus Matters
Grateful for living in a democracy, she wants to vote with Christ, too. We ask her how she will vote and she says: "I want to vote as if Jesus matters." She shares with us the following quotation, which she keeps folded in her wallet:
The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.
The quotation comes from Hubert Humphrey (1911-1978), who was the Thirty Eighth Vice-President of the United States, who was himself a Christian.
Mary believes that it is the responsibility of all Christians to vote for those who protect the very young, the very old, and those are are needy and handicapped. This, she says, is the will of God. To vote with Christ is to vote for compassion.
"We are all in it together."
The Problem of Plutocracy
Mary has friends who are losing their trust in electoral politics. They lament -- and she as well -- that politics at the national level is now ruled by the super rich. For Mary and for many in her situation, it seems as if the super rich live in a different planet. They do not have to worry about health care or paying the rent. They travel around the world freely, taking expensive vacations. Often they own two or three homes and live in gated communities. Money is no obstacle.
Of course she knows that sometimes people who live like this talk as if are interested in the well-being of the nation or even the world. Some of them even champion their causes in the name of Christianity.
But she thinks that their real interest is in maintaining their standard of living and their privileges. She thinks that money is more important to them than children, the elderly, the sick, and the needy....unless the children happen to be their own.
Accordingly Mary thinks that they've turned the country into a plutocracy: that is, a rule by wealthy elites. It is painful to her to think that they do this in Jesus' name.
As she sees things Jesus was not a plutocrat. He taught that it was harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God than for a camel to get through the eye of a needle (Matthew 19: 16-30).
When he spoke of the kingdom of God he had in mind a state of affairs in which the will of God would be done "on earth as it is in heaven." His image was of communities of compassion in which people share with one another, from each according to their ability to each according to need. Many early Christian communities embodied this way of living, and Mary thinks that it is an ideal worthy for the 21st century, too.
Mary is drawn to this ideal of sharing, and she recognizes that its emergence requires transformations in public policy but also transformations of the heart, amid which people truly want to live from compassion not greed. She calls it compassionate democracy. In this kind of democracy, she says, there can be market economies or free enterprise, but profit will not be the bottom line of decision-making. Like process theologians, she is interested in economics for community, not simply economics for ever-increasing.
When we ask Mary if she really thinks that Americans can develop communities of compassion, she says Yes. She is not interested in utopias, but she is interested in good societies. She thinks that the United State can become a good society if it has politicians who inspire us toward goodness. As she sees things, America can draw closer to goodness if it makes efficient use of the three kinds of power identified by Matthew Taylor in the column on the left: the power of good government, the power of local communities, and the power of individual aspiration.
Mary draws a distinction between healthy individualism and unhealthy individualism. She hopes that our church can help us realize that our own individual aspirations -- our own individual creativity -- is best realized when it is channeled in healthy and healing directions. She thinks that we are called by God to be servants of the goodness, not servants of greed.
The Problem of Arrogance
A member of our class asks Mary if she is a patriot, and again she says Yes. Her brother is a member of the armed forces, and she is quite proud of him. She is deeply patriotic. "I love the freedoms my country offers, including a freedom to criticize what needs to be criticized and celebrate what needs to be celebrated."
But the is also troubled by the idea, popular among some Americans, that America must always be Number One. She cannot understand how some of her Christian friends allow themselves to claim for their country what they would never claim for themselves. "As individuals they would never claim that they are exceptions to sin," she says, "but they sometimes speak as if our country is an exception. They speak as if the United States is, and should be, victorious over all others."
In short, Mary is patriotic but not idolatrous. She thinks God, not the United States, is ultimate, and that God is not "on the side" of Americans at the expense of being "on the side" of Chinese and Iranians, Venezuelans and Russians. She reminds our class that our savior -- Jesus of Nazareth -- was not himself an American and not even Christian. "He was Jewish," she says. "He would be surprised to know that some people close themselves off from others in his name. He was for all people." In him, she says, we find the seeds of a deeper world loyalty.
The Role of Government
She knows that there is a debate in the United States about how large or small government should be. She leans in the direction of smaller, more efficient government wherever possible. She thinks that local mayors can be more accountable to people and more effective than politicians in the federal government. But she also knows that there is an important role for federal government as well. She supports the kinds of social services that the federal government supplies: Social Security and Medicare, for example.
Whereas some argue for "big government" and some for "small government," she believes that both kinds of government are needed in different circumstances, and that both kinds of government should be transparent, efficient, and oriented toward the good of people, especially the young and old and needy. She thinks big money should be separated from politics.
So who will she vote for? At our church we do not ask this question. We want people to vote their consciences. But we know that she will vote as if Jesus matters and that she will then support whomever is elected in a spirit of love.
Mary is one of the kindest people we know. She seems unable to hate anybody, even the politicians with whom she disagrees. She disdains plutocracies but she does not hate plutocrats. She disdains exceptionalism but does not hate exceptionalists. Mary's heart is free from hatred.
Mary is a Christian.