Newly minted Newsweek editor Jon Meacham is promoting liberal former Sen. John Danforth again in a Sunday book review in The Washington Post. He's also praising a new book called The Politics of Jesus by Obery Hendricks Jr. (The subtitle's all about Jesus as a political revolutionary.) Like many other liberal journalists, Meacham is desperately seeking someone to convince traditionally religious Americans that they shouldn't be giving their votes to conservatives. So they cheer a whole series of "intellectually stimulating" books that lamely attempt to recruit traditionalist Christians and Jews to vote for the loosey-goosey libertine party:
Hendricks's Christian manifesto for a politically liberal vision of America and of the world arrives at an especially rich moment in the long-running debate over the role of religion in the nation's public life. After roughly three decades of largely ceding the language of faith to political conservatives, liberals are mounting an aggressive and often intellectually stimulating counterattack.
The Politics of Jesus joins John Danforth's Faith and Politics and Jim Wallis's God's Politics as essential reading for Americans trying to move beyond the corrosive standoff between the religious right and the secular left. One need not agree with Hendricks's liberalism to appreciate that his book is a useful contribution to a conversation that seems ever more urgent: how to manage and marshal religion's influence over our public lives.
That "corrosive standoff" is coded language for "those right-wingers keep winning the elections."
Meacham makes an obvious attempt to disdain secular liberals who want no religion in the public square, when what Meacham wants -- just as Wallis and Danforth want -- is a civil religion that talks a good game of praying and humility, but is dominated by a mushy creed, devoid of all claims that the Bible actually presents prohibitions on some policies and encouragement of others. To this school, it is rude to suggest, for example, that homosexuality is actually a sin, easily readable in the black and white of the Old Testament and New Testament. Danforth is going everywhere saying it's rude to read things into the Bible...that are actually there. Meacham eventually gets to that point, too, where he's arguing for a much greater amount of doubt and disbelief in the Bible. We need "humility" as opposed to clarity:
It can do no harm to ask the question Hendricks suggests when we are pondering policies and politics, but there is always a danger that we may come to think our own answer to the "What Would Jesus Do?" test is not merely our own best effort, but is in fact the only answer. We need more humility in our public life, remembering that, for now, we see through Saint Paul's "glass, darkly." To practice the politics of Jesus means practicing humility, an exercise that might well begin by bearing this story from the gospel of Mark in mind: The disciples had been traveling to meet Jesus, debating among themselves "who should be the greatest" -- a classically political undertaking. Learning of the bickering, Jesus would have none of it, saying: "If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all." And so may our politics, whether connected to the examples and words of Jesus or of Plato or of Machiavelli, be informed by charity and grace, not by self-righteousness. Then, and only then, will we come close, I think, to anything like "the politics of Jesus."
But Christian conservatives are not arguing that God is a Republican. They are arguing that voting for the party of sexual libertinism is not what the faithful should do.
At Get Religion, Terry Mattingly noticed that Meacham had a problem with putting his own Episcopalian prayers in the mouth of Baptist Billy Graham.