Saturday, July 16, 2011

Pondering Politics and People

Of Politics and People

Politics and people cannot be separated. Politics is about the “polis”, about people in some kind of community. Anywhere people have to associate, there will be politics – the Congress, the Board of Alderman, the university, the office, the alumni organization, the corporate board room, the bridge club, the family, and, yes the church. Politics is inevitable.

I have oft observed that some of the nastiest politics take place within the church or among Christians who are part of other associations, such as para-church organizations. This is part of the reality that sometimes Christians are more un-Christian than non-Christians in the ways they relate to one another. In other words, it is because we who are being sanctified can feel, talk, and act is ways that are very unsanctified.

I hate church politics. That may be because I am temperamentally totally unsuited to politics in the way politics is usually played. If you and I are playing football, I am the sort who would line up in the I-formation and say to you on defense, “I going to run between my right guard and tackle. Stop me if you can.” I don’t do indirection well.

But the fact that I hate church politics does not mean I have not engaged in church politics. I have. You can’t be involved and care and not play the game, but you don’t have to like it.

Anyway, here are a few observations about politics in the church. It should be noted, even without judgment as to whether it is good, bad, or indifferent, that there is nothing here that is peculiar to the politics of the church. It’s just politics.

(1)         Criticism stings. Our feelings are hurt. As the psychologists tell us, perception is reality, even if perception is wrong. Criticism attacks our sense of our worth. In criticism we may hear: (1) “You are stupid. How could you think that?” (2) “You are a bad person. Your problem is that your character or conduct is not holy.” (3) “You are not likeable. You have personality issues that stand in the way.” (4) “You have not accomplished anything worthwhile. The bad outweighs any good you may have done.”

(2)         We appreciate our defenders and/or friends. When we are wounded, we are grateful for any who will defend us or speak any word of affirmation. Anyone who has the insight, wisdom, courage, principles, or whatever we see in him, to come to our aid is a welcome support. Sometimes this can make for strange bedfellows. If you stand by me personally, or, if you are for my cause, I may for awhile at least overlook the big issues about which we disagree. It’s the “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” dynamic at work.

(3)         We like to be on the inside.  There are circles we want drawn so that we are inside. We like to sing, “I’m in with the in crowd; I go where the in crowd goes.” (1) Sometimes it is, frankly, not about people, but about power. If you like to get things done, the attraction is associating with others who can be your allies in getting done what you want done. (2) Other times it is about recognition. The fact that people you like and admire also like and admire you enough to admit you to their group can be immensely satisfying. (3) Then it can be about connection. For whatever reason you feel “these are my people” and you enjoy the banter, the camaraderie, the feeling of belonging you get. What I notice happens is that, if you are in the group, you are unlikely to risk your membership. And, you are going to be highly protective of the other members, unless they become too big a liability to you and the rest of the group.

What to do about any of this? I don’t have any more insight into that than I do into what to do about women.


D G said...

Bill, I tend to agree with your sense of politics. The intriguing dynamic in this is particularly the way that parachurch politics affect church folks. Do you have any thoughts about how to prevent the parachurch from dictating its alliances, coalitions, and associations to the fellowship and membership of the church?

The Christian Curmudgeon said...

I don't. It seems that the "big boys" of the church want something bigger than the church, create these organizations, and then end up devoting their best and most to the parachurch where they believe that they will have the greatest impact. So they neglect the church itself except so far as it advances their bigger agendas.