Left vs. Right, or A Theology of Life

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We found in defeating terrorism that you must win the middle ground, then the extremists are isolated and have no popular cause.

A theology of life is necessary for peace. Unless both sides of the left/ right equation are seen to, human life will suffer to an extent that will disturb conditions of peace in our nations. If families break down, if the poor are not lifted, human suffering will degenerate into violence. Likewise, if the environment isn’t sustained, competition for resources, at agrarian and global levels, will lead us into conflict and war.

A theology of life is based on the Hebrew roots of the gospel message, which shows that God is out to restore the entire creation rather than to destroy it.

 

For too long Christians have been divided by the left/ right wings of politics. We must learn to think properly. We cannot put ourselves into bondage to this left/ right category, that the politics of the world would thrust upon us. We are different. The politics of our Christian faith is different. This article shows that a Theology of Life is the proper way to think for Christians, and that this approach draws the left and right wings together into a new category that fulfils them both.

Many Christians have laboured under the political division of left vs. right in politics for a long time. The terms “left” and “right” began in the French parliament in the eighteenth century. Those of the left of the parliament favoured more government intervention to help the poor. Those on the right favoured market principles to bring prosperity to all.

The distinction between left and right strengthened during the Cold War. Then, to be left wing often associated one with the Communist cause. Infiltrations of Communist interests may have happened through left leaning political parties in the West, but often accusations like this are made for political advantage, accentuating our polarization. Left leaning parties in the West had strong Christian roots, from Methodism and Catholicism.

Over time, Christianity often became more politically associated with the right. This shift gained momentum after abortion became legalised and homosexual marriage and gender fluidity was also championed by the left, linking these issues to human rights, like the earlier liberation of slaves. This became known as identify politics, meaning that people ought to be free to choose whatever course they desire as individuals and that society should be forced to adjust to the interests of minority groups.

It’s hard to designate left and right simply on the level of government involvement in our lives. Right calls for less government interference, leaving economic forces to work themselves out. But the left calls for less government interference in our personal moral choices, like our “gender,” marriage and divorce decisions.

Liberal democracy is supposed to allow people to be free to live their own lives, so long as their choices “don’t hurt anyone else.” So, the right says they should be free of the tax burden and the left says they should be free to make their own personal moral choices. This becomes more complicated when Islam is introduced into the society, from which liberal democracy did not spring. This doesn’t mean Muslims should be shut out. God has called us to engage the world in reconciliation and discipleship, to overcome the brokenness.

Individualism is a lie, and this applies to both right and left wing individualism. The decisions we make “for ourselves” do affect the whole society. Our private economic advantage can bring devastation to the poor. Our sexual relationship choices are not private affairs that don’t harm others. They can harm us significantly and they unleash a culture of behaviour upon society that can harm many, especially the child and especially the poorer child.

The poor are the first to suffer from the breakdown of traditional life. We see this all over the world. When you have a breakdown of traditional sexual values, it wreaks havoc for millions of people in poverty, disease and exploitation, and our modern medical and support institutions cannot stop this from ultimately becoming epidemic.

Both the left and the right can be very selfish. God made family to secure the vulnerable. The problem is when we employ right wing political agendas to “fix” social problems. The right wing is un-Christlike.  Our witness to this selfishness as the church is supposed to be our service of others: the washbowl and the towel.

One way of looking at this is to see the age-old marriage of Christianity with the state under Constantine is finally breaking down. A union of faith with power tends to keep resources for the elite, while maintaining conservative social structures that marginalise others, somewhat like the Pharisees did. The right wing blames the less fortunate for their condition in life, seeks to profit further from them and goes to war against them. On the other hand, genuine Christian involvement can do a lot of good through government in bringing about fairer conditions for the oppressed. These are complex matters, generally due to human corruption.

Prior to Constantine, God called the church to influence government by their own sacrifice of service towards their enemies and the outcast from the society of the powerful. This broke down the conservative divisions of society and enabled healing to pass between all groups of people in one united new family of faith. Even the suffering of this family, often by the hand of the oppressive powers, was part of their witness against selfishness, that brought transformation to the world in which they lived.

Much of the church eventually tired of this path, of associating themselves with the afflictions of Christ, and looked for a marriage with power to secure “the gospel’s interests.” It’s difficult to say that the true interests of the gospel can be secured this way, as this is not how God secured them. The cross shows that transformation comes both to us, and the world around us, as we serve others, rather than seek power over others. Law and power failed Israel in transforming the world under the Old Covenant.

Jesus denied the path of uniting his cause with worldly power when tempted by satan in the wilderness. These are complex and disputed areas today. Aligning the church with either the right wing or the left wing associates Christ with harshness and policies of death, rather than life for all. On the right you have death through making war and on the left death through abortion. Both wings on their own misrepresent Christ, and this is the dilemma for the Christian.

It’s also a dilemma in another way. Some moral things can be legislated on, while for other things legislation may not be the solution, or at least not the whole solution. Wilberforce and others were able to get anti-slavery into law. The Salvation Army got the prohibition of underage sex passed into law, to protect children, even though William Booth was very unsure that forcing legal change was the right approach for the church to take. Other Christian advocates pressed a self-centred parliament into reforming many parts of British and Empire life. When Christians were involved in social welfare, they did a lot of good for the world.

But it’s not an easy process. Laws must be seen as being for the good of society, not imposed by those detached from the suffering of the people the laws impact. Law for social change works if those who make the laws suffer with the people they are trying to help, rather than just trying to enforce laws upon others to protect themselves. There are laws on polygamy, but how to do we impose these on Muslims in the community? Can matters like divorce and homosexual marriage be legislated on for mature adults, or abortion? With or without legislation, people will do these things.

There may be better ways for God to transform all our lives together through the church than impersonal law. We live in a day when laws ever increase, but don’t seem to solve society’s selfish problems. A church that takes up her cross to serve may help people into transformed lives far more than law will. Law enables us to be disengaged from people’s suffering. For example, if we truly want to fight abortion, we attack it by helping the single mothers and new born babies, and forgiving and caring for young, suffering women who have had an abortion. Our anger at abortion doesn’t solve anything.

We can line up some of the major left and right wing issues we care about like this:

 

Left
Restoring the poor
Breaking down ethic divisions
Environmental restoration
Care for minorities
Prevention of war

Right
Traditional sexual morality
Right of life for the unborn child
Personal responsibility
Freedom of speech
Freedom of faith

 

These are just a few of the main points. Other issues we could list may fit into some of the categories above as subsections. When you look over these lists above you could ask what is it that could unite us as Christians? I think the main thing that sticks out is our individualism. Individualism seems to be the main vice of our Western society that is coming home to bite us. Individualism often occupies the centre ground for both left and right advocates.

As we say in the West, “I think, therefore I am.” Our reality is founded on our individual-self. The African proverb is, “I am because of you.” My identity is founded within my community. The main issue we face in the West is a failure in our personal identity.

How do we change this? I think one of the main issues facing Western theology, and this has impacted the development of our culture at its roots, is Gnosticism. This is a Greek philosophy we have largely embraced that elevates the spiritual above the natural world. Our identity is therefore firstly founded in our own “personal spirituality” and not in our relationship to our community. It is a very self-centred philosophy.

Gnosticism minimizes the natural creation and ultimately denies it altogether. This has entered modern theology to the extent that we now believe that God is going to destroy this world. Salvation is largely reduced to a private, spiritual affair. It seems true therefore, that to rescue ourselves from individualism, we must restore the holistic Hebrew faith that is at the roots of the gospel. Recovering ourselves from individualism destroys the false dichotomy between left and right.

This means we need the biblical theology of creation. God is a creational God. He created the world and he is restoring the world through the gospel. God’s promises to the Hebrew people were that he would restore the fallen world and renew his creation project. Isaiah puts it like this, “The glory of the Lord shall cover the earth, like the waters cover the sea.” This is about as far from Gnosticism and from individualism as you can get. Our lives and our identity are found in the common good, the wellbeing of our local and wider communities and in the flourishing of the natural environment. This is our true biblical heritage, which our Western individualism has militated against.

This is not an anti-spiritual stance. The Spirit is paramount to our Christian lives, in transforming our hearts and relationships, with God and with each other. But the goal of the Spirit is the renewal of creation itself. The same Spirit that hovered over the waters in Genesis 1 at the creation, has filled our hearts to lead us to restore our neighbour and thus our communities. This is the clear teaching of Paul on how the gospel brings the world into newness. This new life of creation is the Pentecostal vision. Right from Azusa street, which brought black and white together as one (until greed for power split them up), this Pentecostal vision is to fill all our relationships.

Individualism is distinct from individual rights, which has also been championed in Western culture. This is to do with the dignity of human life, which the creation narrative of Genesis substantiates more than any other document of our culture. All humanity, male and female, have been made in the image of God. They are not to be subjected to the selfish mistreatment of others. They are to be cared for on an individual and personal level. This includes things like freedom of faith and freedom of speech, which must apply to all people, whatever faith. But this also must be regulated by love, so we don’t say things that hurt, divide or destroy others.

Once we have recovered from Gnosticism, we can rebuild a proper faith. Gnosticism divides us between left and right, because it focuses us on ourselves. We need a faith that focuses us on the most pertinent principles of the gospel, which revolve around reconciliation. In Christ, God reconciled us with himself, and he is drawing us into new lives of reconciliation with others. This refutes our individualism, nationalism and lack of support for the weak in the world. Reconciliation demands that we build bridges to restore relationships and restore lives in a community vision.

In escaping from Gnosticism, we are free to rebuild a theology of life. This means a creational theology. God created all things because he believes in and nurtures full life. He invites us to join with him in the life project, both now and in eternity. The incarnation of God in Christ, in the flesh of this world, and Christ’s resurrection in bodily, human flesh, endorses this world fully and the fullness of life God has called us to. The resurrection calls us join with God in filling this world with his life. Our destiny isn’t to a disembodied existence in heaven, but to bodily resurrected life in a united heaven and earth community.

“I set both death and life before you. Choose life, that you and your descendants may life.” (Deuteronomy 30:19)

There is always a cost to self in choosing life. This is what the cross shows us and it is at the centre of the Christian faith. It’s putting the interests of others ahead of our self. This principle, following the choice that God makes, showing love through forgiving and serving our enemies, even in our own suffering, governs our pro-choice life. It’s relegating our rights/ entitlements to support others. This is the ultimate choice.

And a creational faith means that life isn’t ours to take, including our own life. Life is the gift of God, and we are to be transformed into his image by serving life, no matter the difficulties and sufferings that may entail in our fallen world. Much of our political divide between left and right is resolved by our acceptance of suffering, which our modern world thinks we have already overcome. We are to help those who suffer, who make the choice to serve life. We are to suffer with them, to help carry their load.

That is, pro-life involves vows, so that when love clashes with our personal interest we choose love. Without such commitment, the creation itself will eventually perish. When the vows of marriage changed in Genesis, to taking more women, to doing whatever you wanted, this was part of the package of greed, genocide and the eventual destruction of nature itself. This is the story of Genesis 1-6. It’s the overflow of the waters of paganism.

So how can someone who chooses life support abortion, or war? A consistent life policy covers care for the sick, working to restore criminals instead of executing them, and a refusal to go to war which slays multitudes of civilians (even soldiers have families) and makes millions of displaced people. And why do we have war in the first place? It is because of the greed that destabilises nations, that makes some groups to be trodden down.

A theology of life means we stop the weapons trade, which slays millions more. A consistent pro-life policy cannot sit on either the right or left wing, it must choose both. A theology of life means we embark on jubilee economic policies that free the multitudes of poor, rather than keep them enslaved in Egypt. These policies are clearly spelt out in God’s word. These are complex issues to apply today, when we speak of war and economics and other matters that we raise in this article. These matters need more discussion, but you should get the drift. This is the direction we should be thinking about as Christians. Jesus lives on both wings.

A theology of life cannot allow us to stand by in the face of the suffering of others around us. It does not allow us to reduce charity to the world, for the poor, the disabled, the uneducated or homeless. Those who join with God in the creational project must also join with him in restoring broken lives and those people in the most unfortunate conditions in the world. We cannot join with the attitude of governments that favour the wealthy and cut back on support for the millions in need. Jesus was very clear about this in all his teachings. The creation is nourished by charity, genuine Good Samaritan love and care for those most in need.

A consistent life policy cannot choose structures in society that favour some groups of people, which do nothing to support those shut out of the favoured social arrangements. This is summarised in what Jesus said, “When you have a party, or go to the market, don’t just include or greet your friends, for even the pagans do that.” This is Jesus’ left-wing inclusivity statement, which he carried out in his own daily life, much to be antagonism of the favoured people. We cannot follow Jesus and not be left wing.

We must be pro-women, pro-foreigner, pro-poor, pro-captive, as Jesus’ treatment of women showed us, and as Paul’s dictum states, “In Christ there is neither male, nor female, etc.”  Pro-life dismantles selfish power structures to help the oppressed. That’s what the “one-table” of the church in the book of Acts mainly teaches us.

A consistent life policy cannot call for personal responsibility and not help those who are struggling either without opportunity or struggling to achieve responsibility. We have had different training in responsibility, for one thing. I had parents who drummed that into me, as well as showing their love for me. If we are responsible, we are not only responsible for ourselves, but also to help lift others who are not responsible, until they learn and become so. There are structures in society that make it harder for some than others, and our personal responsibility includes helping these people.

A consistent policy of life calls us to lifelong marriage between one woman and one man. When God established this “in the beginning” it was included in the creation narrative. The creation shows a story of moving the world from its initial stage of chaos to cosmos, meaning order. A part of this order, that holds back the proverbial waters of chaos from flooding over the world, is the way we marry and have children. This is an order of love. We cleave as one man and one woman for life, because this is love for the partner and for the children and this love informs all our choices and relationships in the world. This exemplifies nurturing love to the whole creation.

Marriage in Genesis reflects a theology of life. It is God’s creational faith which he calls us into. If we couple, we couple in the way of life. This doesn’t mean we persecute those who don’t believe this. A consistent policy of life means we respect, love and help restore our neighbours and friends. We all have life challenges in many different ways, those things in our brokenness that militate against individual and community life, and we are to live together for our mutual healing.

A consistent life policy means we are environmental. The natural environment is part of God’s loving gift to us all, and our policies of inhabiting this world should be about what is best for the long term, for generations to come. These policies should not only save the environment and life upon it but restore and work towards the full recovery and flourishing of the environment. We should pass the environment onto the next generation in far better shape than we received it in our generation.

At least for us as Christians, a theology of life should deliver us from most, if not all, of the divisions of the left/ right dichotomy. It is just a matter of us not seeing things through our self-centredness but seeing things through the total wellbeing of us all.

We could add to the above list of left vs. right positions the Palestine/ Israel situation. People on the left may identify with the liberation of Palestinians. People on right may identity with the need of safety for modern Jews. Along with this is often a suspicion of liberation theology in general, not just the marxist blends, but biblical liberation theology, such as we see in the Exodus, or in the return of the captives from Babylonian exile, or in the gospel proclaimed by Christ (Luke 4:18-19), which isn’t just spiritual, but more holistic, including our social care for one another. This theme isn’t limited to one people group, but it is for us all.

Again, a theology of life means we aren’t pro-Jew, or pro-Palestinian, but pro-both. This is the life Jesus spoke of in his ministry. Social care was a strong element through Luke’s writings. The Good Samaritan shows who our neighbour is, which includes our enemy and the foreigner. As we live for each other in this way, we enter God’s abundant life and into peace in our nations. The false dichotomy of left vs. right vanishes like a puff of smoke in the gospel. To respond to Christ’s theology of life we need to take up our cross, to set his kingdom-life for our enemies above our personal security. This doesn’t match with the priorities we establish in the kingdoms of this world. “Loving our own life” is not life, though it gives the appearance of prosperity.

A theology of life is the correct framework through which to view the categories we have discussed, and other categories we have not covered here. We are to give of ourselves to help others to live. This is how we are to use our gifts and talents. This is how we are to view our identity: called to God’s fellowship of living for the flourishment of life. We are to help people to live, not to act in hostility towards those we disagree with. This is why Jesus came among us and why he visited the sinners, the poor and those society had cast out: people just like ourselves.

Our call is to the commission of Adam and Eve, to be creational, to foster life now in all its fullness in this world. This original Adamic commission for humanity has not changed. We are called to reflect the love of God to friend and foe alike, regardless of national, ethnic or any other boundary.

The left/ right debacle today is extreme on both ends. We are not called to this rift, but to be people of life. We are not called to fight the right/ left battle, becoming more and more insulting against others, refusing to accept our own faults, refusing to see God’s truth on both sides. Both the left and right are the side of the world, not the side of God.

What we found in defeating terrorism is that you have to win the middle ground. We have to bring the majority moderates together in unity to defeat the extremists. We contribute to this by serving. Once you unite the community, the extremists are marginalised, cut off, and have no popular cause. This is how we “fight,” by an inclusion of care. Then some of the extremists can also be won by forgiveness and an outreach of care.

If we don’t serve the poor and foreigner, our enemies and those who don’t agree with us, the current political stand-off will just grow worse. And there is great global danger in this rift. The church must stand on the road to Jericho between left and right, serving the wounded, revealing the heart of community that heals our self-centredness. Jesus has shown us the way in his teachings to respond to standoffs, like that in his day, between the Jews and Romans, between the Jews and the Samaritans.

The reference of Jesus to his left and right hands in his parable about the sheep and goats was his solution. Not left and right in our modern political sense of the terms. The right hand then referred to the human custom of the place of honour. And what was the honour? That they served the poor, the sick, the homeless and the prisoners, including the guilty prisoners. If we are going to be right today, then this how we will do it.

It’s interesting how God transforms our human customs. We had the custom of the right hand being the place of rule. So, Jesus takes that custom and says, “Okay, this is how you rule in my kingdom.” So, this is how the church rules with Christ, by serving those made outcast by the world: made outcast by a left wing break down of traditional values, or made outcast by a right wing lack of care for humanity and the world. Who are these broken in the world we are to support? Jesus answered this when he was asked, “Who is my neighbour?” This service is the world’s healing, not our anger, not our political or military standoffs.

A theology of life is necessary for peace. Unless both sides of the left/ right equation are seen to, human life will suffer to an extent that will disturb conditions of peace in our nations. If families break down, if the poor are not lifted, human suffering will degenerate into violence. Likewise, if the environment isn’t sustained, competition for resources, at agrarian and global levels, will lead us into conflict and war.