A Beginner's Thoughts on Politics

Last night, Kirk and I previewed a DVD copy of a movie he'll be promoting this month and next. The film is called Article VI. It's about the interplay of faith and politics. You can check out the trailer here or here. (Personally, I find the trailer a little raw, and it certainly can't be faulted for not sparking controversy -- but perhaps that is its intention.)

The film is a documentary, not intended to promote any particular view or any particular candidate, even though the filmmaker is a Mormon. It's intended as a conversation starter. For instance, how has religion historically impacted politics? How is it impacting the '08 election? Should our religious beliefs dictate our voting behavior?

I'll be frank: it is at times difficult to watch this movie. Filmed in documentary style, it includes live footage of rallies, picketing protests, personal interviews, and religious extremists. Many of these extremists are evangelical Christians that I would not personally want to associate with. At one point, I had to ask Kirk to pause the film because the hatred spewing out of the eyes and mouths and swaggers of people standing on street corners wearing Jesus shirts and waving their Bibles became too much. My eyes could not help welling over with tears. These demonstrations and extreme views that preclude love really must grieve the heart of Jesus.

But I think the extremism of the film is effective. (And to be fair, it eventually moves into providing a more balanced view of evangelicals and the central questions in general.) At least for me, the movie was effective because it got me thinking about my own perspective on humanity and freedom and what America is founded upon. Is America a Christian nation, founded upon Christianity and with an obligation to stay that way, as so many of these demonstrators insisted, or is it founded upon free religious expression for all? I think the latter.

Hugh Hewitt, in a scene where he is interviewed on the film, seemed to say it best: "America is not a Christian country. It is a country that is predominantly populated by Christians. It takes its value system from Christianity. Its great civic religion is very much out of the laws of Moses and the teachings of Jesus Christ. There's no one that can deny that. . . . We are not a Christian republic in the sense that Iran is an Islamic republic. We do not have a Christian version of Sharia that is informing our laws. We have a constitutional order, as it has been from the beginning and as it ought to remain."

This post is not intended as a teaser promotion of the film, though you can choose to see it if you like. (It releases in theatres, with a simultaneous DVD release, on January 15.) This post is also not intended as a blanket statement of my political views. Far from it. I am so far from determining what those are that I would not presume to profess them here. And finally, this post is not intended as an exhortation for how I think other people should vote or believe, politically or in faith matters. I am the last person who would try to say -- or even desire to say -- what I think people should think or do with regards to their vote this year.

Rather, I'm writing this to express what the film stirred up in me and how that impacted my day today and my trajectory toward thinking about this election.

I'm sure you've heard about Hillary's surprising upstage of Barack Obama in New Hampshire this week. This morning, perhaps because of last night's film viewing, I began sifting through some of the articles and op-ed pieces about what happened. I watched the footage of Hillary's emotional response to a coffee shop interview question that likely won her the New Hampshire vote. And then I checked out Barack Obama's website.

I've got to say, I was impressed. Not only did I like the straightforward simplicity of how I could go about learning about him and his positions on the major issues, but I was heartened by his notion of America being a place we all live and make better together. I was inspired by his humble background and his work on the streets of Chicago, where he wasn't afraid to work hard and get his hands dirty in order to see real change happen. He really is a people's man, and I must say I like that in a presidential hopeful. It also says something about the personal political views beginning to form in me that I got teary-eyed twice when I previewed this short introductory video to his history and candidacy. In the end, I wondered if people feel about Barack Obama now the way people felt about John F. Kennedy when he came out of nowhere and took the presidential vote back in 1960.

Personally, I've got a long way to go in working out my political views. I'm registered Republican but have long wondered why this has become the predominant Christian party line if God really cares as much about social justice and compassion as the Bible indicates He does. (And it indicates that He does -- a lot.) I've wondered if I will ultimately vote Democrat in this election, and if I will eventually change parties altogether.

In order to do that, though, I need to learn. So today I finally got started. I went out and purchased the two books so far published by Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope and Dreams from My Father. And I got goosebumps again just reading what feel like incredibly honest words in the introductions to both books. For instance, he says in his biography that one reason he loved working in state politics for a big industrical state like Illinois was because "one sees every day the face of a nation in constant conversation: inner-city mothers and corn bean farmers, immigrant day laborers alongside suburban investment bankers -- all jostling to be heard, all ready to tell their stories." Yes, that reference to everyday people's stories really got to me. I'm pretty sure anyone following this blog knows why. I loved that he seemed to be saying he understands the value of every human being's story and life.

I don't know how I'll vote this year, and I don't know what party line I'll ultimately take. But it's the first election I've ever really cared about, ever really wanted to understand, and so I'm glad at least for the baby steps I'm taking toward a political sensibility (albeit very much a beginner's sensibility) for my life.