Two matters have captured my attention that last few days. First, the American election is upon us. The banter is the most partisan I can ever remember. Two, our friend, Marguerite Nyagahura, was just appointed to Rwanda’s Senate.
Our missionary calling is to be an outside in voice. That means we know other cultures well enough that we can speak to places in which the Gospel must speak. It also means that we have enough initiative to move past words to actually get things done. All of that makes most nod their heads. Yet, it also means us missionary types will never fit completely within any culture. Heaven is our home.
Because God has placed a missionary calling in our hearts we must speak. American partisans you are off base. If you are willing to listen I propose you look to older more enduring ways for an answer. My friend, Marguerite’s journey is an example of that older more enduring way.
There is nothing wrong with politics. One of my friends during our Rwanda season was Dr. Paul Kaiser, who worked with USAID in promoting civil society and good governance. He defined politics as “affiliation based upon policy preference.” The definition is neutral. It implies that it politics is a process in which individuals form community around their beliefs about what is best for their community. In fact, the definition calls us to the best of humanity as we seek to display what it means to be made in the image of God.
When most of us complain about “politics” what we are really complaining about is “partisan” behavior. The dictionary defines partisan as “a fervent, sometimes militant supporter or proponent of a party, cause, faction, person, or idea.”
|Our friend, Honorable Marguerite Nyagahura taking Oath of Office|
A little over two years ago, a friend of mine from seminary (grad school) days at Abilene Christian University, Todd Bouldin noticed that I was frequently discussing a theme of the Christian’s place in the development of institutions. At the time I was struggling to find a contemporary Christian writer who was discussing the same issues (though I could find abundant bible, history, political, and economic writing.) Todd suggested I read James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (Oxford University Press, 2010). It took me a year to pick up a copy, and several months to read through it with all my highlights, questions, dog ears, and rereads. Thank you Todd for pointing me in a direction that gave me philosophic tools to explain what had been years of intuition meeting frustration. (The following is mine, but a plagiarism check would see I’ve been heavily influenced by Hunter.)
I have voted most of my adult life. If you follow my voting patterns you will note I usually vote for the Ducks Unlimited (DU) endorsed candidate. That means my vote usually goes to a political conservative who wishes the best for children in a world full of clean rivers, forests, and wetlands. Usually it is Republican, but I’ve voted Democrat when I thought it was in my kid’s best interest. My contemporary problem is that the Ducks Unlimited (DU) favorable candidates are getting more difficult to find. Facebook and twitter banter among my believing friends is no help for my DU leaning agenda.
|Ducks Unlimited Jenkins' Slough Winter Board Meeting '89|
Another less prevalent partisan position is the Christian Left. Here my clan mates who do not share my skin color feel greater welcome. Here my concerns for balancing justice and mercy to immigrants are met. Here my application of the Pentateuch’s teaching on stewarding the earth feels welcome. Yet, I’m troubled. Too often to stir emotions the victim card is played. In the process, personal responsibility is negated. The list of concerns about personal responsibility and the Christian Left take many turns, but one of the most troubling ones for me in the contemporary world is all of the implications of same sex marriage. Also, my views of personal responsibility are part of the theological reason I am so consistently pro-life. I’ve got a history of loving all kids, in all their varieties including both born and unborn.
I find myself with the Christian Left just like the Christian Right in an awkward place in which I conclude,” I cannot participate in your partisan machine and banter so help me God.”
A third option is taken by many of my evangelical clan mates on Facebook of Pietism. It usually starts of by threatening to “hide,” or even “de-friend” their colleagues who wade into the partisan banter. Then it takes the next step of labeling “politics matters of this world that Christians must rise above.” Usually, the final step is a call to prayer, and “trusting in the Sovereign will of God.”
|Where are our contemporary prophets?|
Pietism seeks to build an earthly utopia. God’s word is clear. Perfection does not happen until the Lord returns.
Until then Jesus’ followers must be engaged. Hunter calls it faithful presence. My Facebook political stance is prophetic engagement. My classic Bible example is Nathan rebuking David (1 Samuel 12). Nathan was enough of a friend with King David that he could quickly get an audience and drew the king’s attention to gross injustice. He was also enough of a friend that a powerful king was emotionally broken by his sin. In this friendship, Nathan was a tool of God to restore what pieces of a fractured leader and nation could be restored. Many of today dismiss the simple pastoral but prophetic tasks of befriending, praying, teaching truth, and ultimately healing wounds. Prophet like figures frequently are out of step with partisan power brokers.
Now back to my friend, Marguerite Nyagahura who was just sworn in as one of Rwanda’s new senators. (For further reading see http://focus.rw/wp/2012/10/president-kagame-appoints-new-senators/ and http://www.newtimes.co.rw/news/index.php?i=15142&a=59411, http://www.newtimes.co.rw/news/index.php?i=15143&a=59450.)
|Honorable Marguerite Nyagahura, Rose Apolinary, and Jana Jenkins|
|His Excellency, Rwanda President Paul Kagame with Marguerite's family|
Yet, though Marguerite’s family has a rich heritage of faith her journey like most of her peers was a difficult one of refugee living that frequently bumped up against glass ceilings. With the many failings of Rwandan churches during the 1994 Genocide many swore never to attend church again. A few explored with caution. Yet, the hardest parts of life called one back to faith. Marguerite and her family joined our CCR journey.
When ROC first assumed ownership of her property the space was far larger than our capacity to use. We arranged for Marguerite to begin First Impressions Day Care in the CCR basement. It became a wonderful partnership.
Marguerite’s journey as a returning Diaspora was part of our journey. She was elected the Chairman of the 2020 Vision Estate (Gaculiro) Cell (Umudugudu.) With this came all sorts of responsibilities from sorting out neighbor’s disagreements to maintaining security to monthly Umuganda (Communal Work.) Dave as a local pastor felt he must attend each Umuganda thus our lives became more entwined with Marguerite’s wisdom.
As our final year in Rwanda became consumed with the Gabriel Mugisha Jacobs’ journey Marguerite was one of Mugisha’s aunties in the final CCR Hand Over of Mugisha to Mark and Chelsea Jacobs. Marguerite was a key advisor and advocate through that year that nurtured Mugisha from a struggling abandoned child to a thriving child adopted into a forever family in the house of God.
Now, Marguerite’s faithful service to her community has brought the reward of being appointed one of Rwanda’s newest Senators. She is in our prayers. We trust that the God who has guided her path for generations will use this season of her leadership to bless many future generations.
What does this have to do with contemporary American partisan banter?
I think it sets a model for prophetic engagement. This is a journey where we human sojourners are not the hero. If we have done anything good it is that we’ve repeated the paths of old. Those paths called us to leave what was known and comfortable. We refused to define our call or people by the easiest markers of humanity such as race, nationality, ethnicity, and denomination or political affiliation. We befriended. We did not judge. We listened. We taught. We shared. We labored. We were blessed.
I suggest that it is time for America to rise above the failed attempts at utopia by the Christian Right, the Christian Left, and Pietism, and instead practice the old path of prophetic engagement. Future generations need us to follow these paths of old.