A Response to the Accusation of “Apolitical Privilege”
In light of the anger and fear mongering that dominates contemporary political discourse, many Christians, myself included, have pulled away from political discussion in person and on social media in order to focus on what we feel is most important, namely loving God and loving our neighbors. Rather than letting our emotional, intellectual, and spiritual energy be sapped by false news, hate speech, and fruitless arguments, we would rather pour our energy into doing something that we feel actually makes the world a better place.
In response to this pulling away, however, I have begun to hear more and more people browbeating those who claim to be “apolitical” or “above politics” as immoral and, essentially, showing their social or economic privilege (especially white privilege) in action. The basis for this accusation is the idea that only wealthy people can afford to act as if arguing about politics is not absolutely vital to one’s survival.
Let me point out some important assumptions here. First, there is an assumption that politics is the mechanism for some people’s survival. In other words, politics is the realm of life and death for people who are not wealthy. Therefore, arguing about politics is likened to fighting for one’s survival. One young woman on Instagram suggested that “people are fighting for their lives out there”. To be “apolitical”, as they call it, is to ignore that some people are fighting for their survival. Those they accuse of claiming to be “apolitical” are essentially any person who refuses to engage in political debate, especially online political debate. In their opinion, that would include Christians like me who have decided that politics is a waste of time and that only the Kingdom of God is worthy of my attention, my emotional energy, and my physical resources. According to them, I am claiming to be “apolitical”, and I am only able to do this because of a socially privileged position.
But I challenge their assertion on virtually every level. First, of course, their assertion that a retreat from politics is a result of a “privileged” position is pure presumption. They cannot possibly know the life circumstances of every individual who abstains from political discussion or activity. More importantly, however, I would assert that to say “Jesus is Lord” is, in fact, the most political thing you can say, but not because it implies this or that political agenda. When we declare that Jesus is Lord and not Caesar or any worldly authority (because that is the real context of the confession, not the hyper-individualized “personal savior” idea), we are saying that the realm of life and death is not the U.S. Capitol or the Supreme Court or the United Nations or the EU Parliament or the British Parliament, nor any other government building or institution. The realm of life and death, where the most important things in the world are said and done, is the throne room of Jesus. It is he and he alone, not the President or Prime Minister, who has the power to protect us, to provide for our needs, and to change the world for the better. Those who gain power through the realm of politics want you to think that they are the ones with the power to save and to condemn, or that you, through your vote or signature on a petition or presence at a protest, have a part in that power. But governments have no power to save us. When we say “Jesus is Lord” we say to the world’s governments and their political elite, “You would have no authority except it is given you from above.” The false god that is human government is revealed to be a sham, an illusion. It is stripped of its power to manipulate us through fear and guilt.
The voice that tells you that you have to be concerned about politics really means that you have to be concerned specifically about the set of political choices that the political elite present to you – you have to be concerned about their politics. This is pure manipulation through shame and guilt (what postmoderns call a “power play”), and it is based on presumption, not fact, reason, or sound theology. In fact, this kind of manipulation serves the political elite more than the disenfranchised poor and working class. This is ironic, really, since the rhetoric of this manipulation, blaming political abstinence on social and economic privilege, has a Marxist tone to it. Yet it serves a very anti-Marxist agenda, attempting to use social pressure to keep the poor and working class in subservience to the social and political elite of our various political systems (in America, to our two party corruption of American federalism).
Perhaps if Jesus were not Lord, it might be true that politics would be the realm of life and death, so for the non-Christian I have no answer to this charge. I would suggest that without the Lordship of Jesus, we have no option but to be slaves to the political elite of the world, to give in to the shaming. But because Jesus is Lord, we are freed from this slavery to concern ourselves with the true politics, being the Lord’s hands and feet to bring about healing and the obedience of faith among our neighbors, and being mediators for the world through our prayers that come up before the very throne of God. To ignore politics-as-usual in light of Jesus’ Lordship is neither apolitical nor is it tied to white privilege. It is transcendently political, and it is the only political position that offers true liberty to the poor and disenfranchised of the world.