Monday, October 22, 2012

BookPastor >> "Honoring God in Red or Blue"

With the coming US elections, this book will provide some guidelines on how to vote. More importantly, it shows us that whichever candidates one votes for, it makes no sense to demonize people who disagree. After all, one can still honour God, independent of party affiliation. This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on October 11th, 2012.


TITLE: Honoring God in Red or Blue: Approaching Politics with Humility, Grace, and Reason
AUTHOR: Amy E. Black
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2012, (208 pages).

The reactions to politics are often negative, even dismissive. It is common to hear people saying things like:
  • "Politics is dirty."
  • "Politics is a four-letter word."
  • "We cannot mix politics with religion. Separation of Church and State remember?"
  • "All politicians are crooks."
Rarely do we find informed opinions from laypersons that not only explain the preconceived notions of such negativity, but provide insights into the world of politics, especially the American political scene. Published at a time when the two major American political parties are revving up their rhetoric and campaigns, this book helps us to not only understand what politics are all about, it educates us on what is and what is not, the right and wrong ways to engage politics, and more importantly, how to think and respond Christianly toward the political scene. As the title suggests, whether we support the Republicans (Red) or the Democrats (Blue), honoring God is possible either way. In other words, God is neither Republican, Democrat, Independent, or whatever visible party out there. God is God, and we can all honor God regardless of what party lines are saying.  The key point is that all parties have mixtures of good and bad, and we ought to be aware of the potential as well as the constraints of each position taken.

Amy Black, a Professor in political science at Wheaton College shares with us a wealth of information regarding the modern cultural perceptions of politics and parties, an insight into how the American political system is designed, a brief history of the separation of powers and the separation of Church and State, and a hugely beneficial section on how Christians can engage constructively in the political arena. In Part One, Black makes a case that there are more upsides to politics than what most people think. While there are perils of political work, we need to keep in mind the promises and the potential of God working out for good in the world of politics. Black puts forth ample biblical support for the active engagement of politics simply because religion and politics inform each other. If that is the case, retreating from talking about it is unhelpful. Constructive engagement is needed. She suggests four principles on how to do this.
  1. When talking about politics, display humility
  2. It is ok to disagree without calling each other unChristian. Diversity always imply a difference of opinions.
  3. Do not use the label "Christian" to validate any political stand, simply because such labels belong solely to God. In other words, don't say things like, "God tell me......" frivolously.
  4. Use politics as a way to demonstrate love for God and neighbour, and not a sledgehammer to pound our views across.
Part Two is a fascinating tour of the American political system, how the government works. This part alone is worth the price of the book as it not only helps readers to understand the party ideologies and the overall checks and balances of the American separation of powers, it shows us the ingenious ways in which the system is able to correct itself and avoid any movements toward totalitarian regimes.  It is one of the finest demonstration of democracy and freedom of all to participate or to switch parties based on conscience, not fear.

Part Three is the key section for readers who are Christian, and want to learn how to honor God when engaging in politics.  Black compares and contrasts four different traditions of political theology, namely the Catholic, Lutheran, Anabaptist, and Reformed perspectives. She shows us how to avoid tribal politics and engage more in dialogue and how to disagree peacefully. Learning how to disagree is so important that Black sets aside more than one chapter to let Scriptural truth shine and guide our steps. She also gives tips on how to evaluate any policy or party stand. One way is to first search for common ground, and then agree to disagree on the rest, later. The late Dr Martin Luther King Jr describes the role of the Church as follows:

"The church must be reminded that it is not the master or servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state."

This wisely put phrase sets into perspective how Christians are to interact with the State, maintaining a separation of religion from politics without missing a beat with regards to engagement meaningfully and purposefully. Finally, when deciding how to vote, Black provides the following tips:
  • Evaluate each candidate on the basis of how trustworthy he/she is, based on one's understanding of fair representation.
  • Be prepared with what political issues most matter to us
  • Set priorities on which issues are most important
  • See how well the running candidate fits the requirements, duties for the post
  • Learn about the candidate and the office
  • Discern what the campaigns are trying to communicate
  • If needed, volunteer to get a closer look at the person, the party, and how well the candidate is practicing the political ideology.
In summary, the best way for us to engage constructively is to have adequate knowledge of the political system, meaningful understanding of the people and parties involved, and purposeful engaging of the entire political process. This book not only launches us to this end, it shows us the way to do just that. 

Ratin: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Moody Publishers and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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