This question of political activism in regards to abortion has caused me to question political activism in general. Is it the responsibility of the Christian to be a sociopolitical revolutionary? Should I make it my goal to be the next William Wilberforce or Martin Luther King, Jr.? I think the clear answer is, "No." To be that revolutionary man or woman I think requires a passion and calling directly from God. I think this is part of the beauty of the visible Church, the Body of Christ -- God has made each of us differently. We are united in Christ, we are one, yet we have different passions. So there is part of me that wants to say, "Let us pursue whatever God has made us passionate about to the full, and support one another in whatever ways we can." This would lead me to pursue just treatment of the laborers in India who make the apparel in our student bookstore, or to develop a more just education system (somehow?). It would not lead me to volunteer at the local crisis pregnancy center, even though I think that is a very good thing. It's just not my passion. I like this line of thinking. It promotes political action, and leaves room for the Christian to be a revolutionary, to turn the government or the world back upright again.
However, I've been continuing to read Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship on the bus, and today came upon this passage where he explains in much better terms that I could why I think there might be a Biblical argument against political activism. He's talking about 1 Corinthians 7:20-24, which says
20 Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. 21Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) 22For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. 24So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.Bonhoeffer is in the midst of a discussion about the Visible Community of the Church, the Body of Christ. He has just finished saying how the member of the Body has been delivered from the world and called out of it. The Christian behaves as the world does not, in ways completely unexpected. Shane Claiborne uses the word [peculiar].
After quoting the 1 Corinthians passage, Bonhoeffer writes:
How different it all sounds from the calling of the first disciples! They had to leave everything to follow Jesus. Now we are told: "Let each man abide in the calling wherein he was called." How are we to reconcile the contradiction? Only by recognizing the underlying motive both of the call of Jesus and of the exhortation of the apostle [Paul]. In both cases it is the same -- to bring their hearers into the fellowship of the Body of Christ. The only way the first disciples could enter that fellowship was by going with Jesus. But now through Word and Sacrament the Body of Christ is no longer confined to a single place. The risen and exaulted Lord had returned to the earth to be nearer than ever before. The Body of Christ has penetrated into the heart of the world in the form of the Church. The baptized Christian is baptized into that Body. Christ has come to him and taken his life into his own, thus robbing the world of its own. If a man is baptized as a slave, he has now as a slave become a partaker in the common life of the Body of Christ. As a slave he is already torn from the world's clutches, and become a freedman of Christ. That is why the slave is told to stay as he is. As a member of the Body of Christ he has acquired a freedom which no rebellion of revolution could have brought him. Of course St. Paul does not mean thereby to bind him more closely to the world, or to give him a spiritual anchor so that he can continue in his life in the world. When he admonished the slave to stay as he is, it is not because he wants to make him a better citizen of the world or a more loyal one. It is not as though St. Paul were trying to condone or gloss over a black spor in the social order. He does not mean that the class-structure of secular society is so good and godly an institution that it would be wrong to upset it by revolution. The truth of the matter is that the whole world has already been turned upside down by the work of Jesus Christ, which has wrought a liberation for freeman and slave alike. A revolution would only obscure that divine New Order which Jesus Christ has established. It would also hinder and delay the disruption of the existing world order in the coming of the kingdom of God. It would be equally wrong to suppose that St. Paul imagines that the fulfilment of our secular calling is itself the living of the Christian life. No, his real meaning is that to renounce rebellion and revolution is the most appropriate way of expressing our conviction that the Christian hope is not set on this world, but on Christ and his kingdom. And so -- let the slave remain a slave! It is not reform that the world needs, for it is already ripe for destruction. And so -- let the slave remain a slave! He enjoys a better promise. Surely there is enough judgement for the world and comfort for the slave in the fact that God "took upon himself the form of a slave' (Phil. 2:7), when he came to the earth? If a man was called to be a Christian as a slave, does not the very fact that he is a slave prevent him from loving and desiring and concerning himself too much about the world? Therefore let not the slave suffer in silent rebellion, but as a member of the Church and Body of Christ. He will thereby hasten the end of the world."Become not the bondservants of men." this can happen in two different ways. First, it may happen by a revolution and the overthrow of the established order, and secondly by investing the established order with a halo of spirituality. "Brethren, let each man, wherein he was called, therein abide with God." "With God" -- and therefore "become not bondservants of men," neither by revolution nor by false submission. To stay in the world with God means simply to live in the rough and tumble of the world and at the same time remain in the Body of Christ, the visible Church, to take part in its worship and to live the life of discipleship. In so doing we bear testimony to the defeat of this world.
So, that's a lot. And I'm probably infringing on some sort of copyright laws. There is much of me which desperately wants Bonhoeffer to be wrong, or to imagine that this kind of thinking is only applicable to slavery. But the words "to renounce rebellion and revolution is the most appropriate way of expressing our conviction that the Christian hope is not set on this world, but on Christ and his kingdom" -- these words haunt me.
There. That ought to stir some conversation, if anyone has the attention span to read it all.