This weekend I had been told by a friend in Los Angeles that Mr. Aaron Dean, the treasurer of the church organization where I attend, was going to be visiting Thailand in his trip to Asia. As it happened, at 1PM I received a call that he was coming soon (he came about two hours later), at which point I was concerned that there hadn’t been water for almost the entire morning so I needed a shower. Fortunately the water came on in time for me to get ready for the moderately surprising visit.
After he came with my bosses and a fellow teacher I showed him around the school, giving him a tour almost as thorough as the famous one where King Hezekiah showed the ambassador from Babylon around, and then after chatting we went to the same restaurant where we ate when the Lees visited from Switzerland about 8 days ago. It’s a good restaurant, and the cashew chicken is definitely excellent and worthy of a repeat.
I must say that I do not know Mr. Dean very well, and found him to be a very entertaining person to talk to, especially because he and Mr. Sexton shared some memories from previous time spent in Thailand. There is a certain pattern that happens when one meets people in the Church of God that one has not seen for a long time–there is catching up on each other and one’s mutual friends and family, often conversations about the grandkids, or conversations on life and real estate, and church politics. There are always lots of conversations about church politics.
There are a few constants when it comes to church get-togethers. There are always conversations about families, always food involved, and always conversations about politics of some kind. Many people in the Church of God don’t believe in voting, but I have yet to meet a member or minister of the Church of God that is anything but passionate about politics of some kind. Whether that is connecting prophecies about the end time to the dramatic and worrisome decline of rights and increase in government power, commentary about various cults of personality and negative “campaign” ads by people talking about one organization or another, the Church of God as a community is deeply interested in politics.
And there is nothing inherently wrong in that. In fact, it would be more remarkable if a group of people who are deeply and passionately interested in power, with very strong belief that the righteous will rule with God and often fairly high opinions on the legitimacy of authority in general (or at least high opinions on their own legitimacy as scriptural authorities, historical authorities, cultural authorities, medical authorities, and every other type of authority), were not at all interested in politics. After all, politics is nothing more than the study of, discussion of, and use of power. Whether you want to exercise power over others or passionately detest people exercising power over you (or both!) you will be passionately interested in politics.
What is more remarkable, at least to me, is that this passionate interest in politics, including the frequent practice of smear campaigns and propaganda efforts as well as blatant power plays, so rarely leads to involvement in the politics of civil government, whether it be local politics, or school superintendents, or the important but difficult to influence politics of our societies. I’m the sort of person who believes that if one is not involved in an effort that one has no right to complain about it, since one isn’t doing anything about it, however small a way one can contribute. I don’t make it my point to criticize others or insult them, but it’s something I mull over in my own mind. For me, my passion impels me to become involved, because however small an effect my own efforts can have, I would feel it unconscionable not to make an effort to make use what talents and insights I have been given not to at least try to make the world a better place than I found it.
It seems as if I have a different view of the workings of God than many of my brethren with whom I share a basis of beliefs. This troubles me, and leads to many conflicts with other people. The difference is not so much in beliefs as it is in an approach and worldview, which is more troublesome as it is more fundamental. It is my strong belief that the fact that God has granted us free will means that His involvement in the affairs of human beings is often indirect so as not to absolve us of responsibility, through the workings of divine providence. Therefore, God works out His will through the actions of mankind, including ourselves. By refusing to act, and wishing for God to do our jobs, many people with a great deal of knowledge and potential, by wishing to absolve themselves of responsibility, often seem to make or at least allow things to get much worse.
Through my reading of biblical passages like the Parable of the Talents and the Parable of the Minas, and other scriptures, I am firmly convinced that we are held accountable based on the knowledge and abilities that we have been given. To avoid involvement in the outside world because it is morally corrupt is to avoid fighting against that corruption and evil, letting it run unchecked without resistance. Again, we have no right to curse the darkness if we have put our light under a bushel, and kept ourselves from shining a light in a world because we have viewed it to be ungodly, and because we have refused to do anything about it. I will not let that go on my conscience.
And that is the crux of the matter. Despite the fact that my own political beliefs are no more extreme (in fact, they are probably a fair amount more nuanced than most), and my interest in talking about politics is no greater than others (though probably not that much less, given the fact that I will honestly admit a large and possibly dangerous interest in politics), my political behavior is very different from many of my (like-minded) brethren. And the difference is precisely in my sense of personal responsibility. Though I am only an obscure person with no famous name, no particularly powerful personal connections, and certainly no wealth or influence to speak of except for the persuasive ability of my passionate and (hopefully) well-reasoned arguments, I consider myself responsible for being a godly example in a corrupt world, deeply involved in the world around me even if I recognize myself as being in this world but not of it. And most of my brethren do not consider themselves personally responsible for the state of this world, and so they are not involved, and I am, even if we all share many of the same complaints. That’s just the way we roll.