Is Politics the Answer? Thoughts on David Kuo’s “Tempting Faith”

January 19, 2008 at 3:39 pm

I just finished David Kuo’s Tempting Faith, a book that in all honesty I have to admit I purchased because of his insider’s view of Bush’s “compassionate conservatism.”

As advertised and promoted, Kuo featured some great quotes and examples of how the administration dismissively treated evangelicals and faith-based initiatives once their political agenda had been satisfied.

But then something happened. I read the rest of the book. And discovered Kuo’s deeper question: should politics be our sole focus?

Since this seems to be largely overlooked by the media coverage, I thought I’d share a few passages from the Epilogue:

Since the mid-1970s and with ever increasing passion, Christians like me have looked to politics to save America. We thought the right president, the right Congress, and the right judge or justice would stop abortions, strengthen marriage, create a safer country for our children, and ensure that our religious faith was respected. Our motivations were good ones. We wanted to save lives, homes, and our country. We saw ourselves as heirs to the Christian political tradition that fought against slavery and for a woman’s right to vote. We had every right to be in the political fight.

Now, however, it is time to take stock both politically and spiritually. has our political focus produced the desired results? By 2008, we will have had a good, conservative Republican in the Oval Office for twenty of the past twenty-eight years. Republicans have had outright control of both houses of Congress for most of the last twelve years. Republican presidents have appointed the vast majority of American judges and seven of the nine Supreme Court justices. In short, we’ve had almost everything we wanted politically. But things are hardly better. Social statistics are largely unchanged. Divorces are rampant and more and more children are growing up in a home with just one parent. Nearly a million and a half abortions are performed every year. There are more children in poverty today than there were twenty years ago. A greater percentage of Americans lack health care than ever before. Educational achievement is hardly soaring. Millions of Americans live in what seems like utterly intractable poverty.

We have had great electoral success and marginal political success.

Kuo then describes the alienation that the pursuit of politics has had on the evangelical community. The name Jesus is now associated with anti-abortion activists, opposition to gay rights, and tax cuts rather than with love for one another, helping the poor, and devotion to God.

While not an evangelical Christian, Tempting Faith reminded me of my own values and the fact that it’s easy to lose sight of them sometimes during the heated rhetoric. It’s easier to typecast evangelicals as bible-thumping anti-abortion rights activists rather than see them as people who I probably have more in common with than differences.

It reminded me that I need to ignore the branding put forth by the two parties and remember that my real beliefs are about community, openness of ideas, and helping each other out. Maybe those of us who call ourselves progressives or Democrats sometimes also get too caught up in the branding warfare.

Kuo argues for a fast from politics that includes practicing values and trying to communicate with those on the other side rather than strictly looking to “win” at politics through whatever means possible.

Like Kuo, I’m not advocating not participating in politics. Rather I think of it as a reminder to remember what I believe in: to see people as people and to look for areas of common ground. There’s a far greater chance that we as a country could accomplish something great if we could get past the conservative-liberal “he said, she said” and instead focus on our shared beliefs.

But in order to do this we have to come up with a frame that breaks down the divide. Those who use this divide for political purposes will do the following:

  • Emphasize hot button issues to generate anger and separate both sides; the classic hot button issues include abortion, gay marriage, the bible
  • Play the “liberal” card; create an image of liberals as the enemy – secularists who are waging war against religion (As a liberal with many liberal friends I have honestly never met a secularist who is waging war against religion. Where are these secularists?)
  • Claim that “they” will try to tell you otherwise; this strategy is particularly effective as what happens when we feel threatened? We get defensive and create long and passionately defended arguments about how their views are wrong.

What we need to do a better job of is discussing how similar our views actually are. Take the economy, for example. I think in general that most people could agree that they want an economy in which there are well-paying job opportunities. This may sound simple. But again, I think we tend to forget how much we have in common when the Right brands the Left as weak, homosexual-loving, baby-killing communists and the Left brands the Right as fascist, bible-thumping, ignorant, corporate shills.

If we can agree that most of our values are actually quite similar and we can respect each other then we should be able to work together to achieve something rather than getting caught up in the endless back and forth bickering that has become our nationally televised debate.