Let me give you a few scenarios, partially adapted from The Righteous Mind:
1. In the 1950s and 60s car buying exploded in the U.S., and with that, so did the amount of lead (which was added to boost gasoline efficiency) being pumped into our air. By the year 1973, over 200,000 tons of lead were released into the atmosphere from car exhaust and infiltrated our lungs, bloodstreams, and brains. Very quickly, studies linked the lead intake to neural damage in children (and everyone else), but the car manufacturers and gas companies had the money and power to maintain the status quo. The Carter administration made the first attempts to remedy this, but efforts were blocked under the following administration.
2. Over 100,000 people die annually of an infection they caught while in the hospital—the very place they’ve gone to heal and recover. Strangely, studies that have been done concerning this travesty have shown that similar incidents could be reduced by 66% if only a simple checklist was used by hospitals. The reason given by many as to why necessary checklists are not put in place is because hospitals, unlike market-driven businesses, have little incentive to change as their income is rooted in government control and insurance money.
3. According to sociologists, a productive society is dependent on moral capital. Moral capital can be thought of, perhaps, as the expectancy that everyone will do the right thing. With that said, many have made the case that the welfare programs of the 1960s, among other things, depleted the moral capital of disadvantaged communities—primarily black ones. It did this by reducing the need for marriage as an institution that supports the family, which in turn lead to broken homes, and thus emotionally damaged children and impoverished households.
The question I want to deal with is a difficult one—if it is not the most difficult intellectually, it certainly is socially. It is the question of how should Christians participate in government?
There are, as I’m sure you’re aware, hosts of answers to this question. There are many attempts to answer this coming from a purely religious perspective. There is the option of non-participation, which was strongly advocated by leaders in my own movement like Barton Stone and David Lipscomb. There is the variation of that, which can really only exist in modern democracies, of participation only through voting. There are also perspectives that fully embrace participation in politics, like right-wing evangelicalism or social justice warriors, the fullest example of the latter being liberationists.
Most, while perhaps being influenced by faith, come from a secular perspective. And there are—let me tell you—lots of perspectives to come from. Some of the big ones are:
The point I hope you’re getting is that answers to our question are both manifold and complex. A fun exercise—if you’re a nerd or something—is this quiz which demonstrates the nuances of political questions and the positions available (and it only covers a few of those listed above).
A few of the options just listed, I think, introduce us to some interesting ideas—let’s look at a few of them in more detail.
Social Democracy – This ideology aims to create the right conditions for capitalism to lead society toward greater democratic and egalitarian outcomes. In its original form, it advocated an evolutionary and peaceful transition from capitalism to socialism but now advocates the reform of capitalism to suit social issues.
Democratic Socialism – This similarly named ideology has gotten a lot of public attention due to potential Democratic nominee Bernie Sanders identifying himself as such (though, a lot of what he described seems to fall more in line with the former category). Democratic Socialism is simply socialism with the adjective provided to differentiate it from the Marxist-Leninist brand of socialism.
Christian Democracy – I didn’t list this one above, but it is deeply connected to the other two mentioned. As a position, it is often considered centre-right on cultural, social, and moral issues (and is thus a supporter of social conservatism), and it is considered centre-left with respect to economic and labor issues, civil rights, and foreign policy. It advocates a social market and is sometimes seen as an alternative to social democracy.
The Third-Way – This is a movement that gained popularity during the 90s and was spearheaded by folks like Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. It tries to reconcile right-wing and left-wing politics by advocating a varying synthesis of right-wing economics and left-wing social policies.
These four ideologies—Social Democracy, Democratic Socialism, Christian Democracy, and the Third-Way—are all noteworthy, not for the specifics of their platforms, but for the attitude behind them. They all, in their own way, attempt to bring polarized ideas together in order to make a working whole. They all fall under—but none fully encapsulate—the spirit of Centrism. And it is centrism, an ideology of moderation, that I want to posit as a specific answer to our question. It’s dangerous getting into specifics, I’m aware—I’m usually very adept at saying empty words—but I think centrism offers a possible approach to political life that simultaneously operates out of sacred truth.
We begin to see this through our original scenarios. When taken together, no entrenched ideology would be able to solve each of the problems presented (and none of the problems are particularly radical). Yet, if we operate without a static modus operandi, we are open to solutions beyond our own areas of focus—and this is precisely what happened in the 90s when a piece of legislation was pushed through by bipartisan efforts in order to limit lead in gasoline.
On a practical level, centrism has massive appeal for moderates because it not only allows a variety of perspectives but encourages it. Beyond that, we could go the route of historical example, demonstrating how James Madison and our Constitution relied completely on balance and compromise. There is also the biblical route which reminds us of how the New Testament blazed a middle ground between the Pharisees and Sadducees and binds together the Jews and Gentiles. Yet, while these are useful, I think power and costs of centrism rest in a deeper region of the soul.
In centrism, there abides an innate loneliness. While standing in the middle can smooth over uneven spots in a relationship and can work to assuage tensions, human nature is to drift apart, radicalize, and congeal around stagnant ideas. If we do not mirror people as they cling to one side or another, we will be discarded and ostracized. This is the price of any holiness and any commitment to transcendent truths in the face of social pressure. Loneliness is an inevitability when we stand in radical moderation.
Lastly, centrism is a position of humility. Obviously, a meek spirit is necessary to resist claiming the answers to unnumbered complex issues, but it is also an emptying of self that makes room for the Divine Spirit, a spirit that instills in us a greater capacity for compassion and self-criticalness.