What a gift to listen to James Davison Hunter speak via online podcast to The Trinity Forum (a nonprofit organization that works to cultivate networks of leaders whose integrity and vision will renew culture and promote human freedom and flourishing) in Washington DC. It’s clear his values and passion to change the world align with mine (after all I am a number One [Reformer] on the Enneagram). Hunter states it’s imperative to understand culture, values, and community in the change process. Rather than the Christian community trying to impose their Christian beliefs (newsflash it hasn’t worked to date – keyword impose) to the world, Hunter says the modern way of changing the world is removing yourself from the political fight and working to position yourself into a practical cause – your vocation, loving your neighbor, and faithful presence. “Hunter sharply criticizes popular political voices from Chuck Colson to Jim Wallis, but evangelicals have hardly responded to his book by going “silent for a season” as advised.”
According to Hunter “Evangelicals still seem to prefer populist outrage to long-term strategic placement and cooperation. Evangelicals continue to invest enormous emotional and financial capital in the political process.” Hunter talks about the overzealous Christian trying to change law and policy through politics (forcing your opinion….essentially the “ugly side” of activism aka nostalgia or despair). “How should Christians act in the world? The dominant answer in America today seems to be: through politics. But the major model of Christian political action, visible most obviously but not exclusively in the Christian Right, has been a politics fueled by resentment and a sense of victimization, actuated by a strong will to power, and a propensity to demonize its opponents. This politics is a capitulation to the worst elements of the contemporary culture it claims to be redeeming.” Case in point – abortion and homosexuality. He at least offers a more relevant use of time and energy in what he believes is an effective tool to change the world. According to Hunter, “The only leadership is sacrificial leadership” which is “not just for the benefit of believers but for the benefit of everyone.” He (Hunter) also challenges Christians “to be public without being political” which will be a “new paradigm of being the church in the late modern world.”
Here’s a practical example Hunter speaks about in his podcast. He challenges activists in the pro-life movement to “try something different.” “Go to a pro-choice state like Illinois” he says and “get the signatures of 10,000+ families in the state who are willing to adopt a child of any race, ethnic background, physical handicap, health issues, background, etc. ANY CHILD.” He encourages activists to take the petition of names to the capital and announce “there are no unwanted children here.” Hunter’s point is that this type of approach leads with compassion, not coercion. He believes the primary problem of Christian efforts to change the world is “we have conflated the public and the political so that we cannot imagine a public space that is not subsumed by the political.” Hunter also speaks truth when he contends that the political culture has been dominated by a discourse of injury, resentment, and revenge and a will to power that has essentially given up on persuasion. In that context we need to understand the limits of political action – not to abandon politics, but to understand its limitations and in our political culture its unintended consequences. Christians are known primarily by their politics. Perhaps one of my favorite Hunter statements is this “there are opportunities for vision of human flourishing that serves the common good.”
On the same day I listened to Hunter’s podcast on my way to work, I was further inspired at an all-day training by Mark Wynn. (I may have felt there was Divine intervention in this considering it’s been a crazy week and I didn’t know when or how I would blog). Mark Wynn was a twenty-one year member of the Nashville Metropolitan Police Department – he served as Lieutenant to the Domestic Violence Division – and was a member of the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Team for fifteen years. He is the recipient of 121 commendations and 51 awards and certificates including the 1995 National Improvement of Justice Award and the 1998 Nashvillian of the Year Award. He recently received the 2012 Family Justice Center Alliance Lifetime Achievement Award…and the list of accolades keeps going. Can you see I’m setting the stage to validate his credentials?
The main topic of the training was violence against women – including domestic violence and sexual assault – and officer intervention. His most poignant story of the day was when he spoke of a phenomenon called The Holy Hush. Time stood still for a moment while I digested this conversation, born out of Mark’s years on the force in Nashville. To set the tone, it’s important to know that there are 400+ churches in Nashville. In this Christian community, women confide in their pastors about their unhealthy marriages – including experiences of verbal, emotional and physical abuse, and sexual assault. Pastors are notorious for hosting “couples counseling” with the husband and wife and for shaming divorce because it is not biblical. Questions such as “what did you do to provoke his attack?” and “how can you both compromise to make this marriage work?” and commands to “submit to your husband” have perpetuated oppression, abuse, and domestic violence through their approach. Harsh? Absolutely! But also provides a “faithful presence” opportunity in this modern world which I believe Hunter would condone. One organization is already on the task. FaithTrust Institute is a non-profit organization headquartered in Seattle, Washington. Founded in 1977 by the Rev. Marie M. Fortune, FaithTrust Institute is an interreligious educational resource addressing issues of sexual and domestic violence. “Our goal is to engage religious leaders in the task of ending abuse, and to serve as a bridge between religious and secular communities.” This organization is inspiring and should become a resource in your ministry.
Here are just a few more points to consider – men have written the laws on how to handle domestic situations. Mark Wynn refers to this “male privilege” as “racism with another coat of paint on it.” That being said, have you knowingly/unknowingly perpetuated the holy hush? If so, will you commit to following James Hunter’s call to move into practical ministry? I know I will.
 Hunter, James Davison. To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.