The political seminary

I’ve seen this kind of zero-sum mentality before in seminary. One thing that all seminarians agree on, regardless of denomination, is that “Jesus unites, theology divides” is a terrible thing to say. And, of course, they’re right. Theology matters immensely, and as countless others have pointed out, dismissing theology is actually a form of doing theology. In the sense that theology is what we believe about God, everyone does theology. Everyone is a theologian. The only question is whether you’re doing it well or poorly.

But sometimes seminarians will smuggle something into the statement “everyone’s a theologian” that doesn’t really belong there. Sometimes, when they say that everyone does theology, what they actually mean is that everyone should think and talk about theology the way that they do. This is very different from saying that what people believe about God is theology. In this sense, “everyone’s a theologian” is actually quite misleading, because it suggests that “theologian” is simply a mindset that everyone can turn on and off at any moment, rather than a focused occupation that requires someone to take years away from something else and give it to the study of biblical and dogmatic content.

Yes, everybody does theology in a sense. But not everybody does theology in the sense that seminarians think theology ought to be done.

Everything I just said can be reverse engineered to apply to the tweet above. If you’re tracking with the politics-as-new-religion argument that I’ve been making for a while now, then think of social media activism as the modern political seminary. The lady who tweeted this wants to shame people who aren’t as politically engaged as she is, and she wants to shame them by drawing an equivalence between lack of activism and lack of concern for other people. She likely believes that everyone is political, in the sense that everyone is either campaigning for the status quo or something new. The idea that some people may not think about politics in the same way that she does is either totally foreign to her, or else she thinks it’s a bald faced lie.

Yes, everyone does politics in the sense that everyone participates in a civic system. Yes, everyone is political in the sense that everyone makes decisions and lives under laws that affect them and their neighbors. But everyone is not political and everyone does not do politics in the same way that activists believe people ought to be and do. Not everyone has an opinion on issues that you feel are urgently important. Not everyone is going to vote. Not everyone feels that things are as good or bad as you do—just like not everyone who has beliefs about God will actually read the theology books and have the theology conversations you might think they ought to have.

Not to mention the fact that one problem with logging onto social media to shame people for being “apolitical” is that your social media post is of less political consequence than when those “apolitical” people pay their taxes and chat at McDonald’s. Not only are today’s evangelists for the new political religion wrong about their message, they are not that good at evangelizing.

Author: Samuel D. James

Believer, husband, father, acquisitions editor, writer.

One thought on “The political seminary”

  1. After the lead pastor at my church recently went public on the record that “good Christians will vote for Trump”, I no longer discuss politics with anyone from church. I personally think the current administration is a train wreck and needs to be replaced (although I am registered to that party). What really concerns me is how theology and politics have become so intertwined. In my church. It has never been the case that political beliefs of any kind have been endorsed by the church, although certain truths about life, sexual orientation, the responsibility to pay taxes, pray for those in leadership (et al) have always been taught. What is occurring now seems to border on Christian Nationalism, and it frightens me. If a member posts anything on Facebook that is not 100% pro current administration, they are immediately ridiculed, have the genuineness of their faith questioned, and end up taking their post down. As more places begin to open up in my area, I may be visiting other churches. It breaks my heart, but I need to be able to freely vote my conscience and not feel “sub spiritual.”

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