In recent weeks I've written about capitalism and the Occupy Wall Street movement. I often get frustrated with the conversations posts like those generate. And the frustration isn't always about how those posts get co-opted by the snap-judgment polarities of the current political climate in America. (Though I do try to resist those polarities. In the aftermath of my post on capitalism I had people to my right worried about what they saw as a defense of socialism. To the left of me I had people worried about my defense of capitalism. So everyone had something to be angry about. Job well done?)
No, my frustration has more to do with the disjoint between prophecy and policy. I think it's clear that the current political and economic systems are hurting people. And yet, from a historical perspective the current political and economic systems have done the world great good. I, for one, don't want to wind the clock back.
The point being that it's difficult to transition from the clarion call of prophecy to concrete policy proposals. I know something is awry in the world but I struggle with finding the best way forward. Take the health care issue in America today. Should we repeal the Affordable Care Act, going back to having millions of Americans, citizens of the most affluent nation in history, without access to basic health care? Or should we perhaps go further, having a single-payer government-run system like we see in Europe? Or should we keep the current system, a system that works with private sector insurance providers (a system, incidentally, once championed by Republicans)? What, in short, is the best way forward? Surely we should try to do something to get every American access to basic health care. People suffer without it. And as good neighbors we should care about that suffering.
For example, close to my home is a Planned Parenthood. And Christians are regularly out front protesting about abortion. Props to them. But my guess is, based upon the demographics of the protesters (anti-abortion Christians in West Texas), that few of them are supportive of the Affordable Care Act. Which is a bit of a head scratcher for me. Don't we want these young women and the children we want them to bring to term to have access to affordable health care? Shouldn't we structure our social contract to deincentivize abortions? Shouldn't we love those children after they are born as well? Why does the Christian's interest in the baby last for only nine months?
In short, there are many ways our social contract is death-dealing. Ways that transcend the current platforms of both political parties.
(See, I'm stepping on everyone's toes again. My apologies if I've gotten you angry. I'm not trying to.)
But it is very hard to know, from a policy stance, what the best solution is in these various situations. (For example, there are host of rejoinders to my pro-universal-health-care + pro-life vision above.) This is one of the frustrations with the OWS movement. OWS may be very good at pointing out the problem but they've struggled with providing a solution. And for my part I share a similar feeling of frustration trying to connect the dots between prophecy and policy.
And that demoralizes me and makes me want to give up.
But I read something yesterday from Rowan Williams that made me feel a bit better about all this. From Williams's book Resurrection:
The Spirit opens our mouths for the dumb, in prophetic declamation and in patient and undramatic educative work. If we are to make a convincing job of naming the helpless and oppressed, we have much observation and analysis to do: if the Spirit gives utterance to us, it may be by freeing us from the paralysis induced by the complexity of the situation, so that we can risk a statement--knowing we invite denial, refutation or dismissal. The last thing a Christian should be eager to do is to minimize the moral unclarity and situational nuances of human relations; but the capacity to make articulate (even if, inevitably, provisional) judgement must not be stifled. We must allow ourselves to be given a language for this judgment by our trust in the faithfulness of the Spirit we invoke: we speak and act in the conviction that the Spirit can and will act creatively through our responsible decision--whether or not it is objectively "right" or adequate. The Spirit may work in debate at least as much as consensus and we shall have done something if we have only initiated such a debate.
So in the Spirit, in the hope of grace, we are enabled to give voice to our judgement and discrimination, to name and identify both victim and oppressor. Our responsibility is two-fold: not to speak glibly or hastily, pressed by doctrinaire, or merely fashionable, influences; yet not to refuse the gift of speech when we believe ourselves to have discerned the identity of the victim.