Jon Stovell’s Notebook


“Us” and “them” in political theology

A few days ago, Steve Hamilton asked:

If we were to explore it, what is the political theology or public theology of the Vineyard movement?

I replied thus:

It is probably no surprise that my initial response is to suggest that the word “the” is problematic in that question! But that just means that exploring it would be all the more interesting. :)

With @Thomas John Creedy, it seems to me that focus on issues of the common good, justice, and poverty relief are likely to be central themes in any Vineyard political theology.

Something I’ve often found myself wondering, though, is how much that takes the form of seeking to help “them/the world/society out there” and how much it takes the form of seeking to help “us/everyone/our society.” Oftentimes Christians speak of ourselves in contradistinction to those we seek to help, whether this be in terms of helping (those) poor people, providing prophetic/ethical/whatever guidance to the surrounding society (outside the church), or what have you. Other times we will speak in terms of identification with whatever and whoever we want to see the betterment of, so that the poor aren’t “them” but “us,” or that the society in need of justice is our society, etc. And sometimes we will try to do both at once by talking about solidarity with whomever. Now, both contradistinction and identification can be used well or badly in developing a political theology, so I’m not suggesting that one of these is good and the other is bad. Rather, it seems to me that each will produce its own sort of political theology with its own strengths and weaknesses. My curiosity is to learn what sorts of political theology are used in the Vineyard in which contexts, when, and by whom. Is there a difference between, say, the political theology of an inner-city Vineyard, a Vineyard in a prosperous small town, and a Vineyard in a struggling small town? What about the political theology articulated by an AVC’s national leadership in comparison to the political theologies articulated by local congregations? What about between AVC’s in different nations? How do the commonly shared values work out in these different contexts, what does that mean, and what does that imply for how we all (collectively and severally) ought to move forward in this area in the future?