Without doubt, institutional distrust has become the dominant theme in American political culture. Both Right and Left embrace it in their rhetoric. In fact, the only difference between the two predominant political philosophies is the identity of the institutions that are disfavored.
The Left distrusts large business enterprises, but advocates a strong domestic government that helps to advance social agendas. The Right distrusts government, except, it seems, when it is waging war or otherwise protecting large business interests.
Christians generally fall in lock-step with the political perspective that mirrors their theology. Evangelicals and fundamentalists translate their conservative faiths into Right-wing politics. Likewise, mainliners channel their orientations toward social justice into Left-ward politics.
The system has deftly managed to pit us against each other, by forcing us to choose between two philosophies that (rightly) distrust one set of institutions while they allow another set of institutions to (sometimes literally) get away with murder.
If we are to find our way out of this mess, we need to begin by listening to the ancient voices of our brothers and sisters, many of whom were writers of scripture, as they engaged the large institutions of their own day.
Walter Wink, as I have previously pointed out, is a modern day scholar who has done some tremendous work along these lines. Wink argues that we must view such institutions (what the writers of the Bible often called “powers”) as both created-by-God and as fallen. Our task, then, is not to approach them with naïve trust, nor to demand their immediate dismantling, but to always be seeking a path for their redemption.
If this is correct, then free-market capitalism, which blindly trusts corporate interests, and socialism, which blindly trusts government interests, each pose the same dangers to society.
There is no simple, bumper sticker political philosophy to be found in the ancient perspective. It requires us first to do some serious re-thinking of our religious and political beliefs, and second to give up our ideological idols. Only then can the hard work of institutional redemption begin.