It is a sad fact that often the church can become bogged down in the political movements of the times. The reason for this is certain, churches are made up of people and people are political animals. One recent trend reported by sociologist Robert Putnam is that when there is a conflict between one's politics and the teaching of their religious community, most people will resolve the tension in favor of their political views. They will leave their congregation and find one where their personal political views can be affirmed.
As one who loves theology and talking about the faith, the fact that for this generation, politics seems to trump theology is distressing. Yet, looking at how people are coming together these days it is not surprising. We are all retreating into our bubbles where we all agree that the problems of world are someone else's fault. There seem to be few of us who want to learn why do other people think differently than us. Everyone seems to want to talk, prove and sell their point; few want to listen, learn, and change. Don't get me wrong there are people doing this but they seem not get much press.
Some will advocate that the church follow a hands off rule and never speak of politics ever and attempt to spiritualize everything. While I certainly understand the impulse, there are two problems with this. The first is a very practical one, by not speaking up one affirms the status quo. Now this certainly alright if the status quo is something you feel God is calling you to help maintain. However, if it comes merely from a wish to avoid any of the hard work of dialog or difficult conversation, one may be actually shut oneself off from where God is calling us all to be.
The second problem is that we are confessing that the Word of God has nothing to say about politics right or wrong. This reasoning ultimately confesses that God is about the world to come and not about the world we live in now. This is not what Scripture teaches us, God's Word speaks to our lives now, it has something to say about our world today. So how do we navigate these polarized times? We do what we always do; look to Jesus.
Historians know that the lists of the names of Jesus's disciples reveal a diverse group of people who likely held opposing political views. Judas Iscariot and Simon the Zealot may have been part of groups seeking the violent overthrow of the Roman occupation. Matthew was a tax collector working to uphold same said Romans. Phillip had a Greek name so may have been from a cultural accommodationist family. Johanna the wife of one Herod Antipas' (a Roman puppet ruler) court functionaries helped provide resources for Jesus's ministry in Galilee. Peter Andrew, James & John were working class fishermen. What brought this diverse group of people together was Jesus and the promise that the kingdom was near.
As we enter into Holy Week and read the accounts of Jesus' last days politics are everywhere in texts. The council wants to get rid of Jesus out of fear of the crowd on one hand, and the Romans on the other. The Roman governor wants to appease the mob at their town hall meeting. The Pharisees and the Sadducees try to make Jesus a pawn in their fight for supremacy over each other. Jesus ends up rising above their pathetic petty power plays to reveal the truth about the love of God.
When Jesus enters into Jerusalem he is at first hailed as a political messiah and then condemned as a political sacrifice to appease the Romans, with an ironic political insult nailed on a sign above his head. But notice how many people Jesus ministers too along the way. He teaches in the temple about the true nature of God, he reminds the disciples on the last supper they will never be alone. He heals the ear of a man sent to arrest him, he makes sure John and his mother Mary have each other to rely on.
Jesus calls us not so much to rise above human politics as to move beyond them with love. The heart of the witness Christ is to help reconcile our relationships with God and each other. This politics can never do, because in the end it will be all about a competition for resourses, power, or fame. In the end we serve Christ in polarized times by holding to proper priorities. We hold to our relationship with God in prayer, we show love to those who differ from us, and we work to protect the vulnerable. This can be done by conservatives, as well as liberals, progressives, and libertarians.
As a pastor I can only advise that if your politics are grounded in prayer, thoughtfulness, respect for others, and love, it doesn't matter so much where you come out. It is the process the counts. It we have healthy ways of discernment, we can hold together a diversity of political views and identities under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The reason for this is if we are connected to Christ we will be humble, because Christ is humble. If we are humble then we are open, and if we are open, we may see the solutions God has for us staring us right in the face.
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