Many of us who identify ourselves as Christians are allowing ourselves—and Christ’s Church—to be hijacked for partisan, political purposes. At best, many of us have remained silent about the blatant racism and fear mongering that have helped to fuel campaigns and pollute the airwaves and political process. At worst, some of us have become complicit, hitching our wagons to the stars of politicians and platforms that little reflect the love and inclusive community of Christ.
Jesus calls us to be engaged in the political process to serve the world without becoming entangled in the partisan divide. It’s hard to actively participate in God’s redemptive work when we allow ourselves to be enmeshed in worldly ideologies and values.
As Christians, we must be able to distinguish the radical nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ from American civil religion and the tribalism of partisan politics. Politics matter, and Christians need to be involved. God holds nations accountable for the assurance of justice for the alien, orphan and widow regardless of ethnicity or creed. Why was God’s judgment spoken against Israel through the prophet Amos? “They crush the head of the poor into the dust of the earth, and push the afflicted out of the way” (Amos 2:7). We must learn to participate in the political process while refusing to participate in demeaning, divisive partisanship. We must not allow Christianity to be co-opted by those who would use it to gain political power for themselves.
It has happened before. When we submit the gospel to worldly political ideologies, the gospel becomes a corrupted tool to support the demonic influences of slavery, holocausts, expressions of nationalistic superiority, gender and racial discrimination of all varieties and war. Constantine used the symbol of Christ’s cross as the expression and excuse for war and world dominance. Hitler, a professed Catholic, used the Bible as a means to manipulate the minds of the German people for an evil consequence.
Jesus provided the ultimate example of what it means to stand in healthy tension with political constructs. He refused to accommodate the gospel to the political demands of Caesar, the right-wing militant response of the Zealots, the liberal agenda of the Sadducees, the status quo politic of the Herodians or the graceless theology of the Pharisees.
As the Church, we can also demonstrate unity in political diversity, In fact, Jesus’ selection of the original twelve apostles would have appeared to be an unlikely group for the cohesive start of a Kingdom movement.
- Matthew was a tax collector in the employment of the oppressive Roman political system when Jesus called him to follow. Tax collectors were very much in league with Rome.
- Simon the Zealot represented the opposite extreme of the political spectrum. The Zealots saw the Romans as pagans who occupied the Promised Land. They brought with them false gods and unacceptable ways of thinking and living. The Zealots favored armed rebellion against Rome and were not hesitant to resort to terrorist tactics when deemed necessary. It seems strange that Jesus would choose Simon, considering the fact that Jesus taught nonviolence. There were probably no two groups of Jews in Palestine that hated each other more than the tax collectors and the Zealots.
- Peter, also named Simon, was one of the most impulsive in the group and subject to fits of rage. Let’s just say he wasn’t reluctant to swing a sword on occasion (Luke 22:49-50).
- Judas the betrayer. Why did he do it? When we try to guess someone’s motive, we are on shaky ground. But I would dare to go out on a limb and say it wasn’t about the blood money that he received for his act of treachery. Many people were looking for a political messiah that would overthrow the controlling Roman administration and usher in a new political order of Israelite prosperity (restoration of the Davidic Kingdom). Judas couldn’t accept what appeared to be Jesus’ subservience and apparent defeat at the hands of oppressive Roman dominance. Judas made the same mistake that any in the church do today. Judas allowed his political ideology to become the determiner of his biblical theology.
How many pastors have bemoaned a church administrative counsel with a similar makeup of volatile and unreliable people? It was truly a unifying work of the Holy Spirit that brought to fruition the missional work of unity in the midst of such diverse political persuasions.
We must make biblical faith and our unity in Christ the determining guides for our political ideology rather than using partisan political ideology as the determining factor for our theology. Ultimately, left or right, red or blue ideologies are human systems that operate quite comfortably without any sense of accountability or dependence upon God.
The Church must stand in prophetic tension with all earthly political systems. We must stop making the word of God subservient to politics or any other of our self-serving institutions. Until we do, is it any wonder that so much of our contemporary Christian witness is falling on deaf ears? We will have impact when we show the world what it means to value people over partisanship and to find unity within political diversity.
Adapted excerpt from Hijacked: Responding to the Partisan Church Divide (Abingdon Press)
Mike Slaughter is the almost four-decade chief dreamer and lead pastor of Ginghamsburg Church and the spiritual entrepreneur of ministry marketplace innovations. Mike’s call to “afflict the comfortable” challenges Christians to wrestle with God and their God-destinies. His newest books are The Passionate Church: Ignite Your Church and Change the World (Abingdon Press; 2016) and The Christian Wallet: Spending, Giving, and Living with a Conscience (Westminster John Knox Press; 2016). For more on this blog’s topic, see Hijacked: Responding to the Partisan Church Divide (Abingdon Press; 2012). He will release a new Bible study for Advent titled Down to Earth: The Hope & Fears of All the Years Are Met in Thee Tonight in September, currently available for pre-order on Cokesbury.com.