The current political-social climate that has transferred into our spiritual community has given Brad and I a significant amount of distress – a rather uneasy and alarming sensation. We have been experiencing an intense need to sit back, mourn, take a deep spiritual breath, and contemplate in prayer about our role in this world and our responsibility as Jesus’ followers. What role are we to have in the world’s healing?
In particular, we have been occupied with the following questions: Are we to be public, even political defenders of social justice in this world or are we predominantly to represent a safe community for the social outcasts? Or both? Are we to speak out and rally publically against abortion, seeking political influence, or are we to be pro-life by taking up financial hardship and time to support the pregnant mother and her child until the child is fully grown. Or both? Are we to demonstrate publically and be politically active for refugees’ rights, or are we to provide a safe haven for them within our spiritual communities. Or both? Are we to demonstrate and seek political influence in the fight against war or poverty or racism or the environment, or are we to represent a safe, nourishing, accepting, and caring community to those who have been injured by our world. Or both?
And what about the “silent” Christians? Should we denounce them? Are they sinning by not re-tweeting, shouting, marching, and demonstrating? Am I guilty in the sins of my country by not shouting publically against its sins and by not engaging in politics?
Or is it possible that our social justice fervor is choking the love out of our community?
Can you feel the high level of anxiety, fear, and anger our political world has transferred into our spiritual community? It seems that the extreme social injustices of our world have tilted the scale for us to more easily employ guilt, anxiety, and indignation against those we deem wrong. But the fundamental belief of this community has always been that anxiety, fear, and coercive language are never part of God’s methods; they are likely deleterious to God’s purpose if they become part of our daily repertoire in our battle for justice.
“An athlete who runs in a race cannot win the prize unless he obeys the rules” (2 Tim. 2:5). In our outrage and anger, are we applying God’s rules? Sermon-on-the-Mount Rules. Beatitude Rules. Are we still trying to win our enemies by our kindness and gentleness, or are we trying to defeat them with our arguments?
“You must be kind toward all, a good and patient teacher, who is gently as you correct your opponents, for it may be that God will give them the opportunity to repent and come to know the truth” (2 Tim. 2:24,25).
These are honest questions that are difficult to answer – perhaps impossible with our dualistic Western minds that categorize everything and everyone. To still recognize the image of God in our enemies is only possible when the Spirit dwells within us. Only prayer can bring this Spirit into our community – daily fervent contemplative prayer and a sitting with Jesus.
Social justice is something that we should pray for and work towards, but there is “center truth” that is even more central than social justice. Hans Urs von Balthasar encourages us not to forget that the Cross is the center because “Being disguised under the disfigurement of an ugly crucifixion and death, the Christ upon the cross is paradoxically the clearest revelation of who God is…Whoever removes the Cross…from the center, in order to replace it, for example, with the social commitment of Jesus to the oppressed as a new center, no longer stands in continuity with the apostolic faith”.
In other words, we are incapable of dealing with injustice in our world unless we are living and breathing the message of the Cross and what the Cross tells us about God.
So, if we find ourselves day after day engaged in anxious and angry political discussions on social media about the direction of our country and what needs to change, we need to remind ourselves that as Christians we are followers of the Lamb – not followers of Donkeys or Elephants. Our allegiance is not to any political party but to represent the politics of the Lamb in the world.
Greg Boyd passionately writes about the need for Christ-followers to divorce politics and nationalism from God’s Kingdom. Below is a long quote from Greg:
“The reason I put no value…in politics is because, as I read the New Testament, followers of Jesus are to see themselves as missionaries from God’s country (Phil 3:20), stationed in a foreign land (I Pet 1:17, 2:11), serving a different king and kingdom, with strict orders not to get involved in “civilian affairs” (I Tim.2:4). All our trust is to be in our king and his kingdom, which alone holds the solution to the world’s problems. Also, I find no precedent in the life of Jesus or anywhere in the NT for trying to advise Caesar’s regime and how he can do things better.
“Given the centrality of following Jesus’ example, it is vitally important we not only notice that Jesus was a revolutionary along with some ways that we can join his revolution, but how he was a revolutionary. Many Christians today assume that in order to revolt against ungodly aspects of the culture one must become a political activist. In their sincere passion, they try to get people to vote a certain way, carry picket signs or involve themselves in the political process in some other way.
“As people who live in a democracy, Christians are certainly free to express their opinions however they see fit. But if one chooses to participate in the political process, it’s vitally important they understand that there is nothing distinctly Christian about this participation. Their opinions may be completely correct and noble, but they are not for this reason “Christian.” Being “Christian” means Christ-like, and the fact of the matter is that, though he was a social revolutionary, Jesus never showed the slightest interest politics. Nor did any of his earliest disciples. The only instructions Christians are given vis-à-vis government in the New Testament is to respect and submit to authorities as much as possible, to pay our taxes and to pray for leaders so there will be peace (Mk 12:13-17; Rom 13:1-7; I Pet 2:13-17). And even these instructions are not given out of any concern for how government should run but to simply facilitate the spreading of the Gospel.
“Jesus’ complete lack of interest becomes even more significant when we remember that he lived in politically volatile times. Not surprisingly, as people began to suspect that Jesus might be the Messiah, they constantly tried to get his opinions on political matters. But Jesus consistently refused. The reason is that the kingdom of God that Jesus came to establish has nothing to do with having the “right” opinions about how the kingdoms of the world should run.
“Jesus did not come to answer our political questions or give us a “new and improved” version of the kingdoms of the world. He rather came to raise a radically different set of questions and establish a radically different kind of Kingdom. He came to plant the mustard seed of a new, alternative world order under the reign of God that would eventually render all the political kingdoms of the world obsolete.
“This is not to say that a kingdom person can’t have political opinions and vote, if they feel so led, or involve themselves in social justice movements. But kingdom people must remember our unique call has nothing to do with government, and everything do to with a unique way of living. The hope of the world resides not in achieving any particular form of government. It rather resides in the willingness of Jesus followers to simply be the kingdom God called us to be.
“Most importantly, we must always follow Jesus’ example of keeping the kingdom holy—set apart, unique—by not letting it get looped up into the innumerable, ambiguous political issues that plague the kingdom of the world. For [God’s] kingdom is not the best and wisest version of the kingdom of the world. It’s rather a kingdom that is “not of this world.” It never resembles Caesar, using power over others. It rather resembles Jesus, sacrificially serving others.”
To sum it up, it seems to us that God’s Kingdom is too precious to be associated with political activism. As the saying goes (roughly), “mixing God’s Kingdom and politics is like mixing ice cream and manure; it doesn’t do much for the manure but it sure ruins the ice cream.”
Does that mean that we should sit in our comfortable homes and do nothing as injustice is done in the world? Of course not. Is this a cop-out so that we can be quietly “safe” under the rule of Caesar? No.
Here is what we believe: In today’s world, we are called to suffer with the suffering. Christ-followers today should have the reputation as the people who have compassion on the outsiders and as the people who take risks to their own comfort and safety when they identify with the outsiders (just as Jesus did). We see this happening more in terms of risk taking behaviors (motivated by love) that we engage in through our sphere of influence.
Are we succeeding in this task? We are overcome with grief at our own comfort as compared with so many in the world. We know that something needs to change in us and we are praying that all of those who love and admire God’s Kingdom each find the Christ-like way of responding to the injustice in our world.