Wednesday, November 03, 2010

FAQ Part 2: Is Jesus a Republican or a Democrat? (or a Tea Partier, or a Libertarian, etc.)

I'm currently preaching through a sermon series called "Frequently Asked Questions".  The premise is that I'll take the most common questions that people have about God, Faith, etc., and respond to them.  I'm not attempting to definitively answer these questions, per se, but I am publicly interacting with them.  I've dusted off my blog and I'm writing a post that interacts with each week's question.  So, without any further introduction, I give you my 2nd question:

Is Jesus a Republican or a Democrat?  (or a Tea Partier, or a Libertarian, etc.)

No.  (Thanks for reading  ;) )

Of course, the title of this post is a silly, non-Biblical question.  Nothing like our political parties existed at the time of Jesus, nor did anything like our political system.  Someone might suggest "How would Jesus vote?" as a better question, but that one would have to be immediately followed by "Would Jesus vote at all?"  I suppose the real question is more along the line of "How would Jesus have us use our vote?", or better yet, "What does political engagement look like for those who follow Jesus?"

Any good discussion of Christianity an politics has to at least briefly look at the effect that a Roman Emperor named Constantine had on Christianity.  In the 4th century AD, Constantine had a dream or a vision in which he reportedly saw the symbol of the cross with the message: "Under this sign, you shall conquer".   He had a cross constructed like the one he saw in his vision and had it carried at the front of his army like a standard.  The battle was won, and Constantine claimed to become a Christian.  He subsequently legalized Christianity, and by the end of the century it was the official religion of the Roman Empire.  In his book, The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church, Greg Boyd sums it up well:
 “For the first time, the church was given the power of the sword.  Rather that viewing this new sword-power as Jesus did--as a temptation of the devil that needed to be resisted--influential Church leaders like Eusibius and Augustine saw it as a blessing from God…Once the church acquired power over others, everything changed…The faith that previously motivated people to trust in the power of the Cross now inspired them to trust in the power of the sword.  Those who had previously understood that their job was to serve the world, now aspired to rule it.  The community that once pointed to their love for enemies and refusal to engage in violence as proof of Christ’s Lordship, now pointed to their ability to violently defeat enemies as proof of Christ’s Lordship.”
 I honestly have a growing concern that the political involvement and party devotion of many Christians is more than flirting with idolatry.  Idolatry is essentially giving devotion, allegiance, etc. that are due only to God to something man-made.  I would extend this to what Peter Rollins calls "ideolatry", where we begin to worship our own concepts and ideologies as if they were God.  Forgive the string of quotes, but I think they explore this point well:

“There is no better way for a political party to establish the legitimacy of its political point of view that to declare that Jesus is one of its members.  The remaking of Jesus is not just some kind of harmless campaign technique.  It is not merely something sophisticated sociological observers can pass off with a wry smile and a wave of the hand.  It is not just bad religion that needs correcting.  The Bible calls it idolatry!”
-Tony Campolo 

"Now, as kingdom people we are called to live in love, which means we are called and empowered to live free of fear.  Because our source of worth, significance and security is found exclusively in God's love and God's reign, not our own immediate well-being and because we believe in the resurrection, we are empowered to love even those who threaten our well-being--for this does not threaten our essential worth, significance, and security.  We are therefore, not to fear them (1 Pet. 3:14-18).  If we do fear them, it is only because some element of our essential worth, significance and security is rooted in what they threaten.  In other words, fear is an indication that we are living in idolatry, not love.
-Greg Boyd
"To confess that I play Tetris religiously isn't to say anything pro or con about religion. But to do it more than once a day, visit the Drudge Report every hour, check my cell phone every three minutes, and listen to Rush Limbaugh more often than I listen to any other human voice and then to claim that these things have absolutely nothing to do with my religion is to be, to some degree, delusional. My religion is my practice. It's what I do."
-David Dark
 In truth, there are multiple Christian perspectives possible for sincere people of faith.  There are intelligent people of faith on both the Left and the Right, who can make Biblical cases for the stances that they take.  There are also Anabaptists and those who take a similar position of non-participation in the electoral process (as voters or candidates), who also have profoundly Biblical reasons for their own political positions.  There are those who see party affiliation as the best way for them to affect positive, "Kingdom of God" changes in the world (Where Justice and Righteousness flow like a mighty river.  Where the poor, oppressed and downtrodden are lifted up.  See the prophets for further descriptions), and there are also those of us with convictions against political party affiliation because we feel they demand an allegiance that we are not willing or at liberty to give.  There is no political party that can truly claim to be "Christian" or "God-ordained".  To buy any propaganda that says otherwise is to reduce Jesus to a rubber stamp, and Christianity to a convenient voting block.  To allow groups with political agendas to manipulate us based on fear is to say that we have placed our faith in something other than God.  To allow political ideology to cause me to see another human being as an enemy or as less human or valuable than people like myself, is to sell out the way of Jesus for the sake of power.  Chuck Colson puts it like this:

"Every human being is made in God’s image. This is the foundation of human value and is shared by all people, making all equal before God. We frequently appeal to the image of God to make a case for protecting the unborn, but we must recognize that Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh are all also made in the image of God. Simply put, Christians cannot demonize our opponents, because to do so is to insult the God in whose image we are made.”
The demonizing of those whom we disagree with politically, whether they are other voters, entire political parties, or famous politicians is not Christian...ever.  To do so is to betray the Way of Jesus and to indicate where our strongest allegiance lies.  Regardless of any label it applies to itself, unthinking partisan political engagement is not Christian...ever.  To engage in such a way is to indicate where we have truly placed our faith.  I'm not saying that the Bible prohibits Christians from affiliating with political parties.  However, I am saying that when they do so, they are to be prophetic voices who offer relevant critique rather than compliant sheep who accept whatever talking points they are fed.  Scripture tells us to "Seek first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you." Political voices from all sides tell us that if we will only seek first these things, then they will give us the kingdom we want.  As followers of Jesus, may we have the courage of our convictions as well as a Christ-like humility that allows us to listen and learn from those unlike ourselves.  May our devotion to the Way of Jesus lead us to engage in a higher level of discourse, and may we resist the temptation to merely baptize partisan mudslinging as if it were somehow holy.

“Instead of participating in this kind of polarizing politics, I think Christians should embrace the politics of Jesus, which is a ministry of reconciliation…It’s not so much that Christians of various stripes on the political spectrum ought to be looking for common ground as that they ought to be looking for higher ground. 
-Tony Campolo


Kenny Payne said...

Adam, Thanks for the article (and the sermon series - how do I listen to the series?) Jesus was a very political figure even though he never held a position of authority in either the Jewish or Roman regimes. His lifestyle and teaching put tremendous pressure on the political powers that surrounded him, therefore, even if he wanted to do so, he could not avoid being political. One thing I really admire about Jesus is that he refused to allow "the powers" to frame his conversations and actions. Rather he spoke and acted with a razor sharp focus of God's desire for his creation and all of its people. Can't wait to read more.

ed cyzewski said...

I love how you wove in the quotes to this post. I was personally very challenged by it. We really do need to look at how we spend our time and its impact on how we discourse with others. Whatever label we use for ourselves or for others, I find that I often fill in blanks for others that should not be filled in based on a label.

For example, its frighteningly simple to assume that conservatives are anti-intellectual and out of touch with reality, while liberals are snobby elitists out of touch with reality. Know what I mean?

Thanks for this gracious and hopeful post.

Mike L. said...

Good stuff, Adam! I like your approach. It is the approach I also reach for first. However, I have my own doubts at times.

To be completely honest about it, I sometimes wonder if it creates a false impression that there was not a set of political ideals, and a very passionate agenda at play in each of the gospels. What makes us think Jesus was non-partisan or that the people who wrote his character (even the 4 most publicized versions of the character) were non-partisan? Each of those presentations of Jesus seem to have several overtly political things to say. Wasn't Paul also making serious political statements with his own interpretation of Jesus? Comparing the different variations of Jesus reveals the underlying partisan agendas of the authors. For example, the different ways each author has Jesus relate to Samaritans, the particular way some versions have him speak about the Sabbath rituals, and the arrangement of events to either prioritize or underemphasis his public political demonstrations. Christianity is based on a diverse set of texts, which contain diverse political agendas on issues ranging from social inclusion, access to capital resources, treatment of debt, health care, labor relations, immigration, gender inequality, inheritance laws, property rights, and taxation.

What could be more "partisan" than the way the followers of different apostles created their own version of Jesus and managed to take shots at other competing groups of Christians with their own "Gospel"? For example, the way John's followers write in a "doubting Thomas" scene to discredit the Thomas Christians, or the way they write Peter's character as someone who denies Jesus and can't beat John in a race toward the empty tomb. Those seem similar to modern day political attack advertisements between various early Christian groups, as they were competing for political power in the early church. I think political competition is a part of our sacred texts and our long Christian tradition. It may be disingenuous for us to try and depoliticize Christianity now. Kingdom of God, Lord of Lords, and son of God are all political terms that represent political ideologies, which critique other ideologies. Following Jesus involves picking up those political ideologies and carrying them forward.

Adam said...

The gospel is undeniably political, just not on the terms of the powers that be. My point is that there is a way of doing political engagement that doesn't devalue other human beings in the process. I believe that the Gospel calls you to a sort of activism, but that activism is engaged with Christlike character. For those following the Way of Jesus, desired ends don't justify unethical means.

Mystic Olive said...

I grew up into Apartheid South Africa where Christians were specifically socialised into believing that politics and Christianity were two separate things that had nothing to do with each other. As I read the Bible and got to know God for myself I did not recognise that God, not at all. The God I got to know in the pages of the Bible is interested in justice - one just has to read the prophets in conjunction with the Law and the New Testament to see that this is very important to him. I don't think he cares what the name of the political party is, he cares whether they feed the hungry, welcome the stranger in, care for widows and orphans. I don't think he cares about ideology (as John Stott said in his fabulous book: Issues facing Christians Today: "The difference between Capitalism and socialism is that in capitalism man exploits man, while in socialism it's the other way round!". Any political party who claims to be speaking on behalf of God, or any one in the Ministry who uses their position to tell others who God wants to vote for scares me.

Lynn Ellis said...

Adam, My first impulse is to say that Jesus isn't even an American. Thanks for posting this! I'm so tired of Jesus's name being linked to self-serving purposes of whatever description (political affiliations, products, services...) The Way of Jesus stands alone.
Love ya - Mom