Your Politics and the Gospel

The resurrection of Jesus renews life itself with glorious purpose. It compels us to embody Christ’s love in tangible ways: pursuing justice, defending the vulnerable, giving selflessly, reflecting the beauty of God in works of art and deeds of moral excellence, and living peacefully. It is an Easter morning life that renovates our still sinful hearts and extends to the unredeemed world.

At the crux of these tangible acts of love is the verbal announcement of the good news that enables and produces them. Concluding Sunday’s sermon, I suggested that this is the animating impulse of our lives—to proclaim the gospel of the crucified and risen Lord and Savior.

But as I prayed for the congregation over the weekend, asking God to provide rich discussion around dinner tables with relatives on Jesus’ victory over the grave, I had a sinking fear that many conversations would never get there. Instead of building relational bridges on which to gather and listen, comfort, and encourage one another, many of us would be hunkering down into foxholes. Why? In a word: politics. 

The Great Evangelistic Detour

Don’t get me wrong, not for a moment am I suggesting we should drive a wedge between Christians and political life. Christianity is never a private affair to be lived out in isolation. Yes, we are pilgrims and aliens in this world, citizens of the Kingdom of God; but we are also the “salt of the earth” and “light to the world,” agents of peace called to enrich and illumine. And, of course, there are also those individuals called to vocational service in the political arena, a calling that requires Solomonic wisdom and intercessory prayer from the rest of us.

Christians who disparage political involvement often do so by arguing that politics will neither overcome the core problem of human sin nor bring the consummation of God’s kingdom. “There will be no peace until the Prince of Peace returns,” they sometimes say. True indeed, but our commitment to serve the nations with the love of Christ requires involvement, and this involvement has political dimensions.

But even though political opinions are natural to the extent that one is engaged in his community and the nation, some people don’t know where to stop. Like Constantine at Milvian Bridge, preparing to confront Maxentius in battle, there are those who watch CNN or Fox News and are captured by a vision which says, “By this conquer.” When this happens, political allegiances become supreme, ruling one’s life, and eclipse the crucial needs of the person sitting on the other side of the table.

When our political stances transfix our attention to the degree that they prevent us from seeing the bigger purposes of God in a situation, we have gone off the rails. We must then ask whether we encounter non-Christians as lost sheep in need of a Good Shepherd, or as political enemies to be defeated in an argument. In Alan Jacob’s terms, do we regard that person as the “culturally repulsive other,” or as a person created in God’s image who needs the redemptive love of Christ?

Another way to say it is that politics can become a fetish or obsession. In C. S. Lewis words:

A sick society must think about politics, as a sick man must think about his digestion: To ignore the subject may be fatal cowardice for the one as for the other. But if either comes to regard it as the natural food of the mind—if either forgets that we think of such things only in order to be able to think of something else—then what was undertaken for the sake of health has become itself a new and deadly disease.

Christ, Our Banner

I find Lewis’s metaphor interesting. Like digestion, the political process exists to promote human flourishing; but just as the hypochondriac focuses on his maladies to the extent that he’s immobilized by obsessive introspection, so the person enamored with political matters is left with a myopia that clouds the big picture. He fails to recognize that politics are a means toward an end, but not an end. He becomes angular, shortsighted, and careless about what matters most—embodying and proclaiming the good news of Christ.

A person focused on serving the risen Christ will inevitably care about public life, attentiveness that issues forth in compassion, advocacy, tangible forms of service, and participation in the political process. But a Christ-centered people will surely resist the contemporary reflex to charge headlong into the political fray or rally under any banner but the Lamb of God’s. There is one supreme banner beneath which we are to stand as men and women in Christ. As the prophet Isaiah says, looking forward to the coming of Messiah: “In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious” (11:10).

We have the privilege of showing and telling the world this good news. May we do so with the courage, faith, and warm-hearted affection that comes from the risen Christ.

2 Comments

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  • I would normally agree with everything you say, Chris, but I have one reservation at this point of our national story. The Christian Right has hijacked the evangelical church in a very hurtful way to the pure knowledge of the gospel. I think that those who are Christians have a duty to show that Jesus followers should not be saying, doing or voting like many are right now( including our president, vice-president cabinet, and many congressmen). It is definitely important to do this by backing it up with scripture, love and prayer. Many are confused ( and possible repelled) by what many Christians leaders are saying about the church and the gospel in the present political context.

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