The election is days away. With each day, my heart grows heavier. Most of my readers and friends have some clue about the ideas I have concerning the Church and the political process. Namely, I feel the Church should pull out of the process, and be something distinct from government entirely. I really need to dedicate a blog to that subject alone, but this can’t be that post. In fact, in this post, I won’t ask anyone to forego voting this cycle. Ultimately, people need to follow their conscience concerning the roles of Church and state, and I can’t impede on that. So, if you feel like voting Clinton, or Trump, or some other third party, please do so with your conscience under the discipleship of Jesus.
Now, to be on with the real subject, political resistance.
Whether or not a person feels they should vote, the problem every Christian needs to acknowledge is the current relationship between the Church and politics is sick, at best. This is not specific to one party. The GOP and Evangelicals have a history together, and this is what most people think of when they talk about an unhealthy relationship between Church and state. But I’m thinking of both (all) parties, especially since more and more young adult Christians are finding their beliefs and convictions line up closely with the Democratic Party. If things continue this way, in a very near future, the way people feel about Evangelicals and the GOP will be the way they feel about Millennial Christians and the Democratic Party.
This shift from Conservatism to “Liberalism” has been fueled by two, probably legitimate, desires in young Christian Americans. The first is a longing for an authentic Christianity that more closely resembles that taught by Jesus in the Gospels, and the example of the early Church. The second is a desire to no longer be bound by lifeless religiosity, conventions that know how to only say “No!” without real connection with the Spirit of Jesus.(This negative Christianity, that can only say “No!” instead of “Yes!” has been the cause of so much Church fall out and the Christian inability to function as normal human beings who can talk about and enjoy things like alcohol and sex, among other things.) An offshoot of the second reason is the desire to be culturally relevant to an America that was not only hostile to the typical expression of Christianity, but unmoved by it.
Each flavor has its particular danger. The Conservative side is in danger of holding legalistic standards over others and over unbelievers (all the while letting themselves getting away with the same sins, and crushed by shame) apart from the experience of communion with Jesus. The Liberal side is in danger of allowing serious compromise into their lives, choosing sinful lifestyles in the name of being culturally relevant and not being religious. This, too, happens apart from communion with Jesus.
Communion is the hinge one which this all swings. The reason, a reason, the Church is at war with itself, at least in the political arena, is because we are choosing sides and participating in this system apart from communion. If we are not first and foremost disciples of Jesus Christ, it will be impossible for us to participate in this country as Christians. Republicans and Democrats, yes, but not as Christians, not as witnesses, and therefore, always at the mercy of the current of culture, unable to change the direction it heads. Significantly, both sides want to help change the direction of culture, influencing it in a Gospel way. I ask the question, if there is no actual communion with Jesus, how can we influence the culture with the love of God?
I believe it is time to resist the system at every angle, time for the Church to no longer let its voice be manipulated by the vicious and disgusting politics that happen in this country. If we are honest with ourselves, neither party, no party, speaks with the authority of Jesus Christ because no party is concerned with Jesus and the Gospel. Again, this isn’t a direct call to quit voting or work in the political system, but it is imperative that we change the way we approach the political system specifically, and culture generally. This is where the Sermon on the Mount comes in.
This message which Jesus gave to his disciples in the Gospel of Matthew, is the guiding principle for the Christian. The beauty of it is, since Jesus moves the commandments from outward actions to internal ways of being, we are given no choice but to wait for the word of God, the voice of the Spirit, in every moment of crucial decision. There are no correct answers, no laws for us to follow, only a voice to hear and obey. That is why the Sermon is resistance against the system, against the culture, and why it will be the way to engage with and transform both. Anyone who knows me, or is familiar with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, will know immediately that his teachings are highly influential in my train of thought, right above the Desert Fathers of the third and fourth centuries. Let’s allow him to say something about the Sermon:
“I think I am right in saying that I would only achieve true inner clarity and honesty by really starting to take the Sermon on the Mount seriously. Here alone lies the force that can blow all this hocus-pocus sky-high–like fireworks, leaving only a few burnt-out shells behind. The restoration of the church must surely depend on a new kind of monasticism, which has nothing in common with the old but a life of uncompromising discipleship, following Christ according to the Sermon on the Mount. I believe the time has come to gather people together and do this.”
Bonhoeffer thought the Sermon was “the deciding word on this whole affair.” Are you concerned about social justice? Are you offended by the beggar on the street corner? The Sermon speaks, “Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. (5:42)” Are you poor? Are you rich? Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, (5:3)” and, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (6:19, 21)” Are you concerned about the moral direction of our country? Do you try to stay away from legalism? Jesus warns, “You shall not commit adultery, but I say to you that everyone who looks with lustful intent has already committed adultery in their heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out… (5:27-29)” We could all use Jesus’ warnings about anger, “Everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment… (5:22)” Next time you want to have an outburst of anger toward a Trump supporter, or a Clinton supporter, or any of their followers, remember that one. How can we forget the (in)famous, “Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also, (5:39)” and, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven. (5:44, 45)”?
My point is, it’s not just Conservatives or just Liberals who need to start taking the Sermon on the Mount seriously. It’s every Christian. It’s you and I. The Sermon speaks to every disciple, and if anyone would be a disciple of Jesus Christ, they must take the Sermon seriously, or risk discovering they never were a disciple to begin with (see 7:21-23).
This is the way of resistance. In the end, a person can vote for whomever they want, but what truly matters is whether or not they are being Salt and Light. For “if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?“
In the end, Christians of both political persuasions must give up hope in the political system, at least as a means of establishing a good society, whatever that means to each person. Even more importantly,
we have to stop fighting one another over political parties.
We are one Church, and we are called to be witnesses of Jesus Christ in our country by how we act, not by what we say is right, not by legislation, not by what we say isn’t wrong, not by political persuasion, and certainly not by accusing our brothers and sisters to those outside the Church. “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.“
We must be the Church before anything else. We must be disciples of Jesus before we are Democrats or Republicans or Moderates. Our allegiances and guiding principles must belong to Scripture and the voice of God above all else. It is the Church’s job to stand over against the government, whatever form it takes, and declare the word of God, and shelter all who flee to her for refuge from the governments. It is our duty to be a preserving agent (salt) in the world, while the state is called to “bear the sword.” (See Romans 12)
There is so much to say. I have so much to say and have thought, wrestled, and prayed about this particular subject for a few years now. The Sermon on the Mount is where I am landing. I have had some radical(?) ideas in the last couple years about proper Christian response, not simply to this election, but to the political system in general, and I feel this Sermon is the sun around which all other ideas have to orbit. So if this is a call, and I hope you read it that way, it is not to vote for anyone person in particular, or to not vote (which is what I am choosing), but to commit to taking the Sermon on the Mount seriously, to commit to becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ, encouraging our brothers and sisters in the Church in the areas we find easy, and allowing ourselves to be challenged and changed by Jesus’ words in the Sermon, and by those who find those parts easier. We are in this together, whether we like it or not.
Last election cycle, I said that the next would leave Christians in a particularly difficult situation. The details of it worked out a little differently than I thought, but the overall effect is the same. Christians have as options people who care nothing for the Gospel or human dignity. Whichever way a Christian might vote, they are doing so by necessarily making significant compromises to the Gospel and to Jesus. Maybe it’s always been this way, but it seems out in the light this time around. At this point, we can only be blind to that fact by conscious decision. I believed then, and I believe now, that this is God’s way of breaking the unhealthy relationship the Church has with the State, forcing us to realize we have to go about engaging with culture in a different way, and giving us little option but to either continue in compromise until our voice is completely obliterated, or become the Church.