Our Divided Politics: A Biblical Response

An excerpt from Not Like Me from the chapter:

“Compassionate Conservatives
and
Loving  Liberals:
Reaching Across the Ideological Aisle”

Exiles

The New Testament has an odd description for people who follow Jesus.

Peter calls us exiles. He writes:

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:11-17)

In the midst of a time of persecution and even when victimized by an evil empire, Peter encourages those who follow Christ to remember that we are citizens first of another Kingdom even as we should honor those in authority.

Even when the people of Israel saw their homeland destroyed by the Babylonians and many of their best and brightest were taken captive and brought to Babylon, exiled from their home, the people were encouraged to be productive members of society. Jeremiah writes:

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters….But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:4-7)

Jeremiah is saying, “You can be satisfied and content even in exile!” Jeremiah continues:

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:11-12)

Many of us love this passage! We love that God has future plans for us that are hopeful!

At the same time, most of us may not realize this passage was written to people who lived in exile. They had lost their homes. Some had lost family members or friends as a result of the policies and decisions of the Babylonians. Even still, they were called by God to make a positive difference in their home. They were to make the most of where they lived.

The Scriptures are reminding us that ultimately, as people of faith, our allegiance is first and foremost towards the Kingdom of God. We represent Jesus everywhere we go, including online, at work, at home, in a nation with a Christian heritage or in a place where persecution remains the norm.

In the Bible Project video on Revelation 12-22, Dr. Tim Mackie unpacks the message of the book of Revelation when he says:

John’s trying to show the churches that neither Rome nor any other nation or human is the real enemy. There are dark spiritual powers at work, and Jesus’s followers will announce Jesus’s victory by remaining faithful and loving their enemies just like the slain Lamb….

John sees two beasts empowered by the dragon. One of them represents national military power that conquers through violence; the other beast symbolizes the economic propaganda machine that exalts this power as divine. These beasts demand full allegiance from the nations…. The nations become beasts when they exalt their own power and economic security as a false god and then demand total allegiance. Babylon was the Beast in Daniel’s day, but that was followed by Persia followed by Greece and now Rome in John’s day and so it goes for any later nation that acts in the same way.

Nations rise and fall, but the Kingdom of God lasts forever.

Removing the Litmus Test

An Iranian woman was looking for God. Through a friend, she stumbled into a church filled with people who followed Jesus. Given her Muslim background, she wondered how she would be received. However, the warm and loving reception dispelled her fears and concerns. Not only was she drawn toward the people in this remarkably loving community; she began to become intrigued by Jesus. A personal relationship with Jesus seemed to help the men and women she had met overcome challenges and serve others in sacrificial ways. They seemed so different because they knew Jesus.

After a while, things changed dramatically. A few of her new friends within the community discovered that this intelligent and inquisitive woman was a doctor who was performing abortions. The warmth dissipated and coolness moved in. As her new friends began to debate with her about her profession, she soon felt unwelcomed and eventually left the church.

My friend who told me this story didn’t know what had happened to her. So many times, a relationship with God changes how we live and who and what we value. However, I fear that she walked away from Jesus, thinking that if she wanted to know him personally, she had to make certain changes first.

Too often we make a person’s stance on political issues a litmus test for whether a relationship can develop. As a result, if people don’t believe as we do, we push them further and further away, diminishing our ability to influence both other Christians who have different values and those who do not claim to follow Christ.

This is a common theme among even the more outspoken evangelicals. In October 2005, the National Association of Evangelicals supported a stance declaring that global warming is caused by humans and needs to be addressed. Some of these well-known and well-respected pastors, including Rick Warren, author of the runaway bestseller The Purpose Driven Life, were ridiculed and maligned by more conservative Christians for agreeing with “far-left environmentalists.”

Ironically, during the summer heat wave of 2006, Pat Robertson, one of the outspoken critics, changed his mind. An article posted on Reuters.com titled “Heat Makes Pat Robertson a Global Warming ‘Convert’” reports:

Conservative Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson said on Thursday the wave of scorching temperatures across the United States has converted him into a believer in global warming.

“We really need to address the burning of fossil fuels,” Robertson said on his “700 Club” broadcast. “It is getting hotter, and the icecaps are melting and there is a buildup of carbon dioxide in the air.”

After the heat index reached 115 degrees in Robertson’s part of the world, he mentioned on his television program that the heat wave was “the most convincing evidence I’ve seen on global warming in a long time.”

The article continues, “Last year, Robertson said natural disasters affecting the globe, including hurricanes Katrina and Rita that wrecked the U.S. Gulf Coast, might be signs that the biblical apocalypse was nearing.”

Perhaps some are right that we should all switch to hybrid cars and use less electricity to save the ozone layer and help avoid global warming, or others may be right as they suggest that maybe fears about global warming are much like our fears about the Y2K bug. Regardless, we should all consider examining each issue in a way that is independent of any particular political party, and then willingly dialogue with those who often disagree with us. Robertson’s initial response of criticizing other Christian leaders for particular points on which they agree with liberals implies that we should avoid all contact with others unless they agree with us in every way. If we took this approach, the pool of people with whom we could network or partner would dwindle to a small puddle.

When we share the same outcome goals with those who differ from us, partnership remains a powerful option. As long as we do not compromise our own values and beliefs in the process, we should look for opportunities to dialogue and even team up with others across the political spectrum. Jesus was deemed guilty by association as the religious leaders referred to him as “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of…  sinners” (Matthew 11:19); therefore, we should be willing to work with others with whom we disagree in order to accomplish something noble and to develop meaningful relationships as well.

Years ago, one of our volunteer staff members at Mosaic suggested we get involved in “Big Sunday,” a one-day “clean up the city” initiative founded and led by Temple Israel of Hollywood. One of the leaders of the event mentioned that they were surprised we were willing to help since so few evangelical churches had ever shown interest. Over the past few years, Big Sunday has grown to include more than thirty thousand people volunteering at more than two hundred nonprofit sites during this “Annual Day of Service.” How could we miss this kind of an opportunity to make an impact in our communities?  How tragic would it be if the largest service day in the city did not include people who follow Jesus?

When we step into partnerships with those with whom we disagree in order to fight poverty, clean up our cities, fight injustice, and tackle issues we cannot solve on our own, we discover that we have an unlimited number of potential partners to help us make positive and lasting changes in our world.

History teaches us that it is possible to change the world from the ground up. We can learn this lesson from Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. who applied the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’s call “to turn the other cheek” as part of their efforts to change society through civil disobedience.

We can also see this sort of grassroots transformation displayed in the biblical story of Nineveh. The eighth-century BC prophet Jonah arrived in Nineveh and delivered his message:

Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.

When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh . . .(Jonah 3:3-7)

After all of the Ninevites had turned to the Lord, the king felt the need to make a proclamation. (It was almost as though he wanted it to seem like it was his idea!) This radical transformation began with the people and moved upward. The king was the last to know. We need men and women who follow God and hold to strong moral values, finding their places of influence in the political world, but systemic and long-lasting transformation comes from the grassroots and moves upward.

Often, whether we realize it or not, we assume that real issues can only be solved politically. As we study the history books, we hear of the Emancipation Proclamation, the Civil War, and the Thirteenth Amendment, and we assume that Abraham Lincoln and other politicians ended slavery. Ironically, however, the goal of the Civil War was the bringing back of secessionist states while allowing slavery to continue in these states. As the war took its staggering toll, public sentiment in the North and in the border states shifted. Slavery’s end was no longer just a concern for abolitionists. The public accepted the idea before the legislation ever went into effect.

Lincoln understood the dynamics of what was happening and proclaimed, “With public sentiment nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed…. Consequently, he who holds public sentiment goes deeper than he who erects statutes or pronounces decisions.”

During the Civil Rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: “The Civil Rights Act was expected by many to suffer the fate of the Supreme Court decisions on school desegregation… massive defiance. But this pessimism overlooked a factor of supreme importance… this legislation was first written in the streets.”

The Civil Rights Act leveled the playing field for many, but laws do not change the hearts of people. However, changed people can lead to a change in laws….

We need to vote, and we need Christian men and women who work within both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. The political arena represents a tremendous mission field filled with people who have great influence or at least a tremendous potential to influence others.

More than anything, our politics should always be secondary to our practice as followers of Christ.

The apostle Paul wrote beautiful and memorable words about God’s great work of reconciliation:

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands) — -remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. (Ephesians 2:11-20)

Not only did those of us who follow Christ find ourselves on the wrong side of the border, but Christ helped us cross over and reconciled us with those on the other side. Our allegiance belongs first and foremost to God’s kingdom. Our heavenly citizenship should always guide how we live our lives and how we treat others as citizens of our country and of our world.

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