The Political Church

Maybe like me, you’ve been watching some of the Republican and Democratic conventions. Part spectacle, part showmanship, part pep rally, and part democracy, it’s interesting to see who speaks at these events, and what they say.

But perhaps the most interesting element of the conventions is how they sometimes feel like church. You have a speaker “preaching” core elements of their party’s beliefs. You have enthusiasm, fellowship, music, and disagreement (just like church). And you have passion. You even have prayer – though, I gotta say, I wasn’t comfortable with this one (not least, because the minister seems to forget about Ephesians 6.12), or this one (not least, because prayer becomes just another opportunity for people to cheer or jeer a candidate they like/dislike). But most of all, these prayers concern me, because they seem to forget that the Church has its own form of politics.

It’s true. The Church has a specific form of politics. But it’s not Republican or Democrat, Green or even Independent. It’s something far different.

First off, the word “politics,” at its most basic level, simply refers to how we structure our common lives. Politics is what we do to find a way to live together. And so, every group or city, every organization or country, has a politics.

The Church is no different. What is different, though, is how we live out our politics. For the Church is not first concerned with government structures or policies, but in embodying the truth and life of a person from Nazareth. Believing that Jesus is the embodiment of God, we as the Church seek to embody his life and presence through our common life as the Church.

So, to be a follower of Jesus is to be political. But not in the way Republicans or Democrats have been embracing these past couple of weeks. But to be a Christian is to live out a politics that puts into practice what we say we believe.

So, what do the politics of the Church look like? Let me suggest it looks something like the following:

  1. We surrender our right to claim our own rights. Christians aren’t first concerned about claiming their right to live how they feel, but in picking up a cross and walking in the way of Jesus.
  2. We surrender our right to go at life alone. To walk in the way of Jesus is to bind yourselves to others on the journey. To follow Jesus is to follow him with others – it’s what we call the Church.
  3. Which leads to the next element of the politics of the Church that I believe is so often missed: we don’t leave when things get tough. Church isn’t something you “come to” until you get mad at someone, or you don’t like the music or the minister, or until “it just doesn’t work for me anymore.”
  4. And #3 is true, I believe, because we grow best when we join our lives with people who are just as messed-up, and grumpy, and selfish as we are. In fact, this is exactly why we need to find a church family, and settle in with them. If we bounce around from church to church, we take our mess and selfishness with us. But if we stay put, we are more likely to be shaped and changed by those we share the journey with over the long haul.
  5. By staying put, we learn to love each other, and to share that love with those outside the Church. And a core element of the politics of the Church is that we exist to share the love of Jesus with everyoneEvery one. Long before political parties were talking about equal rights for everyone, the Church was talking about equality for everyone. And when we haven’t been talking about this, we haven’t been the Church.
  6. That equality extends to the equal need we all have for a Savior. All are broken; all need restoration; all are called.
  7. The Church then believes that all who respond to walk in the way of Jesus are then called to use their gifts in service to others. The call of Jesus extends to everyone, as does the gifting of his Spirit to all who respond. All are called; all who respond are gifted; all who are gifted should then work out their giftedness for the sake of the Church and the world.

Imagine what the Church can look like when all 7 elements of our “politics” are on full display. Imagine what kind of gathering we can have on Sundays, and what kind of “scattering” we can embody Monday through Saturday.

So, yes, I believe in politics. And I believe in the Church. And I believe that when we get both of them right, we embody the very Kingdom of God. Not arrogantly, or perfectly, or completely. But when we understand the Church’s politics – that is, our very way of being – we become a living witness for the love of God, the presence of Jesus, and the power of the Holy Spirit.

And that’s a platform I can endorse wholeheartedly.

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How to live in these partisan times

Has anybody noticed that the quality of political conversation has gotten pretty bad? Actually, that’s an understatement. Maybe we should simply recognize that it has gotten really difficult for people who disagree to talk with each other. So most people just don’t. They watch the news channel they like best. They hang around with others who think like them. And so, it’s easy to either: block out a person we disagree with, or simply ignore them.

But is that the way it should be? Shouldn’t we who are Jesus followers be different? Shouldn’t we be able to hear from, and interact with, those who see things completely differently than we do?

Clearly, living in our Christian bubble isn’t the answer. So, what can we do?

Let me make four suggestions:

  1. Listen. It’s amazing the difference truly listening to someone can make. It shows openness, grace, hospitality. Listening might be a doorway to seeing something through another person’s eyes. It does not mean you have to agree with the person. In fact, listening might only confirm your beliefs. But listening shows that the other person is first: a person – not an issue, or an opponent, or even an enemy. And listening is the first step in receiving them, not as an issue, but as a person made in the image of God.
  2. Learn. True listening isn’t just sitting silently until it’s your turn to speak. It is really seeking to understand the other person, who they are, what they’ve experienced, and why they believe and feel what they believe and feel. My guess is that there is hardly a person out there that I can’t learn from – but I have to be willing to actually hear them, and what they say. Again, learning is not the same as agreement. Listening does not lead to uniformity; but it does lead to understanding.
  3. Love. And listening leads to love. In fact, listening is love. The more I open myself to another person, the more opportunity I have to show them the love that Jesus showed everyone. Here’s the thing: it’s very hard to love people while yelling at them, or dismissing them, or ignoring them, or recounting how stupid they are. Love meets people where they are, with grace and truth. It’s what Jesus did, so it’s probably a good approach for us, too.
  4. Lead. Finally, if we are able to do the first 3 “Ls” – we can then get to the fourth. Now, it’s not a formula, nor is it a checklist. We don’t say: Ok, I’ve listened to you for 10 minutes; I’ve learned something new; I’ve expressed the fact that I care about you – Now, let me show you where you’re wrong! Truly leading someone is not like that. Instead, when we do the first three, naturally and sincerely, it then opens the door to providing leadership. When you truly have a listening/learning/loving posture, then the opportunity to guide the person into a new way of looking at things – well, then, that becomes possible.

Anybody think it makes more sense to yell, or ignore, or caricature others – than to love? If so, good luck with that. You might feel better about yourself and your beliefs, but real relationships and real change doesn’t happen when we adopt the ways of the world. So, as followers of Jesus, let’s make sure we are living a different way. One that listens with a learning posture. One that loves, no matter what. And one that allows this to open doors to leading others to a new way of thinking.

In the midst of a toxic political culture, we’ve got find a different way forward. In fact, this approach doesn’t just work in the world. It might work rather nicely in church, too.

Christians and Politics

When is the last time you checked out the news and didn’t hear something about the presidential campaign? It was probably last year some time — maybe it was last summer. Everyday it seems as if there is something new on the campaign trail; and if there isn’t, the TV talking heads are more than happy to rehash some old news.

Of course, I don’t have to tell you it’s only beginning. We haven’t even entered the real election season — when two candidates go head-to-head all the way to November.

So, perhaps now would be a good time for me to share the ways we as Christians sometimes get politics wrong. These may be a bit exaggerated, but the core point behind them holds true, I believe. Here they are; feel free to comment if you agree or disagree:

  1. We sometimes make politics bigger than it should be. Politics isn’t the kingdom of God. Politics has no bearing on the Church being the Church. In other words, the Supreme Court can identify marriage however they want; that doesn’t change how followers of Jesus should understand or live out their marriages.
  2. We sometimes make politics smaller than it should beHuh? Didn’t you just contradict yourself, Jeff? Maybe. But if I did, then that would just make me a good politician, now wouldn’t it? But, really, if we tend to over-emphasize politics, we can also under-emphasize it, too. Political decisions do matter. Laws and court rulings can be just or unjust. Decisions made in Washington and Frankfort (my state capital) do have real-life implications. So, as Christians, we should care about what our government does; we should pray about and advocate for what is just, right, and honorable — while at the same time, remembering that laws will never keep us from living out what is just, right, and honorable.
  3. God is not a Democrat or a Republican. Even though most of us know this, we sometimes act as if He is one or the other — or we act that a faithful Christian can only affiliate with one particular political party. Let’s be honest — faithful people can disagree about government policy. Let’s not ever let that keep us from honest conversations, but the kind that are rooted in the truth that we are brothers and sisters in Christ.
  4. America is not a Christian nation. Frankly, I don’t think it ever has been. And honestly, that’s the point. Our country was founded on religious freedom and tolerance. Now, the Church has had unprecedented freedom in our country, something for which I am grateful. But that freedom comes in the context of a nation that covers the religious spectrum — from the rise of the “Nones” (those who have no religious affiliation of any kind), to the opportunity all people have to live out their faith, including the right to convert. Think what a wonderful gift this is — especially in a world where so many people in so many countries do not have the right to live out their faith, or change their faith, without serious consequences.

I am grateful to be an American. Our country is not perfect; our politics are far from perfect. Like you, there are a number of things I would change if I could. (For example, could someone please explain the presidential nominating process?) Even so, I think we have one of the least-worst forms of government in a broken world that will never get its politics perfect. So, as followers of Jesus, let’s:

  • be grateful for what we have in our country;
  • let’s keep things in perspective;
  • let’s focus on what is just and right;
  • let’s never stop loving, even those we disagree with;
  • and, let’s keep being the Church.

For these are things that, no matter how much does change around us, do not change.