Thoughts on Kingdom, Church, and Grace from an American living in Hong Kong

Friday, September 7, 2012

How not to get Sucked into Election Season Madness

Wow, my Facebook news feed has really changed lately.  I knew the 2012 political season was in full swing  when the normal posts featuring my "friend's" travel adventures, babies being born, and what they had for breakfast were usurped by updates showing why the apocalypse will reign down on America if there is a Democratic or Republican victory in November.

What's most disturbing from my vantage point is that the most bombastic and "cringe worthy" posts come from Christians who, ironically, are supposed to be identified by the love they have for people. I'm left wondering at what point during the election season is the Sermon on the Mount  no longer applicable to Christ's disciples?

Back in 2003 when I was a graduate student at the University of Colorado our department invited former Democratic Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder and former Republican Senator Alan Simpson in for a panel discussion.  One of the questions asked was how things in Congress had changed from when they served.  Their immediate response was the adversarial nature between the parties was much more bitter and personal than it had been in their day.  They noted how President Reagan (R) and House Speaker Tip O'Neill (D) fought passionately over policy but at the end of the day "they were two Irishmen who enjoyed beer."

What happened?  Why have Christians, who are supposed to be putting out fires of strife and discord, are instead fanning the flames?

I recently listened to an excellent teaching by Brian Zahnd called Election Season and your Soul.  He gives his church congregation a 10 point "voter guide" on how NOT to get sucked into the "madness" of the political season.

The original post can be found here:  Let me say I agree with the below points 150%...and you should too.

1. The political process, while necessary, has little to do with how God is saving the world.
For more on this point go here: The Church as an Alternative Society

2. The fate of the kingdom of God does not depend upon political contests.
Don’t be swept away by apocalyptic political rhetoric. It is what it is. Another election cycle. Jesus is Lord no matter who wins the Big American Idol contest and gets their turn at playing Caesar.

3. Don’t be naïve, political parties are more interested in Christian votes than they are in Christian values.
Do you doubt this? Thought Experiment: Imagine if Jesus went to Washington D.C. Imagine that he is invited to give a speech to a joint session of Congress. (He’s Jesus after all, and I’m sure the senators and congressmen would be delighted to hear a speech from the founder of the world’s largest religion—it would confer great dignity upon the institution.) Imagine that the speech Jesus gave was his most famous sermon—the Sermon on the Mount. Can you imagine that? Jesus is introduced. (Standing ovation.) He stands before Congress and begins to deliver his speech. “Blessed are the poor…the mourners…the meek.” “Love your enemies.” “Turn the other cheek.” After some perfunctory applause early on, I’m pretty sure there would be a lot of squirming senators and congressmen. The room would sink into a tense silence. And when Jesus concluded his speech with a prophecy of the inevitable fall of the house that would not act upon his words (Matthew 7:26–27), what would Congress do? Nothing. They could not act. To act on Jesus’ words would undo their system. In the end, the U.S. Congress would no more adopt the policies Jesus set out in the Sermon on the Mount than they were adopted by the Jewish Sanhedrin or the Roman Senate. The Jesus Way and the Politics of Power don’t mix.

4. The bottom line for political parties is power. The bottom line for a Christian is love. And therein lies the rub.
The problem with our “change the world” rhetoric is that it is too often a thinly veiled grasp for power and a quest for dominance—things which are antithetical to the way Jesus calls his disciples to live. A politicized faith feeds on a narrative of perceived injury and lost entitlement leading us to blame, vilify and seek to in some way retaliate against those we imagine responsible for the loss in late modernity of a mythical past. It’s what Friedrich Nietzsche as a critic of Christianity identified as ressentiment and it drives much of the Christian quest for political power.

5. While in pursuit of the Ring of Power, you are not permitted to abandon the Sermon on the Mount.

When the world is arranged as an axis of power enforced by violence, the pursuit of power trumps everything. But in the new world created at the cross (an axis of love expressed by forgiveness), love trumps everything. The Sermon on the Mount is our guide to this new kind of love. Among other things, this means you cannot deliberately portray your political opponents in the worst possible light. (Attack ads? Remember the Golden Rule?) Jesus also taught us that if you call someone you disagree with a “fool” you are liable to the “Gehenna of fire.” I might put it this way: When your political rage causes you to hurl epithets like “fool” and “idiot”—you are kindling the fires of hell in your own soul!

6. If your political passion makes it hard for you to love your neighbor as yourself, you need to turn it down a notch.

7. Your task is to bring the salt of Christian civility to an ugly and acrimonious political process.

If you cannot contribute to the redemption of the political process, but are instead being contaminated by it, then you are salt that has lost its savor…and what’s the point?

8. To dismember the body of Christ over politics is a grievous sin.
This business of denying that someone is true brother or sister in Christ based upon their politics is horrible and must be repented of! It is no small sin. When the Corinthian church carried their class divisions to the communion table, the Apostle Paul said, “Anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.” Don’t do it!

9. Exercise your liberty to vote your conscience and conviction, while accepting that other Christians will do the same and vote differently than you.
There are committed Christians who conscientiously vote Republican. And there are committed Christians who conscientiously vote Democratic. This is true. You simply have to accept it.

10. It’s more important that your soul be filled with love than it is for your political team to win the game.
If your team loses, the sun will come up and life will go on. But if you damage your soul by succumbing to politically motivated vitriol that causes love to whither, you would have been better off to have never got yourself politically entangled in the first place.
I leave you with this…
Love is patient and kind.
Love does not envy or boast.
Love is not arrogant or rude.
Love does not insist on its own way.
Love is not irritable or resentful.
Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing,
Love rejoices with the truth.
Love bears and believes all things.
Love hopes and endures all things.
Love never fails.
This is what the Apostle Paul calls the “more excellent way.”
It is the way of Christ.
It is the holy way of love.
It is the way we are called to.
It is the way of human flourishing.
And if you have to choose between love and politics—choose love.


Bob said...

Thanks so much Steve. Amen and Amen.
I watched very little of either convention. As I told my wife, the RNC makes me uncomfortable (e.g. Clint Eastwood) and the DNC makes me made.

Steve H. said...

Thanks Bob! This is something that is becoming a real concern for me. People are supposed to look at the church and be drawn to its beauty, we are supposed to be the representation of Christ.

Andrew said...

"People are supposed to look at the church and be drawn to its beauty, we are supposed to be the representation of Christ."

Yep... which is why I think that a rejection of popular Christianity is a very "Christ-like" response.

This article is very well stated and has something to say even to folks not of the Christian religion.

Anonymous said...

These are true, but this post is also ignoring some realitites that need to be said. God creates a public identity and a private identity. This post only addresses the private. The public identity must also be addressed and this post doesn't even touch that subject.

Steve H. said...

I have to disagree Anonymous. I don't know where you get the notion of a separate public and private identity but I can say God calls us to have a "Christ" identity which we should never jettison even when engaging in the political process.

Andrew said...

I think Anon's take there is become more common in the Christian world. Much of the Faithful want Jesus for the hereafter, but Ayan Ran for the here and now. I asked one Christian conservative how he squared some of his economic and social thoughts with the teachings of Jesus. He told me he saw no reason to bring religion into a political discussion.

The cauldron of politics and relgion is causing Christianity to evolve into a new species. Yea, what hath the West wrought....

Steve H. said...

I agree Andy. For me, there is one Lord and neither Ayn Rand nor "We the People" are it