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A Third Way

Well…just a few days to go. Election 2008 will be over. The longest and most expensive campaign season in U.S. history will come to an end. (At least we hope it will. We hope we don’t have a repeat of 2000 when the Supreme Court had to figure out who had been elected.)

Most people will lay it down. Oh sure, there will be a few more heated discussions among friends, but not many. But most ordinary people will leave the analysis and second guessing to the professional pundits. We’ll just go back to life as we knew it before.

Some Christians will approach things a little differently. In their intellectual/emotional/spiritual debriefing of the election they will try to fit their theology into the results. Some will look to Paul’s letter to the Romans where he said, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established” (Romans 13:1). By that they’ll conclude that the right people were elected to the right positions. Others will determine that our nation disobeyed God and that we will pay for our sins. It probably depends on how they voted.

But beyond that, most Christians will respond the way the rest of the nation does—by laying it down. “Go back to your lives, citizens! There’s nothing here to see.” They may even conclude that God doesn’t care about politics. After all, it’s a dirty business, isn’t it?

Does God care about politics? Did Jesus ever say anything that could be interpreted politically? Let me say emphatically, yes and yes! But in order to understand our responsibility as political Christians we’re going to have to expand our definition of politics. The term is derived from the Greek word, polis—city. Polity and politics concern the good of the city, state, nation and world. Jesus cares deeply about politics because “God so loved the world” (John 3:16).

But Americans have come to think about politics simply in terms of a two-party system—a system centered as much on gaining power and keeping power as it is on using power to do good. When power is the motivating factor everything crumbles. Many Christians have been sucked into this two-party power play and have convinced themselves that this is the hope of America. I’ve actually heard people say that if we elect the right president or if we get the right Supreme Court justices we can turn this country around for God.

This secular mindset disguised as Christianity wreaks all kinds of havoc. When Christians and Christian organizations elevate political power as the answer to our problems, they begin to compromise their ethics in promoting people to power. Everyone decries the sleaze of this campaign. But, truth be told, the sleaziest stuff I’ve heard has come from Christians. Get on the internet, go to YouTube and you’ll see Christians using half-truths, innuendo, things taken out of context, shabby use of scripture, and outright lies to bring our country “back to God.” Yes, power (and the will to power) corrupts.

Martin Luther King used to say that the church should not be the power of the state; it should be the conscience of the state. I agree. But we can’t be the conscience of the state if we have no conscience when it comes to the pursuit of political power.

Yes, Jesus cares about politics. And he cares about how we do politics. We’re supposed to be imitators of Jesus (that’s what it means to be a disciple), so maybe we should consider how he did politics.

First of all, he never sought power. His life was a life of laying aside his power in order to serve. This is epitomized in the fact that he wouldn’t kill (no matter how noble the cause), but he would willingly die for us. The cross is the symbol of Christianity, but have we lost the meaning of it? It means that there was one who “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing” (Philippians 2:6-7). And the cross not only defines our faith, it gives us a job description. As Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). No two-party power play there. 

This laying aside of power, motivated by love and the desire to do the will of the Father, gave Jesus’ words incredible power—power of another kind. Jesus boldly took on the Roman Empire, the local magistrates and the entrenched, corrupted religious system. He was never afraid to speak out, and because theology and politics were inseparable in the Caesar-worshipping empire, everything he said had political overtones. But his political words were not like those of the Romans or the priests. Rather, “the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority” (Matthew 7:28-29).

There are so many political issues we need to address—war, genocide, hunger at home and abroad, poverty, healthcare, the worldwide AIDS epidemic, human trafficking, abortion, care for the environment, and so many others. But it should be obvious to us by now that Republican or Democratic power have not, and will not, solve these problems. So it seems to me that we are going to have to figure out a third way.

Perhaps this third way can begin by humbly asking Jesus how we can lay down our lives—like he did—for the polis.

Reader Comments (2)

Less than a week to go before we elect a new president. I can't wait. I try to inform myself by reading and watching information on both candidates. Recently, I said enough. I can't listen to both sides anymore. The negativity coming from both sides is something I can no longer be part of. I find myself falling in to the trap of bad-mouthing both candidates. Than I ask, "am I a Christ follower?" Would Jesus be ripping on the candidates? I don't think so. Whether a democrat or republican, both sides are to blame for the negativity. As Christ followers, we profess that He is in control of everything. Do we really believe this, especially during this political season? I think whoever is elected, we must remember that God is control of everything! My prayer is, "Lord, help me show Jesus to the world by lifting Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama up to You in prayer, whether I agree or disagree with them. Lord, give these men wisdom and help them seek direction and truth from You! Amen."

October 30, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTerry Williams

I agree that we have many political decisions facing us as a country. However I believe that issues (which you stated) such as; genocide, poverty, the AIDS epidemic, the environment, human trafficking, abortion, and if I could be as bold to say even war (although very political in nature), goes beyond political issues into moral and social responsibilities. I think that we as Christians need to take initiative for the things that break the heart of Christ. And in doing so let our government know where we are on the issues. I find it quite remarkable, that Christians will hold pro-life rallies, and then support war and torture!

November 10, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPatrick Lannen

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