Of More Politics

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It is not an election year per se, but it seems we are always in a “political” season. Passions of the electorate persist and still brim to the surface. More and more we citizens guard our opinions with increased fervor, some say to our detriment. Our American democratic identity seems more extroverted than ever before in our history, at least as long as I can remember, the good and the bad, our hopes and our dreams, our fears and our insecurities. It is a messy process, but a process characterized by freedom of expression, and a sense that as constituents of the United States we indeed have a say as to how we are governed, how we continue the exceptional gift that is the American enterprise. Yes. Exceptional.

So where do we as “church” fit in to this remarkable process? There are many who say that we, the church, have no business in matters political, that the church stay separate from the mechanism of the world. They cite the so-called “separation of church and state,” a core doctrine of the Constitution of the United States. But that doctrine is speaking of the reciprocal danger of the government having undue influence on our right to worship, and the church having undue institutional influence on government. What the founders feared was the potential for theocracy.

But to say that we as the church shouldn’t have influence as to matters that affect our common life, political issues, is to abdicate our responsibility as activists in the Jesus movement. Let me hasten to say however that the church as an institution should never be politically partisan… We as a people have the right and privilege to vote as we please, but the church has an obligation to speak out on and influence policy that affects the well-being and dignity of all people. Jesus and many who followed him were executed for being political, tortured and killed for speaking out for the vision of God’s reign, a gracious kingdom of equals, free from oppression and violence and self-interest… and tyranny. Jesus and his disciples spoke out against the disparity of wealth in his world, spoke out against unfair taxation, spoke out against the greed and hypocrisy of the governmental and religious elite, spoke out against the xenophobia of his society. Not unlike the prophets of old who called out the powers that be for their sins against God, the Jesus movement was at its heart a grassroots political movement. Politics, more precisely defined, is quite simply the means by which we live together justly. Reinhold Niebuhr, the great 20th century theologian, said that the means of God’s love in the world is justice.  If justice is at the heart of the gospels, and I believe it is, then our role as Christians is to be activists for justice.

Vote and express your conscience as you can best discern that which serves the greater good… That is your right. But let me remind you that as citizens first of the Kingdom of God, we must be guided by the vision of the Jesus movement… a vision that espouses welcome and hospitality, most particularly for the stranger and outcast; breaking bread with people different from us; equality and collaboration; shared abundance; taking good care of our poor and disenfranchised; a life of serving and empowering our neighbor; loving our enemies; respecting the dignity of every human being, in short… If that is politics, so be it.

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