The Kingdom of God and the Politics of Christianity
I was raised by godly Christian parents who taught me from an early age to differentiate between Christianity and culture. They told me it was dangerous, even immoral, to mix the Gospel with political partisanship or patriotic nationalism. They warned me against confusing Christianity with capitalism or even democracy. That taught me that human systems are hopelessly marred by the failings of humanity, that every history has beauty but also lots of darkness and decay. They reminded me that when people talk of a once great nation, they forget or choose to ignore the once great darkness. For every fond reminiscence of our nation’s founding, there are also stories of wickedness. The wickedness of slavery, the wickedness of native Americans displaced and mistreated, the wickedness of faith used to justify oppression, segregation, and brutal blood shed. We celebrated the stories of faith and courage, but we were taught these great stories existed along with broken stories and shameful stories.
My parents taught me that God is a God of grace, that I have been saved because of God’s grace, that my right standing is a gift from God, not a result of my efforts. I was taught that I am loved because God is love, that out of God’s love I find meaning, purpose, and transformation. Since God is love and grace, I am called to extend that same love and grace to others. Consequently, I believe every person stands as a grace gift from God. This is true of people and it is true of nations. I was taught America has benefited from the grace of God, therefore we must be humble and honest about both our successes and failings.
In recent years, I’ve heard many Christian leaders lament the decay of our culture. They speak of a once great nation falling into decay. Sadly, many of these leaders have succumbed to the temptation of partisanship. They have embraced the logic that one party is righteous and one is wicked; one is God’s way and one is Satan’s path. Not only have they embraced this logic, but they have actively campaigned their faith into the political process. Whether explicit or implicit, they make their case known for God’s political party and God’s political man. They warn that dire consequences will follow if the electorate does not vote for their righteous man, righteous initiative, or righteous party. The argument is almost always the same; we were once great, now we are fallen; vote for the righteous one and we will return to our righteous beginnings. If not, it will all crumble.
When I look at this election, I am reminded of what I learned as a child from my Christian parents. I am reminded of my father’s warning: “Doug, some of the most dangerous people you’ll ever meet are Christians who think they’re right!” My dad was a school teacher and he’d told me how Christians often mistreated teachers. With their sense of rightness they would storm into the classroom demanding their way at the cost of peace or even the job of the teacher. My dad told me to always be humble, quick to forgive, slow to anger, and full of grace. “Doug, people should relax or feel good when you walk into the room.” Mom would say, “We don’t judge people based on their failings. No one wants to be judged based on their failings. So love people the way you want to be loved.” My parents reminded me daily that I am the product of God’s love and grace, therefore I am called to be a vessel and ambassador of the love and grace I have received.
I work in many different circles; some liberal, some conservative, some indifferent. I will post this blog on websites that are both friendly and hostile to Christianity. Depending upon the site and the political persuasion of the readers, I will be praised or rebuked, complimented or criticized. Regardless, I need each of you to understand this truth. My God is not the God of partisan politics, Facebook rants, and slanderous email forwards. My God does not take pleasure in tearing the other side apart. There are only two categories in my faith: those who have received the grace of God and those who are still rejecting that grace. It is not my job to defeat the enemies of God, it is my job to bring them the same love and grace that set me free. I don’t desire to be right, I desire to reconcile people to a God that will set them free.
I know that the Gospel offends many. Many believe that they do not need a savior, nor forgiveness, nor freedom, nor a righteousness that is not of their own doing. I’m alright with our disagreement on the efficacy of the Gospel. Even so, I am not right with any proclamation of the Gospel that turns the words and deeds of my Savior into the lowest form of political pandering. With this in mind, I graciously ask my Christian friends to move towards the gospel, make the gospel the priority of your energy, time, and money. Please stop wasting Kingdom resources on things that rust, corrode, and fade away.
To my non-Christian friends, I need to make something clear. My Christ is very different than the Christ I see daily presented in our popular culture. My Christ has a different Spirit and a different purpose. To be honest, I seldom hear or see my Christ in the morally charged political discussions of our age. For me, the divide is not Republican versus Democrat, but the kingdoms of man versus the Kingdom of God. The human condition is a spiritual problem which will not be solved by the wagging of tongues and the rattling of sabers.
I believe the Kingdom of God is not just a better platform, but a better Spirit. In the coming years I will work for this better Spirit in our dialogue and doing. I will try my best to facilitate community that is rooted in the love, grace, and goodness of God. Most likely, this will exclude me from political authority. Even so, I will gladly trade political influence for a chance to welcome a more permanent, glorious Kingdom rooted in the love and favor of God.
Doug Bursch blogs at Fairlyspiritual.org and tweets Fairlyspiritual