I write this in an attempt at promoting a culture of dialogue and civility, even though both are in short supply these days. It seems as if most people have their heels dug in and their minds made up on every issue already, so what’s the point of attempting dialogue? It’s a great question that deserves a serious answer in a time when most people talk passed each other, only thinking about what can be said next to win the argument, rather than taking the more humble and disciplined postures of listening and contemplating.
While I am still but a student in the disciplines of listening and contemplating, the greatest areas of growth in my life have come as a result of being able to listen and contemplate thoughts and ideas that I had previously and whole-heartedly rejected. It is only when we can take a humble posture and open ourselves to hearing a new position or idea that we may begin to evaluate what we already believe and why we believe it, and then also begin to understand how and why another has arrived at a different position or idea. It costs nothing to be civil and listen to another’s perspective. We may even learning something new- whether it be a new idea, belief, or perspective, or maybe even something new about the person with whom we are speaking.
When we are able to have civil dialogue with one another, it honors each person’s humanity. We no longer see a person only for the idea or belief they represent, which we may have viewed in antagonism. We begin to see them as brothers and sisters who have been walking a different life path with different experiences or perspectives. And it is in that place where each side may begin to learn, grow, and broaden their appreciation for others. It begins with each one of us. May we each look inward at our hearts and move toward a more humble and disciplined posture of listening and contemplating, while honoring each person’s humanity.
With all of that being said as a proper foundation for discussion, it seems that one of the most contentious topics within American Christianity is the role followers of Jesus should or should not play within politics and government. The reason this topic is tantamount is that there are very different perspectives that have significant, profound, and very different effects and consequences in relation to a follower of Jesus.
In particular, there are those who believe that America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, that our country has turned its back on God, and that our country needs to come back to God, or that God will remove his blessing from our country. To that end, they believe that Christians ought stand up, be heard, and be involved politically so that Christian politicians will pass legislation that they believe will preserve Christianity in America and help our country turn back to God.
There are others, like me, who believe that whether the United States was founded upon Judeo-Christian principles or not is inconsequential, because Jesus was not trying to redeem countries by legislating morality from the top-down, he was inviting all of humanity into a different and alternative country (the Kingdom of God) with values and principles that completely contradict the values and principles of every man-made country on earth. To that end, we believe that this way moves forward, not by standing up against others, fighting for our principles or values to be imposed on others, or seeking the power of political rule to bring our country back to God, but rather by becoming the servant of all mankind so as to express and extend the grace and love of God and then inviting others into this “alternative country.”. It is a perspective that is not about “Christianizing” countries, but rather inviting all races, ethnicities, and citizens of the world to relinquish their inferior allegiances and inferior value systems, and enter into the transcendent ways of mercy and forgiveness, peace and reconciliation, and unconditional love of all.
The two perspectives could not be any different.
One moves forward in hopes of redeeming and restoring man-made governments and political systems, while the other understands that all man-made governments and political systems (no matter how well-intentioned) are built upon values and principles that will always be antithetical to the ways of Jesus.
One is built upon power, force, and law, while the other is built upon meekness, peace with all, love of friend and enemy, and the gentle ways of the Spirit.
One works to legislate morality through political means, which never changes a person’s heart, while the other moves forward humbly in grace and forgiveness, serving and demonstrating the love of God through example and relationship, changing hearts in the process.
One takes a very vocal approach that stands up for that which they believe to win the argument, while the other remains silently powerless in truth, even in the face of accusation and persecution, because the argument-battle does not have to be won.
One has a conditional view on which lives matter, babies in the womb, and which lives do not matter, enemies foreign and domestic, while the other views all life as God-given and worth saving.
One seeks retaliation and justice against aggressors and enemies through capital punishment and war, while the other will go down every peaceful path in love and forgiveness in the hope that tomorrow he or she will be a changed person.
One uses Scripture selectively, and out of context, to support a hybrid Judeo-Christian patriotism, while the other seeks to only pursue the way, life, and teachings of Jesus.
One is bent on judging the sins of special sin groups of the world, while the other extends a welcoming and loving embrace to every person in the world and humbly walks alongside them demonstrating and teaching the best and highest ways of Jesus.
One lives in fear of anything or anyone that threatens their vision of their country, while the other is never threatened or fearful because the country in which we are citizens, the Kingdom of God, will never fall and will always prevail, even when faced with violence or death.
One is perpetually unhappy and angry when cities, states, countries, and governments move away from their Judeo-Christian ethic, while the other finds happiness, joy, and peace in any worldly form of government, whether it be a republic, democracy, authoritarian state, communist state, or even in the midst of suffering under horrible governmental oppression.
Granted, these are big brushstrokes of the two perspectives, but is generally indicative of how both perspectives are so distinct and different.
If the whole point of being a Christian is to model the life of Jesus while he was here on earth, isn’t it crazy that one of the perspectives almost goes out of it’s way to not look or act like the example of Jesus at all? As if Jesus is only good for saving people’s souls, but not having any bearing on what we think or how we live our lives or what we put our hope, faith, and trust in. The entire life of Jesus, not the least of which was his sermon on the mount, centered around the ethic of how his followers should live and conduct their lives and daily affairs. To me, it is utterly confounding and perplexing and sad how a large portion of American Christianity has lost the Christ.
One is in pursuit of an abstract “God” in which nationalistic and patriotic values and characteristics have been cut-and-pasted onto that “god,” while the other recognizes that the values and characteristics of God have been fully demonstrated in the life of Jesus. One perspective pursues a god that has been made in a powerful, retributive, violent, and tribal image, while the other perspective seeks to become the image bearers of God, which looks exactly like Jesus.
This is the reason why many Christians in the United States are more comfortable talking about God than Jesus. When one creates an abstract god made in our image, one can cut-and-paste any value and belief system onto that god without having to account for any of the specifics. That god simply becomes a projection or expression of the people who have created it. That god has the same values and principles as the sinful and broken people who have constructed it. And that is precisely why I have no interest in our country “turning back to God.” Because the god to which this perspective wants us to turn back… doesn’t look like Jesus at all.
I would rather invite every person in our country to follow the way, life, and teachings of Jesus, because that is where real life and true freedom are found.
What do you say? Let the civil conversation begin.
Next week I will be asking the question, “Was Jesus a Repuplican or Democrat?“