Good News? (A Quasi-Political Post)

I need you to trust me.

If you have followed my writings over the last decade you know that I do not like politics. In fact, I hate politics. I believe the confluence of politics and religion has been one of the greatest dividers and antagonizers within the Church as a whole. And, as a result, I spend my energy working to unite people from all political persuasions into the only thing that can cover a multitude of sins, a multitude of ideologies, a multitude of political persuasions- the love of God.

For it is the love of God, singularly, that can save us from ourselves, as impossible as that may seem sometimes.

But at the same time, you should know that since I do not care for either political party, I try to speak as much unbiased truth as I can, regardless of political affiliation. I don’t have skin in the game.

So with all of that being said, please know that my intention with this post is not to make some political statement, or to take some supposed political side, because I am not. Neither right nor left, blue nor red, liberal nor conservative, Republican nor Democrat will save us. I am simply trying to work through some of the great divides I observe within the American Church in light of political influence and power.

This post began writing itself last week when I saw an article about Vice President Mike Pence, who by the way is from my hometown and my alma mater (Columbus, Indiana and Hanover College), addressing a pastors conference (and now the Southern Baptist Convention) in which he was a surprise speaker. It was this specific line that hit me, and then subsequently made me reflect upon it. It was when he told the audience of pastors to, “share the good news of Jesus Christ.”

Maybe that line doesn’t really stand out to you. In fact, I would be surprised if it did stand out to you in any appreciable way because it is the very backbone of Christianity and a very common thing for a Christian leader to say. So it’s no real surprise that someone would say something like that at a preachers conference.

But the reason it hit me in such a weird way the other day was because there is a growing number of Christians, like me, who see how un-Christlike our government is, whether it be the current administration or past administrations, and the Vice President’s call to “share the good news of Jesus Christ,” seemed to ring a bit hollow in light of the current un-Christlike administration.

I need to be clear here. I am not at all doubting the Vice President’s sincerity or his allegiance to his faith. That’s not it at all. As you will soon see, the main point of this post really doesn’t have anything to do with the Vice President or the administration. I truly believe that from Pence’s perspective, he believes that the work he is doing, and the work that the Trump administration is doing by proxy, is largely in alignment with the “good news of Jesus Christ.” And his rally cry at the preacher’s conference was his clarion call for them to join him in this good news mission. Again, I do not doubt his sincerity or allegiance to his faith at all.

I just believe it is mistaken and misaligned.

The problem is that there are those of us who see the “good news of Jesus Christ” differently, who see that the character and policies of the Trump administration (and the Obama, Bush, and Clinton administrations of the past) as un-Christlike, and who believe that any pronouncement of the “good news of Jesus Christ” ought to be accompanied by a people resolved to be like the Christ they profess to follow.

I want to be consistent, though. I am not saying that I believe a country should, or even could, be Christlike because I don’t think that is even possible, nor is it what Jesus ever intended. But, when Christianity is so actively and vociferously bandied about by the current administration, and then used as their basis for policy decisions, it begs for serious accountability and critique by those who take following the way of Jesus seriously.

So here are a few questions I would have.

What is so good about the “good news of Jesus Christ” if it has no real bearing on us becoming more like Christ in our lives?

Ought not the preaching of the “good news of Jesus Christ” be accompanied by lives and initiatives that look Christlike?

What is so good about the “good news of Jesus Christ” if the policies of the United States are rarely Christlike, or not Christlike at all?

What is so good about the “good news of Jesus Christ” if it really isn’t good news for people living today?

Does the Good News have any real world influence, or is it just something that guarantees a future in heaven?

Of course these questions are rhetorical, but they really bring to light the deeper problem we have within American Christianity in how we view the “good news of Jesus Christ,” and what it ought to mean for the here and now. And believe me, this problem is at the very center of the issues we have with each other in the larger American Church.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, we have two very different and distinct understandings of what the “good news of Jesus Christ” even is. And it is this difference in understanding that has led to very different ideas about what that means in the world and then how that ought to be expressed.

Some Christians believe the “good news of Jesus Christ” is the saving work of God through Christ accomplished through the death of Jesus on the cross in order to defeat sin and death, thereby satisfying the wrath of God and granting forgiveness to all who repent and are baptized so that they may go to heaven for eternity in a spiritual afterlife.

The limitation of this understanding of the “good news” is that it does not offer a cohesive moral lens through which to see the world. Because this understanding is largely end-oriented, it is significantly limited in how to view (and relate) to the world presently.

That is why many within this version of the “good news” have adopted the most accessible lens in front of them to understand the world- the Judeo-Christian American lens.

Within the vacuum created by only using Jesus as a means of salvation, but not the lens through which they view all things, they needed some sort of lens to make moral sense of our country and world. And the Judeo-Christian American lens was the most accessible, because it was the one handed down from generation to generation in America.

The problem is that the Judeo-Christian American ethic is a mishmash of selective and inconsistent ethics from the Old and New Testaments. And those who see the world through that Judeo-Christian lens seek to impose those values on the governmental system as their ultimate goal, because they believe it is what God has always wanted. The Judeo-Christian American ethic is believed to be fundamentally and unequivocally Christian by those Christians who use it as their lens, even though its ethics are thoroughly un-Christlike.

A Judeo-Christian American ethic is not a Christlike ethic. There is no such hybrid entity within Christ. To be a Christian means to follow the ethic of Christ. It does not mean ascribing to a mishmash of selective values that can be molded to your liking, or to your political leaning.

I am not pointing a finger of judgment here, because this is the quasi-Christian mumbo-jumbo that we have all been sold for generations. The problem is that a Judeo-Christian American ethic is not a Christlike ethic and we are mistaken if we believe they are synonymous.

However, there are those, including me, who believe that the “good news of Jesus Christ,” which Jesus and Paul referred to as the “good news of the Kingdom of God,” is an entirely different nation and citizenship without boundaries or divisions or hierarchies, and whose values look exactly, and consistently, like the king in this kingdom… Jesus.

Yes, we still believe that the forgiveness of God was given to all as a peace-offering through Christ crucified, that sin and death were triumphed over in the resurrection of the Christ, and that God longs for all to repent (for all to change their minds about God and be transformed in the process of reconciling their relationship) and to be immersed heart, mind, body, and soul into this new reality of living, this Kingdom of God.

But it goes much further than that. Jesus isn’t simply a means to an end. Jesus is the means and the end. Jesus isn’t just good for getting to heaven. Jesus is the template and the lens by which we pattern our lives and through whom we see all things.

The good news of the Kingdom of God stands in sharp contrast to the selective and inconsistent morality of the Judeo-Christian American lens.

For example, when we say “pro-life,” we believe that God loves all life from womb to tomb, not just in the womb, because that is what Jesus taught and what Jesus embodied. The good news of the Kingdom of God is that all people are loved and worthy. And in this Kingdom, like Jesus, one does not see enemy-combatants or people worthy of death row or illegal aliens or garbage human beings or humans referred to as animals. We simply see people who are made in the image of God and loved by God. We see, like Jesus, people that we are to love with our heart, mind, body, and soul. And that may make us stupid and worthy of ridicule for loving so recklessly, but it is consistently with who Jesus called his followers to be.

And that is just one difference, among so many, between the selective and inconsistent Judeo-Christian American ethic and the universal and consistent good news of the Kingdom of God. It is easy to know how to see the world and other people when Jesus alone is the lens through which we see all things.

Let me give another example to illustrate the profound difference between the two lenses.

A Pew Research article posted on May 24, 2018 looked at whether or not the United States has a responsibility to accept refugees.

Of every single demographic analyzed in the study, from age to gender to class to ethnicity to education level, the groups MOST AGAINST the United States accepting refugees were the white, Protestant Evangelicals at nearly 70% and white, Protestants at 50%.

The people of Jesus. The people of compassion. The people who have become the very “body of Christ” in the world. The people of the “Good News.” The people who are to see others as Jesus sees them, is the single demographic MOST AGAINST accepting and helping a refugee.

When a Christian religion adopts a lens through which to view the world that is in stark contrast to the lens of Jesus, this is exactly what we end up with. Whether or not one breaks an American law, whether or not a person deserves the help, whether or not the person comes from another country or not, the good news of the Kingdom of God welcomes in and cares for the foreigner, the outcast, and those pushed to the edges of society. The good news of the Kingdom of God has deep, deep compassion for the poor seeking a better life, for those being hunted and killed by their own domestic oppressors, and for those seeking religious asylum from violent regimes. A people who understands the good news of the Kingdom of God is not singularly concerned preaching about the self-sacrificing Christ. We are resolved to pattern our lives after, and see the world through, the self-sacrificing Christ.

That’s the difference.

And I believe that is why there are so many Christians who think that the current administration is “doing the Lord’s work,” while there are just as many of us Christians who believe the current administration is an affront to Christ. Because without making Jesus the lens through which all things are seen, one can pick and choose which ethical concerns are “more important” or more “politically satisfying” or “more in line with American interests,” than with the Jesus they profess to follow.

It may be time for us to have deeper discussions with each other about what the good news is and what it really means for the world today.

Peace…

Brandon

The Parable of the Two Managers

The owner of a vast and abundant vineyard with hundreds of workers was soon planning to hand over the daily operations and responsibilities of his vineyard to two managers, each of whom had been working with him for quite some time. The managers knew the owner’s love for his vineyard, the care he took in growing the fruit, the daily satisfaction he enjoyed working with his hands to keep away weeds and harvest the grapes, and the perpetual joy he found in sharing the choice wine it produced. Even more, the vineyard had become a place of life, community, and festivity for everyone in their small town. Each evening, people would share table, tell stories, and dance into the night. The care each person had for one another was extraordinary and unique. This was the owner’s heart and dream for his vineyard community.

The two managers knew that taking over the vineyard would be a tall order, but each believed he deserved the privilege of managing it.

The first manager had a vision for expanding the reach and influence of the vineyard. He believed that a great partnership between the vineyard and one of their town’s powerful, influential, and wealthy businessmen would be beneficial. Despite the fact that the businessman was a prideful, judgmental, unforgiving, and crass man, who had values completely opposite of the vineyard owner, the manager thought that this partnership would, not only increase the status of the vineyard in the community for generations, but would also allow the vineyard to become even more powerful and influential throughout the town. Despite the fact that the businessman had never been to the vineyard himself, or experienced the depth of community and vibrancy that made it an essential part of the town, he knew that the vineyard had hundreds of workers who could strengthen his position in the community.

The other manager had similar aspirations. He believed the culture that had grown in this vineyard community, of treating everyone with dignity and caring for each other’s needs, was something that could also be instituted and modeled by the local government, so he partnered with the town’s head official. Despite the fact that this town official was a well-known liar, manipulator, and corruptor, untrustworthy to the core and completely opposite of the vineyard owner in every way, this manager believed the that town official would be a great partner in extending the values of the vineyard through governmental initiatives and programs. While the town official had been to the vineyard in the past, it was only to solicit the support and votes of the workers and community members who gathered there each evening. The unique beauty and quaintness of this special community was lost on the official.

One evening the two managers brought together the businessman and town official to the vineyard community and began to explain to those who were eating together, sharing stories, and dancing with one another, that they had great visions of how the businessman and town official could make the vineyard more influential, more powerful, and how the government could begin using the vineyard model to take care of the entire community. The workers and townspeople listened and considered what was being proposed by each manager and a clear rift began to rise among them. Some heard about the perverse character of the businessman and preferred the town official. Others knew intimately about how corrupt the town official was and preferred the businessman.

Fractures in the vineyard community grew. And each evening afterward, the fractures widened as animosity swelled.

While the managers and workers gathered to debate and argue for their vision of the vineyard and their positions on the businessman and town official, the townspeople slowly began to turn away from the divisive and hostile vineyard community.  It wasn’t the community it once was.

Differences of opinion led to voices being raised, accusations being made, and feelings being hurt. The tension escalated when some of the workers got in the face of other workers and began to belittle and dehumanize them with their words. Before long, tables were being turned, bottles were being broken and wine spilled, and the people began to intensely hate one another.

And it was at that point when the lights went out and the entire place went quiet.

When the lights came back on, the vineyard owner was standing in the divided room between the two managers amidst the wreckage and calamity.

What have you done to my vineyard community? What have you brought into this life-giving and hope-filled place? The work of my very own hands and my very own heart have been trampled under the feet of self-interest, power, and corruption. The shared table of brotherhood and sisterhood has been overturned in division and animosity. The life stories of each person have been silenced by political positioning and arguing. The celebratory dance of freedom and joy has been shackled by your belief that what I created in this vineyard community was not enough. This has been my heart and dream for this community- to have a place of invitation and refuge, life and love, and the breaking of bread and sharing of the wine in celebration. Yet, this community of life has become a place of death.

And the fruit of the vine that was crushed and perfected into the choicest wine, has been poured out and spilled, once again, by the hands of greed and power.

Oh you wicked managers, who then can be trusted?

For those who have the eyes to see and the ears to hear…

Brandon

Special thanks to my friend Herb Haile for advice on this post.

Was Jesus a Republican or Democrat?

Every presidential election cycle in the United States is like a massive pendulum of ideas, perspectives, and ideologies that swings back and forth powered by individuals, vested interest groups, politicians, and political parties. And the means by which these individuals and groups power this pendulum is through political power, influence, money, and propaganda.  But to be honest, this is the way politics have always operated and the exact same ingredients that have been used throughout history.  That is why politics and governments, as systems, can never be redeemed, because they will always be built upon by the corrupting influences of power, influence, and money… even when we have the best of intentions.

With that being said, there has been increasing and bewildering confusion amongst Christians as to how we ought to engage with the political system, generally, and for whom we ought to vote, specifically.

If social media does nothing else, it affords us the opportunity to know the political opinions of others. Of particular interest to me are the political leanings of those who describe themselves as Christian.  It is a curious phenomenon, that Christians of various political and ideological leanings are absolute certain that God is exclusively on their side or that Jesus absolutely shared their political and ideological angle.

As I discussed in my last post, we try to make God (or Jesus) fit into our finite, limited, broken dualistic constructs, in which only “my political party” or “my ideology” is right because my side is backed by God, and the other side is colluding with the powers of evil.

This kind of thinking is referred to as dualism, and it is a very limited way of looking at the world and people. It is the kind of thinking that produces comments like, “A Christian would never vote for Hillary Clinton,” or “A Christian would never vote for Donald Trump.”  Even more, dualistic thinking produces mindsets in which one person might say, “The United States is always good because it is the city shining on a hill and the only hope for humanity,” while another might say, “The United States is bad because it was created by killing and oppressing Native Americans and African Americans.”  A dualistic mind only sees the world as black and white, my way is always right and your way is always wrong.

I don’t expect everyone to understand what I am saying here, but I pray that you at least stop to ponder what I am saying and let it marinate in your spirit for a while.

Richard Rohr, a Franciscan Friar, says that, “The lowest levels of consciousness is entirely dualistic (win/lose)- me versus the world and basic survival. Many, I am afraid, never move beyond this.  The higher levels of consciousness are more and more able to deal with contradictions, paradoxes, and all Mystery (win/win).  This is spiritual maturity.  At the higher levels, we can teach things like compassion, mercy, forgiveness, selflessness, even love of enemies.”

This is important because movements beyond the dualistic (win/lose) mind begin to erase divisions and dividing lines, affording us the opportunity to work within and between groups and individuals, and then allowing us to bring to everyone that which is transcendent- compassion, mercy, forgiveness, selflessness, and love. This movement, or shift in our heart’s position, is nothing less than the work of the Holy Spirit, who is moving us to see others as brothers and sisters and then working to unite us together in the love of the Father.

That is why it is so disappointing that Christians, from any political and ideological persuasion, validate their politics, political affiliations, and ideologies with the exclusive endorsement of God or Jesus, because neither God nor Jesus endorses your politics or ideologies.

For example, a Christian Conservative might believe that God is against abortion, but for killing criminals through capital punishment and killing enemies in war. A Christian Liberal might believe in a woman’s right to choose whether she wants to have an abortion or not, but believes that God is against killing human beings through capital punishment and war.  Each side may view their side as “right,” and may even view their position as what God or Jesus would approve or endorse.

The dualistic mind does not have the ability to understand that all life is valuable and worth protecting, whether it is an innocent and defenseless baby or an enemy combatant.  The value of, and the love for, human life transcends the dualistic mind and the dividing lines of politics.  And that is the work of God’s Spirit in our lives.

The truth is that as we pursue and promote political positions and ideologies that limit or inhibit the transcendent values of God through the Spirit working in our lives, we oppose our identity and purpose as the Body of Christ in the world.  

Neither God nor Jesus is a Democrat or Republican, a Conservative or Liberal, a Trump Supporter or Hillary Supporter. God, as demonstrated through Jesus, is life, love, mercy, compassion, and grace that transcends all divisions and dividing lines.  And the logical next step in our thinking is that we, as the Body of Christ, ought to be in that place as well… in positions that transcend all divisions and dividing lines, that work to preserve all human life, that unconditionally love every person on every side of every issue, that move in ways of mercy and compassion for every single person in the world, that bring peace and reconciliation between individuals and groups, and that extend the grace of God to all.

That is why Jesus was able to easily move between groups and have voice with each of them, because he wasn’t trying to pick sides in the man-made arena of politicking and governance. Jesus moved amongst the religious and irreligious, the rich and the poor, the powerful and the outcast, the chosen and the unchosen… with an invitation to all… to join a movement in which dividing lines have been erased, social stratification has been obliterated and religious and political affiliations have been put to death. For this movement is an invitation for every man, woman, and child into a new humanity that leaves polarization and division and then unites solely in the transcendent values of God.

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, why is this so hard to understand? Why do we continue to settle for so much less?  Why do we continue to fight for man-made constructs while neglecting our identity and purpose as the Body of Christ in the world?  When will we ever have the eyes to see and the ears to hear?  When will these bones ever come to life, when will this Body rise, so that the world will hear the invitation of Jesus into this beautiful movement?

It begins with you.

Peace…

Brandon

To read Brandon’s previous post, Why I Don’t Want America to Come Back to God, click here.

In my next post I will be looking at Christians submitting to the government and if we have an obligation to vote.