Today, we’re in Part 2 of a three-part series titled Talking Points: The Perfect Blend of Politics and Religion. As if there could be a perfect blend, right?
This is a series designed to make all of us uncomfortable, and hopefully in the end to make all of us better. Because after all, the church should be the safest place to talk about anything including politics. Even though the church rarely talks about politics, I figured you’re already talking about them, and will be for the next several months, so why not.
Here’s the tension. As a Jesus follower are we willing or are we even able to put our faith filter ahead of our political filter? Are we willing to be Christ followers first and Republicans/Democrats/Libertarians second? Are we willing to follow Jesus when following Jesus creates space between us and our political party, our party’s platform and party’s candidate?
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that you not have a political opinion or party. I’m not suggesting that you not weigh in on or talk about politics. I’m not suggesting you abstain from running for office. I think we should all lean into what’s happening in our nation right now. For those of you who feel called to enter politics, you should absolutely do as you are called.
What I am suggesting is that we take what Jesus said, (what we looked at last week) seriously and not allow the political climate divide the church (the local church or the Church in general). The one thing Jesus prayed for at the very end of his life (that meant more to him than anything else) was that His church would not be divided. He prayed that we would be one in the same way that He and His Heavenly Father are one. He prayed that we would figure out a way to disagree politically (because we always will) but at the same time love unconditionally and begin to pray for unity.
In the first century, they had something in common with our culture. When you read the Gospels about the first century people, everyone wanted Jesus on their side. In fact, they would question Him and try to pin Him in a corner to agree with whatever their viewpoint was. Everyone wanted a piece of Jesus. They wanted Him to choose their side. That’s true today. Both parties are convinced that Jesus would be on their side if He were to walk back on earth. Republicans are absolutely convinced Jesus would be Republican because of their values. Democrats say Jesus would be a Democrat because of His care and concern for people. Everyone wants a piece of Jesus.
When you interpret the words of Jesus through your political filter, it’s amazing. Both sides quote the Bible. Both side quote Jesus. The really funny thing is both sides use the same verses.
So the question is, can we put our Jesus following filter – our faith filter – ahead of our political filter? This is very, very difficult to do. As I said last week, I’m in the audience with you on this one. I’m learning too.
Dr. Tony Evans is famous pastor who said…
“Jesus didn’t come to take sides. He came to take over!”
Jesus came to introduce the kingdom of God to earth; the kingdom of God values; the upside down kingdom; a kingdom where the king laid down His life for His subjects; a kingdom that is so broad that everyone is invited; (in my opinion) a kingdom that is always, at some level, in some detail, in conflict with the kingdoms of men and the political parties of this world.
This is why it is absolutely foolish for the church to ever be divided over a candidate or party. At the end of the day, no political party is likely to line up exactly with the kingdom values of Jesus. Although each party has at least a little bit of it. (That’s difficult for some of us to acknowledge and many times difficult for us to step out of our party’s box and see.) But overall, the church is not supposed to be divided. We are supposed to be kingdom people first and political people second. But that’s very difficult to do today, and it’s only getting harder.
So today, I’m going to suggest a model to help us understand where agreement ends and diverse views should begin, especially diverse political views.
Love as Christ Loves
To start, the apostle Paul steps out of the pages of history as someone who hates Christians. He was a Pharisee, very educated, super brilliant, became a Jesus follower, and had the distinction of being a Roman citizen.
He wrote many letters. In two of them he gives us a phrase that I think gives us a great starting point for putting together this model. It’s a phrase that perhaps you haven’t taken much notice to before. He only uses it twice in all his letters. The phrase he used is the Law of Christ. The law of Christ, as we are going to discover, was his description for Jesus’ new command.
When Jesus gathered with His disciples for Passover He said I’m giving you a new command that will override all the others because I’m forming a new covenant with you. The new command is simple. “Love one another as I have loved you.” Then He added, “By this (this unique way) everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (as I have loved you). John 13:34-35
The apostle Paul takes that command and pushes it through all of his letters as the uniting ethic for all Jesus followers. This phrase, the Law of Christ, is what he used to take his readers back to that Passover night. This summarized the value system… the ethic… our marching orders… for the kingdom of God.
To the Corinthians Paul wrote…
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave (a strong word since everywhere you went you saw slaves) to everyone, (why Paul?) to win as many as possible.
1 Corinthians 9:19
Paul is saying, look I’m on a mission, and I don’t have a lot of time left. I did a lot of damage to the church so I need to make up time. I am willing to do anything short of sin to convince Gentiles what God has done on their behalf.
To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law (Torah, law of God) I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law (that’s the Gentiles) I became like one not having the law (though I am not outside the law of God but am under the law of Christ), so as to win those not having the law.
1 Corinthians 9:20-21
So he became a Gentile to reach Gentiles even though he was a Jew. This is how extreme he went. Then he qualifies it saying, “Though I am not free from the law of God…“, (He’s saying, I do not discard the law of God. He’s still under the authority of God, but not the Torah. It’s something else…so he says…here’s the phrase) …but I am under the Law of Christ.
Paul’s saying, I’m no longer under the law of Moses, but I’m still under God’s authority because I’m under the law of Christ.
What is the law of Christ? To love one another as Jesus has loved you.
A Conscience Hardwired into the Law of Christ
In his letter to the Christians in Galatia, Paul says:
Carry each other’s burdens (burdens of illness, kids, work, whatever trips you up in life), and in this way you will fulfill the Law of Christ. (which is you are to love one another as Jesus has loved you.) Galatians 6:2
When the concerns of others concern you and you act on it, you are fulfilling the law of Christ. You are doing what Jesus told the disciples and every other Jesus follower to do. You are fulfilling your marching orders.
Here’s the thing. As Jesus followers, no matter what your political stance is, the Law of Christ (your marching orders) should, over time, inform our conscience. Our conscience should become hardwired into the Law of Christ so that when we do something that is contrary to the Law of Christ it dings our conscience – not just our individual conscience but our collective conscience.
We should all be disturbed/irritated/convicted by the same things; things like injustice and disrespect or people undermining their own health, kids, families, and community. We should be moved to action by these things. It should ding our conscience and bother us whenever we see them inside the church, or out.
Our collective conscience, which moves us to apology and action, is all tied to this command that we are to love other people, respect other people, and recognize the dignity of other people the way Christ did. He left Heaven. He’s not afraid of guilt by association or He would have stayed in Heaven.
So Jesus telling us, He wants us to take our que from Him on how we treat other people. Therefore, the Law of Christ should inform our conscience.
As simple as this is, it’s a powerful dynamic. In fact, this dynamic is what shaped Western civilization. Let me give you a couple of examples of how this powerful dynamic moved people.
Once upon a time, all over the world (every town, every kingdom) it was self-evident (obvious/unquestioned) that some people must be owned and controlled by other people. The whole idea of slavery (people owning people) was so self-evident that it’s morality was not questioned. it was just accepted as the way of things.
In fact, 4th century BC, Aristotle, a Greek philosopher said:
“For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient; (he’s talking about slavery. It’s not just necessary, it’s expedient. In other words, there’s just no way the world would work without it) From the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule.”
In his mind, doing away with slavery was like saying the sun’s not going to come up. It was just obvious. It was just the way it is.
But in the 4th century AD, after Christianity had begun to take a hold of the Roman empire, St. Augustine, a Christian bishop resisted this notion when he said:
“Slavery is the result of sin.”
Suddenly a brand new idea was born from this brilliant mind, despite the fat that slavery was still part of the landscape everywhere. This was dawning on Christian’s prior to St. Augustine, but suddenly here’s a famous leader saying no, slavery isn’t expedient, slavery isn’t a part of nature, slavery is the result of SIN!
At least as early as 4th century AD, Christians began seeing the discrepancy between the scripture’s message that people are made in the image of God and should love others as Christ loved and the horror of slavery.
Once upon a time, it was self-evident (no one questioned it) that infanticide (the Roman world called it exposer which means the crime of killing a child within a year of birth) was good for the society. In other words, it was the right thing to do. In fact, there were certain social laws in parts of the Roman empire where you were required to allow your baby to die. The way it would work is you would just take your baby outside the walls of your village or at the edge of a forest or down by the river and you go home and legally you were not liable for killing your child. Because the fates would decide the fate of your child and you were innocent. In some cases it was justified because it was a girl and they wanted a boy, or it was conceived out of marriage, or the baby had a birth defect. There were really no rules other than you couldn’t take the baby’s life yourself. This was just the way of life and to them it was self-evident.
But Christians from the very beginning disagreed and condemned it. They would go out to the edge of the forest or down by the river and rescued the children. They would bring these children into their small homes and with little the food they had they would raise them as their own. Why? It’s not commanded or commended in the Old or New Testament. Scripture didn’t require it. There was no verse that said here’s what you’re supposed to do. So why would they do that?
They cared for these babies because love required it. As they began to understand what it means to be made in the image of God, as they began to understand the Law of Christ, that we are rescued ourselves by Christ and are adopted as children into the Kingdom of God, they just did it. Their informed conscience had been rang.
Suddenly there is this tension around what was just an expected tradition all over the Roman empire. As Christianity began to take hold and make in-roads into the Roman empire, and as the empire’s conscience began to be affected by the teaching of Christianity, in the year 318, Emperor Constantine declared infanticide a crime.
Why the change? Because suddenly it became a conscience issue as a result of the teaching of Jesus and the unity of the church.
In the year 374, Emperor Valentinian made infanticide a capital offense. You could lose your life if your baby lost its life because of your neglect.
This was amazing, because when the Law of Christ informs an individual’s or a society’s conscience, things change. There has been so much change even in our culture because of this very same dynamic.
Jesus’ single new covenant command was so powerful, so ahead of its time, so modeled and baked into the crucifixion and resurrection, that it is transcultural and transgenerational. It sits at the epicenter of the Kingdom of God values. It will never go out of date. It doesn’t have a shelf-life. We are forever and ever to do for others what God through Christ has done for us. That kind of ethic is to inform our conscience. We even have influence in the world to inform the conscience of people outside the church.
This is why the Church is so important. Part of our responsibility is to be salt and light, right? It’s also why we CANNOT be divided. This is why we dare not be divided especially over politics or candidates that come and go. So it is so important that we figure out how to be one as Jesus prayed we would be in spite of our political differences.
Knowledge and Wisdom
That leads up to the third part of the model. So far the Law of Christ informs our conscience. And to an informed conscience we are to incorporate Knowledge and Wisdom.
Let me explain why this is important. One of the greatest things about the human race, is that we are able to collect information and pass it to the next generation. For instance, writing allowed one generation to gift what they learned to the next and the next generation. So consequently, every generation is smarter than the next. And with knowledge comes extra wisdom and insight.
And so as 21st century people, as we think about what it is like to live out this kingdom ethic (Jesus’ command), we should add to our informed conscience the knowledge of science, understanding how our world works, and understanding how we are made. Cause all of this works together.
Another way of thinking about it is, if someone were to ask you where baby’s come from, your answer to that question is determined by the age of the person asking, right? If a four year old asks, you don’t lie to them, but you explain it at their level so they will understand. If a 15 year old asks (you say you should know by now), no you explain it at their level of knowledge. In other words, we don’t lie, but we accommodate to the capacity of the person asking.
And what’s so fascinating is your Heavenly Father accommodates to the capacity of his people. When we look at Genesis, we see God accommodating to the capacity of an ancient, ancient pre-science, pre-Tylenol, never took a warm shower group of people.
When Jesus came to dwell with people on earth, He explains God, but explains in a way that the O.T. doesn’t quite explain God, but people’s capacity has changed. In every generation our knowledge increases, our insight increases, and God’s ability to help us understand how He made the world and how the world works increases.
As Christians, and this is the tension, we should be on the forefront. We should never resist science or discovery. We should be the most curious people because our faith is tied not to an interpretation of a text, but is connected to an event in history – the resurrection of Jesus.
We don’t need to fear new. We don’t need to fear science. Every once in awhile a generation comes along that wants to get into a battle with science. No, we should incorporate the knowledge and wisdom that comes with this age that was handed to us from the people before us. Now I will say, don’t just go and believe everything and anything you hear. Do your own research, and you do need to make sure it lines with scripture, with God. If it doesn’t like homosexuality…that’s not science. It’s not God.
Knowledge and wisdom combined with an informed conscience, that’s what we should use and leverage to determine which policy, platform, and legislation we support.
- The Law of Christ, if you are a Jesus follower, is non-negotiable.
- Over time as you learn more and more and follow Jesus longer, your conscience is going to be shaped according to the Law of Christ.
- Knowledge and wisdom: This is why when your children get sick, you don’t call me. Once upon a time, if your child was sick you would call the priest, but you don’t do that now. You call the doctor. Not because you don’t believe in the healing power of God, but because we have accumulated knowledge and wisdom in terms of how the human body works. And as Christians we don’t see a conflict between those two things. I’ll pray for your child, but you don’t even call for prayer for the most part, because you go to the doctor because the doctor understands how the body works. So we naturally and instinctively incorporate knowledge into our thinking.
Now here’s the thing. When it comes to Policy, Platform, and Legislation there will always be disagreements among Christians. The reason we will always have work to do is because “Where you stand depends on where you sit.” This is where we all have work to do, and I hope you will be open minded to move.
Our cultural context (where you live, who you’re related to, your cultural context) determines our perspective (what we see, what we experience, how we interpret it, and what we stand for). And this is true for all of us.
Like all views and values, political views and values are shaped by a variety of things, most of which we had/have no control over.
- Where we live
- How we were raised
- Where we were educated
- If we were educated
- What we’ve been told
- What we’ve seen
- What we’ve experienced
- What we’ve seen others experience…and more. These are the factors that shape our political views. And if we can acknowledge these, we can all learn something.
I’m going to push here a bit: This why most of us don’t see any conflict between our faith and our politics. You’re probably loving this series because you’re like, “I have some friends who need to hear it. But I’m good. Yeah, I agree we need to put our faith first, politics second. Clearly I’m a Republican/Democrat/Independent because I put my faith first. Right? Maybe. But probably not.
Pausing long enough to recognize and admit that we are not putting our faith ahead of our political views, is what it means to be mature. It’s actually the way forward. It’s a step toward unity, in spite of political diversity. I’m not saying we all have to meet in the middle and be one big happy party. Again, we will always disagree on policy, platform, and legislation, and that’s OK as long as we are mature enough to not let it divide us.
But what if we were able to step back a bit, especially over the next few months (we don’t change what we believe or who you vote for) and just see things a little bit differently. We gain understanding of why other people believe the way they do. Because again, “Where you stand depends on where you sit.”
Recognizing this allows us to open our hands, our minds, our hearts without changing our political viewpoints.
Put It All Together
- The Law of Christ
- Informed Conscience
- Knowledge and Wisdom
So, what do we do? This isn’t complicated. This isn’t new or anything you haven’t heard before. But sometimes we all need a reminder. So here’s three things we can easily do.
Begin to listen especially to people who don’t experience the world the way you do. Begin to listen to people who have experienced the world differently than the way you have.
Learn something. Don’t just listen. We are Christians. Our faith is tethered to an event. We don’t need to be afraid of new information or new options. Be curious. Be a student, not just a critic. Otherwise, we will discount everything that doesn’t fit perfectly into our flawed worldviews. When you quit listening and learning, something bad happens on the inside and you’re better than that.
Your Republican brothers and sisters aren’t crazy. Your Democrat brothers and sisters aren’t crazy either. They just sit in a different place and see the world differently. As long as we catch ourselves saying, “I don’t know how anybody could think that way…or act that way… or believe that.” Well, then there’s something you don’t understand. Why wouldn’t we, especially as the body of Christ, take time to understand.
Because everybody’s behavior makes perfect sense to them. Everybody’s view point, politics makes perfect sense to them. You should know, they are just like you. They are taking a stand based on where they sit.
Remember that you are under the Law of Christ. So prioritize…
Never ever burn a relational bridge over a political view. This goes back to Jesus commandment, this goes back to the cross, to the center of what we believe. The you beside you is more precious to God than your potentially flawed view. While both you and the person you are burning the bridge with were yet sinners, Christ died for both you. How dare you or I burn down a relational bridge with someone for whom Christ died!
So let’s Listen | Learn | Love.
As I said last week, I know some of you might be thinking, “But Pastor Trish, that’s so naïve, do you really think that is going to make any difference?!”
You just remember this…Once upon a time, there were a handful of Jesus followers crushed between the empire and the temple. And they gave to Caesar what was Caesar’s. And they gave to God what was God’s…their lives. And now the empire and the temple is no more. Rome’s most famous emperor is nothing but a foot note in the story of Jesus of Nazareth.
Kingdoms come, kingdoms go. Empires rise, empires fall. Jesus said: “I will build my Church and nothing is ever going to stop it.” And He did. We have been invited to be a part of it. It is still the way forward. And our responsibility especially in a season like this is to show our divided nation and world what it looks like to, that it’s even possible to:
While we Pray for Unity
Because at Calvary, at the cross, we lost our right to do anything less than that. So, listen, learn, and love, and don’t miss the final episode of Talking Points.