In the increasingly hot climate of the culture wars in the United States, and with some of that animosity creeping across the border into our own communities, I would like to put forward six thesis for a Christian politics. In doing this, I’m not trying to change anyone’s political views (though that might follow as well) but instead, I’d like us to be more Christian in our politics. I want to put forward these six points as a counterweight to some of the worrying trends I’m seeing: Christians judging other Christians for their political leanings. Christians getting way too caught up in the culture wars. Christians hating their political opponents. Christians sounding hopeless. Christians desperate to hold on to power. And more. This is not a problem only for liberal Christians or only for conservative Christians, the political disfunction seems to be the only thing that’s bi-partisan about this moment. I sometimes think that those evangelicals who are getting so caught up in partisan politics need to get back to their traditional way of engaging politically. It used to be that evangelicals, instead of proposing policies, just proposed the gospel. In this time of hate and heat, Lord knows we could all use a whole lot of Jesus.
Neither political party is Christian. (or the Anti-Christ). That’s right. The Republicans are not the Christian party, neither are the Democrats. Neither of the parties promote all of the issues Christians should care about. Christians should care about feeding the hungry, caring for Creation, defending families, protecting religious liberty, defending the marginalized, protecting the unborn, fighting against racism, and a whole host of other issues. What this looks like in the political realm is a question that can be debated. But, there is no one political party that consistently promotes all of these issues. So when Christians choose between the Democrats or the Republicans, they are not making a choice between good and evil; they are choosing to prioritize some Christian issues over others. There is no party of light and a party of darkness, just two parties with a little bit of light and a whole lot of darkness. (This should be fairly obvious in our current context.) For this reason, Christians won’t be at home in either political party. There is something unsettling about this, but also something very freeing. When you realize that being a Republican and being a Christian are decidedly not the same thing, you are free to embrace a more radical (and more Christlike) politics, that will not fit with either party. You will realize that to be a Christian doesn’t mean being a defender of crony capitalism, wars in the middle east, the death penalty, or Nationalism, but actually, the politics of Jesus look very different from the politics of the Democrats or the Republicans. Welcome to the strange world of Christian politics.
The primary political task of the Church, is to be the Church. The same theologian who I stole my heading from also said: “The Church doesn’t have a politics, it is a politics.” In other words, the first and most essential way the church acts politically, is not by trying to advance certain legislative agendas, but by living an alternative politics. The quote above says in a strange way what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the lamp-stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works an give glory to your father in heaven.” Hutterites should be able to grasp this more clearly than most Christians because our churches literally are also a politics. We have formed a different kind of community that tries to live according to the teachings of Christ. Because we profess that Jesus is Lord, we try to live out the politics of Jesus. What does being pro-life look like? It means trying to live peacefully with everyone, welcoming new life with joy, and caring for the elderly with compassion. What does caring for the poor look like? It means forming communities where everyone has enough and then reaching out to help the less fortunate. How do Christians advance their views on marriage and the family politically? By having a stable marriage and raising children. How do Christians oppose greed, consumerism, and devastation of Creation? By living alternative lifestyles of simplicity. If Christians took seriously the fact that the Church is our politics, we would recognize that the daily choices we make are all political choices: they either advance the kingdom of God, or they do not. We would see that it is not our task to impose the kingdom by force, but rather to reflect the light of Christ to the world.
The kingdom is not built by building Christendom. There is probably no greater threat to a genuinely Christian politics than the confusion of Christianity and Christendom. What is Christendom? Some historians and theologians trace it back to the Emperor Constantine (272-337) who started a process that made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Suddenly Christianity was no longer a small and persecuted minority, but the religion that was used to unify an empire. Becoming a Christian was no longer a free choice made through baptism, but simply as easy as being born. Christianity became enforced by the law, and simultaneously the political status quo was baptized. In effect, the machine of the State just became an equally ugly Christianized version of itself. It was lipstick on a pig. The early Anabaptists rejected this kind of a politics by making a sharp distinction between the violent ways of the state and the peacefulness of the kingdom of God. To them, there could be no such a thing as a “Christian Nation,” and given the persecution they suffered at the hands of Christian rulers, (Catholic and Protestant) neither was such a thing desirable. In our own day, in an age that many call “Post-Christendom,” the powerful allure of Christendom continues to hold sway over the Christian political imagination. Many Christians approach politics with the assumption that our nation (usually America) was founded on Christian principles and that it is the Christian political role to restore those roots, resist those who want to undermine them and to promote “Christian morality” in the political sphere. What this notion of a “Christian nation” tends to leave out or gloss over, is the ugly parts of a nation’s history, in the American case, its legacy of racism and slavery, its gruesome wars, colonialism, bombings, eugenics and so on. These defenders of the Christian nation might even feel compelled to defend these darker parts of the history and claim that slavery wasn’t that bad, that colonialism was a force for good or that various wars or bombings were justified. When you step back and think about it, that is a very strange position for a Christian who claims to be part of a different, peaceful kingdom, to be in. We get into this fix when we confuse Christendom with the kingdom of God and try to hold on to Christian political power by any means necessary. The Christian attempt to hold on to political power ends up using the worldly means of violence, propaganda and coercion to promote the cause of Christ. When these political projects fail, when the culture drifts further from what are thought to be Christian morals, it can seem that all is lost, that Christianity is dying. And so, these culture war Christians fall into desperation, hopelessness and despair. It is profoundly freeing then, to recognize the difference between “Christendom” and Christianity. When you realize that there is no such a thing as a Christian nation, you no longer need to defend its injustices or fight against the ‘barbarian hoards’ at the gates. You have no stake in the game except to love your neighbours and your enemies. The cause of the kingdom is not advanced at the point of the sword or by political power, but rather, by the strange, subversive, powerless way of the cross.
The Kingdom is advanced by faithfulness not effectiveness. Christianity has a strange answer to the question: “How to you change the world?” For Christians, the answer looks like a pathetic man nailed to a cross. This answer becomes even stranger when you consider the fact that some powerful force must have nailed him to that tree. Indeed, it was the combined force of Church and State, enforced by military might that brought that man to his fate. Surely the real movers and shakers in this world are those with the strength and power to impose their will on others? And yet, Christianity claims a stronger force has entered the world: the power of the cross. By being faithful unto death, Christ disarms the Powers that killed him, and triumphs over them in his resurrection. By that act of faithfulness, the beginnings of a new world were planted into this decaying creation. The role of the Christian, as a Christ follower is to faithfully live the pattern of Christ in the time and place they find themselves in. By every act of truth, compassion, love, selflessness, we undermine the power of death, violence, hate, and by so doing, plant seeds of new creation. The Christian gives up their attempts to grab hold of the wheel of history and move things in the “right” direction: Providence is in the hands of God, our role is to be faithful. Christians usually forget this. Too often, Christian political thought goes on as if the forces that crucified Christ were the real thing thing that mattered. And as if the faithful way of weakness exemplified by Christ, were only secondary. Judging by what we say and how we act, it almost seems like we think that Christ, and those who follow him are naive suckers. When we hear him say “You can’t serve God and Mammon” we titter and laugh and mutter something about the wisdom of not being greedy. When we read “Love your enemy and do good to those who persecute you”, we smile piously and think of those stupid Republicans who hate everyone. When we read “resist not evil” we know that he obviously wasn’t thinking about ISIS. What if we gave up our attempts to be be “effective” and to make world history turn out right, but instead, just tried to be faithful. What if we made our standard of rightness, not what ‘works’ in the ‘real world,’ but instead, the Sermon on the Mount? We would probably see the “Powers of darkness” much more clearly, and if we did everything right, they would crucify us too.
God plays the long game. Christians, stop being so dour and hopeless. God is in control of history, you are not. Patiently do good, and the fruits will come: “Look at the birds of the air, they neither toil nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can you add a single hour to your span of life?…strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Because the Christian hope is in the Resurrection, a truly Christian politics, despite the forces of injustice that it stands against, should be characterized by joy, hope and love.
Love your enemies. In the current climate of the culture war, I cannot think of a more important Christian principle for Christians to follow than “Love your enemies.” Weather it’s a debate about COVID-19 restrictions, questions of racism or the growing heat of the election, it seems like we all suddenly have an abundance of enemies. For us western Christians who do nothing but talk and grow fat, its time to finally put what we claim to believe into practice. People like me, who write lofty blog posts about Christianity, and people like you who actually read this stuff, like to talk a big game: but can we live up to it? If you’re a Conservative Christian, can you really love those LGBQT people who you think are taking away your rights and challenging your views on traditional Christian ethics? If you are a Liberal Christian, can really love those MAGA followers who you think are the embodiment of everything that is wrong with the world? Can you actually encounter them as human beings and not as the embodiment of evil? Can you find something of worth in them? Can you see in them, the face of God? As Christians, can you really afford to hate the very people that you believe are most in need of the Love of God? I won’t pretend to be any better at this than you, dear reader. Moving into this space of encounter takes an otherworldly level of humility and vulnerability and yet, nothing is more essential in our current moment. In this time of growing hate and tribalism, Christians are called, not to pick the ‘right side’, but to a “ministry of reconciliation.” This doesn’t mean that you have to give up your particular political convictions, but it does mean opening yourself up to the possibility that you might have something to learn from the Other. In this, we can follow the example of the Good Samaritan who freely subverts the tribal lines with an act of agape love towards his enemy. This is a free act of encounter towards a particular human being: that annoying one right there, standing before you. In that moment of friendship, walls are broken down and animosity is overcome. This is not a fun or glamorous exercise, it is a painful and difficult task that takes us to the limits of ourselves. But maybe, in that act of faithful venture, we can make room for the Spirit to work the ministry of reconciliation between us.