Monday, September 24, 2012

Faith and Politics in America

"Politics are never ultimate, never absolute. We can and must fight the good fight for a better republic and a better world. But our hope does not depend on any political outcome. Our faith and our hope derive from Jesus Christ, who survives all nations and all politics."
Robert N. Bellah

The Bible is a profoundly political book. The prophets proclaim God’s passion for justice as the foundation of the social order. And the message of Jesus is centered on “the good news of the Kingdom of God.” In the Lord’s Prayer, our first petition is, “Thy Kingdom come.” When the early church spoke of Jesus as “Lord,” and “Savior,” and “Son of God,” they knew that all of these terms were used to apply to the Emperor. And they knew that the Empire had killed Jesus because he was a political threat. When early Christians said that Jesus was “Lord,” they were also saying, “and Caesar is not.”

The Gospel is intensely political and we cannot read it with any measure of intellectual honestly and pretend otherwise. It is about proclaiming a vision of the Kingdom of God. It is about social and economic justice. But we must also remember, as Bellah points out, that the Kingdom of God can never be identified with any single political group or cause, or country. Instead, it is always the standard by which every political plan is judged.

What does this mean for us as Christians in an election year?

First, we need to keep perspective. Near the end of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of the apocalypse as a time when “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven.” Elections matter and the choices are real, but regardless of who wins and who loses; this will not be the apocalypse.

Second, we should not assume that those with whom we disagree are lacking in honesty or sincerity or faith. We are not choosing between good and evil; we are choosing between competing visions of the good.

Third, we need to remember that it is always easier to see the speck in the eye of our neighbor (or the opposing candidate) than it is to see the log in our own eye. As Bellah notes, “We can and must fight the good fight for a better republic and a better world.” But we need to be clear that there is a gap between our vision and God’s vision. This does not mean that one idea is as good as another, or that political issues do not matter. It does mean that we should approach political issues with repentance and humility. 

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