We Need Better Conversations on Politics

For the next few weeks, Allen and I are going to be writing through some blogs, podcasts, etc. which have impacted us over the last few months. There was a time when we tried to provide links to important voices every week, but we just couldn’t keep up. Instead we decided to spend the next few weeks interacting with some ideas that are shaping and informing us.

As we talk through these topics, we will be sharing lots of links and recommendations. So if you want to think more about anything we say, follow the links to the blogs and podcasts we are relying on.

politicsSo we decided to start with an easy subject: Politics.

Before I dive in I want to make a disclaimer: We hate politics.

As a matter of fact, we planned for this to be a six-week series on politics but decided we didn’t have that much to say on the topic. It is not the kind of thing we normally write about. But we decided it was important enough to talk about and we want to do it from a different perspective.

We also wanted to talk about politics now because the rhetoric and intense emotions surrounding politics will continue to build and build in the coming months, and we wanted to engage it a bit before social media and news channels spiral out of control.

But here’s why we want to engage it at all: A few months ago Skye Jethani wrote a post for his email subscribers about how Christians created Donald Trump. He was reacting to the numerous outcries against Trump from the Christian community and his argument was this:

Part of the reason Trump can continually try to leverage “being a Christian” and why Christian writers now feel the need to take a stand like this is because Christians don’t spend enough time talking about politics well. Christians need to do a better job of engaging in healthy discussions about politics which are not partisan or polarizing and keep the life of Jesus at the center.

Jonathan Martin (you will see his name again) argues that “the Trump” phenomenon is a mirror on our society. I would argue it goes much deeper than one person. Think about Ferguson, Baltimore, the recent controversies at Wheaton college or the University of Missouri. There are so many things in our world which are holding up a giant mirror to the Church about the things we aren’t talking about. The mirror reminds us we need to talk about them and reminds us we are all implicated. More on some of the societal issues in the coming weeks. For now, let’s stay with politics.

While I don’t think we need people telling us what to think about politics, we do need more conversations on how to think about politics. So what I want to offer today are four things to keep in mind as we navigate the election season – both in how we talk to and disagree with others, and in how we make decisions on who and what we vote for.

1. The message of Jesus is political.

The first Christians claimed Jesus Christ was Lord, the Son of God, who was bringing the good news of peace to the world. Which is exactly what the Caesars claimed. The language of Christianity in it’s beginning flew directly in the face of the current political context.

Jesus also comes to reveal and invite us into the new heavens and the new earth. The claims of Christianity are socio-historical claims. History is going somewhere. It is not just personal salvation, it is the redemption of the whole world. And as Richard Rohr says, if the world is not moving somewhere good and redemptive, it is really hard to transform lives.

I mentioned a few weeks ago the problems the show “The Walking Dead” exposes. Here again, that show illuminates something true. If the world is going to hell in a handbasket, if there is no sense of redemption, and if all you can hope to do is survive the awful world, the rules are different. You have to live in different ways. You have to kill or be killed.

But if the world is headed somewhere good, we have choices. We can live like the message of Jesus is true here and now. We can participate in the world to come right where we are. Which has individual, societal, and political implications.

2. Jesus was political in radically different ways.

Everyone assumed the Messiah was going to ride into town on a white horse and violently overthrow the Roman government. Jesus rode into town on a donkey and got killed by the Roman government. In the crucifixion and Resurrection, Jesus offers an alternative to the current forms of government. He offers a third way.

Ed Gungor and Jonathan Martin recently talked about how in America, we often want to cram Jesus into the political party we follow. But this is extremely problematic. When Jesus offers a third way he reminds us politics cannot save us. Your political party is not the answer to the worlds problems. Jesus is. And when we start with the life of Jesus, he exposes that both sides have huge flaws and gaps and we need to trust in Jesus rather than politics.

3. If both of the above are true, we have to think about politics in different ways.

We can’t cram Jesus into the political realm we live in.
Jesus is neither democrat nor republican.
Nor American.
Jesus actually comes to offer a third way.

Yet, we cannot separate the claims of Jesus from the political realm. The life of Jesus makes public, social claims we take seriously.

Mirislov Volf talks about how as Christians we tend to do one of two things with politics: We either withdraw altogether or we try to impose ”Christian” values on everyone else. Neither option is helpful.

We need to stop asking too much of politics and learn how we can begin to cross divides and work together for the flourishing of humanity. We need to stop asking partisan questions about politics and start asking Christian questions.

4. On the cross, Jesus breaks down the walls of hostility and brings those who are other to the Table.

On the cross, God and humanity (who could not be more other from each other) are reconciled and united. So we are called to break down the walls of hostility that divide us from those who are other in our lives.

American politics often has the opposite goal. We care less about who we are than who we aren’t in the political realm. Politics polarizes and divides. Jesus comes to unite and include. Which means we have to be willing to disagree well and truly hear others opinions.

As Jonathan Martin said: Outside of the love of Jesus we need to be willing to be wrong and re-think our viewpoints.

And as we have said before, embodying the inclusion and hospitality of the Table is possibly our most important goal as Christians in 2016. Perhaps politics is a good place to start.

I don’t have a lot of answers in the political realm. And there are tons of people way smarter than I am who deal with the issue. But I do know that the way we talk and think about politics is broken. We need better, and more honest conversations that root us in the redemptive work of Jesus.

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