What is more important, more foundational, to life? Is it one’s theology or their ideology? Ideology can be defined as a set of political beliefs or opinions that a person or group has. Theology in contrast could be defined as a set of religious or faith beliefs and opinions of a person or group. Generally speaking, one of these informs the other for the most part.
As a Christian pastor, part of my calling is to teach a set of theological beliefs that are meant to be foundational for a person’s life. It is my prayer and hope that theology takes on that foundational standing in each person and ultimately informs and shapes other parts of their life, including their ideology, their use of money, relationships, health, etc. Jesus was in the life change business after all and he wanted the whole person, not just some compartment of a person.
So when a person’s ideology becomes more foundational, more important, than their theology, it makes me sad. When a person’s ideology forms the basis of their belief system, they can support policies, leaders, behaviors, and language that dehumanizes, separates, and devalues people. Of course this can happen from a theological standpoint as well, and has throughout history. And I would call that bad theology. It starts with a faulty understanding and belief about God, who God is, and the nature of God. And so very often, it is an ideology that shapes a person’s theology.
When our ideology shapes our theology, we can support blaming the poor for many things including financial stress on a budget. We can reject the stranger due to our safety being threatened. We can erase the outcast because they don’t fit into the boundaries we set for what is “normal.”
When ideology is our foundation in life, it becomes our theology – we shape and manipulate God to match up with our ideology. All of sudden God happens to be supportive of all of our political beliefs, policies, and positions. Amazing! We are able to twist Scripture to comfortably match our beliefs. We are able to come up with excuses for why we can ignore those uncomfortable moments when our ideology conflicts with our theology.
When our ideology reigns in our life, the political idols we create are made in our own image and they represent who we truly are, what we believe, how we speak, and how we live out the beliefs we hold. Or as Jesus says – “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles.” (Matthew 15:18, NRSV)
All too often we fall down and worship these political idols, offering sacrifices to these gods in the form of money, attention, loyalty, anger, fear, and more. We build walls around ourselves. We tell ourselves that we are protecting ourselves from the “others,” but we can’t see the reality that these same walls trap us into a prison of our own making – a kind of self-made hell.
In rejecting and pushing away the “other” we are also rejecting the idea that Christ is in those around us. We are rejecting the idea that we encounter Jesus in the people we come in contact with.
When we dehumanize others and devalue them and blame them, we stop seeing their humanity and Christ within them. And when we can’t see Christ in others, we will never encounter Jesus in our midst. Instead, our lives never change – and neither will theirs. Our hearts will never soften. Our minds will never open. We become stiff and rigor mortis sets in. Things that do not move and grow, die. And our faith of God dies. Our faith in humanity dies. Our faith in others die. The flame of the Spirit within us dies.
We reject our baptismal calling. We reject the love God gives us – unconditional love. We reject God’s forgiveness and mercy. We reject God’s peace. We reject Jesus and his call to discipleship.
Instead, we believe that our ideology will bring salvation. When our ideology is more important than our theology, we stop seeing people as people, but rather as commodities – there are some who benefit us and others who cost us. And it is in this belief that we succumb to the god of money – where money has more value than people. And our decisions are not based on how we live out the Gospel, but rather, if we have enough money (And we never do), or how much it will cost us, or what liability we may be exposing ourselves to.
When ideology is the foundation of our lives, then we willingly support policies that care for money first at the expense of people.
The clear call of Scripture to welcome the stranger, to care for the poor, to feed the hungry, house the homeless, care for the widow and orphan, visit the sick and those in prison – all of these can be rejected when we replace theology, faith, and God with ideology. Our love of money becomes our god. And as Jesus says, you can’t serve two masters.
But the Good News is that God is bigger than all of this. God digs into us and sets us free from our ideologies, from our worship of idols, from the power of money. They can’t hold onto us. God sets us free from the bondage. And frees us to live according to what we understand God to be. We are free to live out the discipleship that Jesus calls us into.
When we encounter Jesus, people’s lives are changed. No ideology can change people’s lives for the better. Even in winning, ideologies enslave people and tell people there is never enough and there is always an enemy.
But God sees us and the world differently. And offers an alternative that is just too good to pass up. It’s big. It’s wide. It’s hopeful. It’s merciful.
It’s a world that brings people together. It’s a world where Jesus provides a place for everyone to call home, and has a full table where everyone gets their fill, and are surrounded by those that love them.