We see it all the time – especially in the news and on facebook posts. But really, you can see it in more places than that.
It rears its ugly head each election season and more often when one side of a political debate feels the need to score some points in order to get a favored piece of legislation passed.
What is it that I am talking about? Politicized Christianity. I read an excellent article on this by Darrin W. Snyder Belousek just last week and I would encourage you to read it as well.
In the article, Belousek talks about how Christians of both left and right political leanings may want to rethink some things. Here’s a short paragraph to give you the idea:
The quest to see Christ embodied in a particular political order, which has been dubbed “Constantinianism” by theologians, should be seen as a distortion of Christianity.
Having just written a paper on how Roman Emperor Constantine changed the church and worship with the church, I was amazing that there is someone else out there interested in this subject and sees it relating to our present day situation.
In fact, when you look through the history of Christianity, this has been the norm for most of Christianity’s existence since Constantine. I argue that in the end, Constantine’s greatest effect on the church was making the church redefine itself.
At any rate, here’s my issue with politicized Christianity – I find that many times when Christians, of either political persuasion, argue for certain legislation, their foundation becomes politics and political party, not Christianity. In many cases, Christianity becomes just another tool or, unfortunately, a weapon in the fight over legislation where you either win or lose.
Is Christianity just an extension of politics? God, I hope not. I’ve spent a good portion of my life working in politics. I learned a great deal from these experiences. I’m also glad to be out it. Politics is about power – who has it and who can obtain it and how they use it.
Christianity, from what I have learned, can also be about power too. When we focus on the institutional aspects of Christianity, sometimes we delve into the world of politics. But Christianity is also about power in a different way – empowering others who are powerless. Because that is what God does with each one of us and we are called to do likewise.
So does this all mean that Christians should not be engaged in politics? Not at all. We live in the world and the Church can have a role in trying to influence and shape society. Sometimes the best way to do that is through politics. And yes, politics can be nasty, brutish and bloody. The church hasn’t shied away from these types of fights before.
What I am arguing is that we as a church should remember our foundation – Christ. Christ didn’t spend every waking moment waiting to see what the emperor said on any given subject. Christ didn’t attach himself to one political party or group in order to gain favor. Christ didn’t become the mouthpiece of any political movement, even when it would have been easy to do so. Instead, Christ lived out his mission, took action, and confronted authorities when needed. He rendered unto Caesar that which was Caesar’s, but remembered that the Father was his foundation and reason for everything he did.
Here’s a little test for you – When political arguments are made, do you hear how the opposition is evil and wants to destroy the country, pollute the land, brainwash your children, take away something of yours, or do you hear actual policy debate which is capable of seeing how there could be multiple ways of obtaining the desired result and that alternatives exist because each side has different values and wants to protect what they value?
The first way, I would argue has its foundation in politics – there’s the good guys and the bad guys – you’re either with us or against us – no questions allowed please. The second way may not necessarily be the Christian way, but it does look through a different lens, one that I think Christianity matches up with – It looks at policy and legislative debates through the lens of grace and mercy and, yes, even with justice.
But then again, the first argument is so much more fun isn’t it? You get to point the finger at someone else (or give them the finger) and tell them they are wrong. You get to raise a whole lot of money as an organization because fear of the bad people is a great motivation to give up your money to protect yourself and everything you value. And who doesn’t love a few good zingers that you can fling at your opponents and enemies. They make for great Tweets and Facebook posts, don’t they?
That’s what we come up against my fellow Christians. We can either be used by politics, or we can engage in politics differently. The choice is yours.