Beliefs and ideas about politics are often really no more than theological statements dressed up in secular terms.
Maybe you disagree with that statement. But consider this, often politics offers something that theology has been about for a long time – a vision of salvation. In theology we have terms for this – soteriology and eschatology.
Bad theology is often deadly and destructive. It focuses on wrath, compliance, anger, and makes people suffer as a result. Bad theology allows for abuse and violence. Often these bad theologies find willing partners in political ideologies – a partnership of convenience.
When we hear politicians and others talk about salvation and a savior, it’s politics using theology. Now, you may not think that politicians talk in theological terms but let me point out a couple of recent examples. Remember when Obama was described as being like a savior? Or how about people saying that Trump was put here by God. How about every president invoking God’s blessing on the nation. Or that we are a special nation ordained by God. Those are theological terms that are hijacked for political purposes. When we hear about being a great nation (or great again), it’s no different from what the crowds were expecting from Jesus when he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. People were thinking politics, but were really doing theology. They had an expectation of what a savior was. But Jesus had a different definition.
Don’t tell me to have theology stop at the border of politics especially when politics tramples all over theology all the time and has for centuries. As if theology shouldn’t have any effect on the public sphere. It does, which is why politics is often trying to use it for its own advantages.
Which is the foundation of the other? Is politics and ideology the foundation of life or is theology the thing that guides our decisions in both public and private life? Does politics and ideology inform our theology or does our theology inform our politics?
I would argue that most people place politics as the foundation of their lives. We seem to invest a great deal of time on politics, ideology, party loyalties, and politicians. Do we invest the same time, energy, emotion, and resources in to our theology? How many times do we hear about a political leader being like a savior who is going to save the nation or make it great again? Democrats and Republicans are both guilty of this.
How much time do we devote to opening the sacred scriptures of politics (news sites), listen to the religious authorities of politics (spin doctors on TV who tell us what to believe), give our tithes and offerins to the religion of politics (campaign contributions), listen sermons of politicians (speeches, tweets, etc)., and partake in apologetics of the faith of politics (defending the ideology from all attacks on social media, in person, or anywhere)? Do we give that kind of investment of ourselves into our faith? When is the last time you opened Scripture outside of church to read God’s word? Want me to go on?
If you believe that theology and faith are only a personal matter and they have no impact on the social or community, the polity, then I have some questions for you?
How do you square that belief with the Great Commission of Jesus? Matthew 28:18-20 states:
And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
Jesus says “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” As in all. Not a separation between personal and the political. “Make disciples of all nations.” Do you think that might have an impact on policies that are implemented?
How do you square the belief of theology and politics being in separate realms, not impacting each other, with the whole idea of the kingdom/reign of God? How do you square it away with the image of Revelation 21. How do you square it away with the prophets of old telling kings what God’s words were? How do you square it away with the time before kings in Israel where God was the head and they had no need of a king?
How do you square it with Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey at one end of the city in contrast to Pilot entering at the other end on his horse with his soldiers? How do you square it away with the titles given to Jesus that had been reserved for Caesar, the Roman emperor – King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Savior of the World, Prince of Peace?
How do you hold onto the belief that theology and faith have no impact on politics and living in community when the bible shows that the idea is false through out it?
If our theology and faith don’t guide our whole life, including our politics, then what good is it?
How is that faith and theology going to bring about the kingdom of God? And do we really want the kingdom of God to come at all? The kingdom of God is all-encompassing, not just affecting your personal life. Throughout the Hebrew Bible we hear about God restoring the entire world, not just individuals. We hear about the salvation of Israel, not just individuals. In the Gospel of John, we hear that God so loved the cosmos, that he gave his Son. Not God so loved individuals – no, the entire cosmos, all of creation.
Which god do we lay our lives out in front of to determine how we will live – both personally and communally? Which god invites us to participate in the unfolding of a kingdom? God or some earthly kingdom and ideology and politician?
The book of Daniel is full of examples of politics stepping all over theology and faith. And there are consequences of this because God doesn’t care about these human made imaginary boundaries that we construct. They are human inventions.
Jonah is sent by God with a message for the a secular city and it’s rulers to change. Elijah flees for his life from King Ahab and Queen Jezebel because theology and faith are foundational for personal and public life and the politicians don’t like being put in their place as servants of God rather than gods over people.
The Apostle Paul, over and over again, suffers at the hand of politics and politicians, eventually being killed by politicians. John the Baptist is jailed and beheaded by politicians because he dares to speak faith and theology into the life of politics. Jesus suffers at the hand of politics, eventually being crucified by politicians because he is offering an alternative kingdom in contrast to the empire.
Ephesians 4:25-5:2 states:
So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbours, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labour and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Hebrews 13:1-5 states:
Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. Let marriage be held in honour by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’
When we read Ephesians 4:25-5:2 and Hebrews 13:1-5, do we only see these as personal suggestions on how to live life? Do we put up walls to prevent them from being carried out publicly? Or at least have higher expectations for our elected leaders? Why? What is it about these passages that is so dangerous to our political system that we make excuses for behaviors, rhetoric, and policies that are in opposition to what is in Scripture?
Before you level the charge that I am suggesting or advocating a theocracy, I am not. Theocracies often end up being abusive, dangerous, full of violence, focused on compliance of action and thought. Theocracies are all about using absolute power over people. That’s not what the kingdom of God is about at all.
The questions I am raising are this – What does it mean to claim to be a follower of Jesus? Does it only affect our personal life? Is it acceptable to put Jesus on the side when it comes to our politics? Why is that acceptable? Why doesn’t our theology inform our politics, our policies, and our rhetoric? That doesn’t mean we need a theocracy. Far from it. It means we need to live out what we claim to believe in into all aspect of our life, whatever our political structure is.