When it comes to politics, many believe that the right thing to do is to take sides, be vocal and seek to persuade others. Ten years ago, I strongly agreed, but during the American presidential campaign of 2008, I began to experience a change of heart. This was not an easy reversal for me, since I really do enjoy politics and have opinions! The problem is that I have come to believe there is a higher calling on our lives, much higher even than that of fixing the world’s problems through electing the right leaders, passing the right laws and fighting the right wars.
A friend had challenged me to read a book, the message of which is, in brief, that fusing the Good News of Jesus with political ideology and activism is counterproductive when it comes to the mission of advancing God’s purposes on the earth. It can bring division and break down the love we should have for one another, the very love that is to be the evidence that we belong to Him. It provides a false hope that we can upgrade a “kingdom of this world” to a status that cannot be achieved, since, in this age, “the whole world is under the sway of the evil one.” It can become, in fact, a form of idolatry.
In 2009, I attended a political rally which concluded with a march through the streets. Along the way, I locked eyes with a woman walking alongside. It was clear from the sign she was carrying and the things she was shouting that she was in opposition to the marchers and their message. I saw that it only made sense that the woman would project the values of the crowd on me, values that, rightly or wrongly, she could perceive as threatening. The barrier thereby erected between us made it unlikely that she would see me as a person who loved her as a human being and who viewed her as having unsurpassable worth, unlikely that I could persuade her of the love of God and things of faith. My own core purpose and identity were thus essentially rendered meaningless by my association with the larger group. It was at that moment that I resolved never again to be associated with any political party or movement.
In the time of Jesus, a brutal pagan regime controlled much of the western world. The Pax Romana, the peace of Rome, could perhaps be compared to the order imposed on the regions currently controlled by ISIS. Under such circumstances, one would think there might have been some encouragement toward an insurrection, or at least to have a discussion of political reforms, but that kind of thinking is nowhere evident in the words of Jesus or the writings of the early church. On the contrary, the emphasis is entirely on our personal relationship with God and with one another, on the radical and counter-intuitive call to love our enemies, on how we as Jesus followers are to live our lives as citizens of an entirely different nation, so to speak: the Kingdom of God.
While we have certain responsibilities of lawful behavior toward the earthly nations in which we live, we are, in truth, visitors whose true home, citizenship and allegiance lie elsewhere. We are only “strangers and temporary residents” here, something like a soldier serving overseas, ordered to not get “entangled in the concerns of civilian life.”
I have recently read desperate pleas to Christian brothers and sisters to side with (or against) a given candidate because failing to support (or supporting) that candidate will certainly bring about the end of the republic! It is remarkable that the apostle Paul saw danger in believers identifying themselves even with good and esteemed leaders within the church and urges “that there be no divisions among you.” If we are admonished to avoid aligning ourselves with leaders of the faith, how much more should we take care not to align ourselves with politicians, pundits, parties and movements that are focused on this world’s systems, not on the Good News and transcendent beauty of the Kingdom of God?
The Kingdom of God is eternal and without flaw. It can never be diminished as God Himself can never be diminished – except in our own hearts through neglect or by what might be considered the distraction of seeking to establish or protect a particular version of the kingdoms of this world. We must remember that God’s ways are not our ways. To borrow (and adjust) the catchphrase of a current political campaign, it is possible that we need to make the Kingdom of God great again, in our hearts.
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Related passages from the Scriptures:
Now I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, that there be no divisions among you, and that you be united with the same understanding and the same conviction. For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers, by members of Chloe’s household, that there is rivalry among you. What I am saying is this: Each of you says, “I’m with Paul,” or “I’m with Apollos,” or “I’m with Cephas,” or “I’m with Christ.”
For since there is envy and strife among you, are you not fleshly and living like unbelievers? For whenever someone says, “I’m with Paul,” and another, “I’m with Apollos,” are you not unspiritual people?
1 Corinthians 1:10-12, 3:3b-4
I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar. I tell you about these things in advance—as I told you before—that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law.
So he took Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. The Devil said to Him, “I will give You their splendor and all this authority, because it has been given over to me, and I can give it to anyone I want. If You, then, will worship me, all will be Yours.”
And Jesus answered him, “It is written: Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.”
We know that we are of God, and the whole world is under the sway of the evil one.
1 John 5:19
Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in the concerns of civilian life; he seeks to please the recruiter.
2 Timothy 2:3-4
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood,
a holy nation, a people for His possession,
so that you may proclaim the praises
of the One who called you out of darkness
into His marvelous light.
Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.
Dear friends, I urge you as strangers and temporary residents to abstain from fleshly desires that war against you. Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that in a case where they speak against you as those who do what is evil, they will, by observing your good works, glorify God on the day of visitation.
Submit to every human authority because of the Lord, whether to the Emperor as the supreme authority or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good. For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. As God’s slaves, live as free people, but don’t use your freedom as a way to conceal evil. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the Emperor.
1 Peter 2:9-17
Placing appropriate value on government
They watched closely and sent spies who pretended to be righteous, so they could catch Him in what He said, to hand Him over to the governor’s rule and authority. They questioned Him, “Teacher, we know that You speak and teach correctly, and You don’t show partiality, but teach truthfully the way of God. Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
But detecting their craftiness, He said to them, “Show Me a denarius. Whose image and inscription does it have?”
“Caesar’s,” they said.
“Well then,” He told them, “give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”
They were not able to catch Him in what He said in public, and being amazed at His answer, they became silent.
Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God. So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have its approval. For government is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For government is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong. Therefore, you must submit, not only because of wrath, but also because of your conscience. And for this reason you pay taxes, since the authorities are God’s public servants, continually attending to these tasks. Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor.
First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.
1 Timothy 2:1-2
God’s radical program
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
and your ways are not My ways.”
This is the Lord’s declaration.
“For as heaven is higher than earth,
so My ways are higher than your ways,
and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
But I say to you who listen: Love your enemies, do what is good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If anyone hits you on the cheek, offer the other also. And if anyone takes away your coat, don’t hold back your shirt either. Give to everyone who asks you, and from one who takes your things, don’t ask for them back. Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. If you do what is good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do what is good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is gracious to the ungrateful and evil. Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.
You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same?
Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath. For it is written: Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay, says the Lord. But
If your enemy is hungry, feed him.
If he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head.
Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.