With election season in full swing and the drama around the recent and upcoming changes in the Supreme Court, my mind has been in serious politics mode lately. I’m listening to people debate about who the best candidates are, about whether President Obama could/should nominate a new justice, and about policy troubles both foreign and domestic. However, I’m a bit zeroed in on another dimension of it all at the moment: the political tone in our country.
When people talk about Christianity and politics, the conversation is normally centered on positions and policies:
What is the right/biblical role of government?
Should we stop or support gay marriage?
Should we help the poor through the government or rely on private programs?
How do we protect innocent lives?
Is the death penalty just?
How much should we regulate/tax/spend?
When should we go to war?
Great questions. There are some even broader questions we ask in some of my circles:
How closely connected should church and state be?
Should a Christian serve in the military?
How much should a Christian invest into politics anyways- isn’t God’s kingdom not of this world?
Important questions, everyone of them.
However, for all our talk of theology and policy I think we can really miss a fundamental element of what it means to live out our Christian identity.
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”
Jesus is telling His hearers here that they are to have both a preserving and flavoring effect on the world around them. So what is does that even mean? How do we preserve? What is the ‘flavor’of a Jesus follower? And how can this play out in a political environment?
Well, most Christians know to say that the chief characteristic of a Christian is love. ‘They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love…’ right? But seriously, has the word ‘love’ come to be seen as cliche and thoughtless? Should we at least unpack what we mean by that? Surely the Bible gives us plenty of examples of what love is. Love is patient and kind, it’s not self-seeking. Love is laying down your life for another. Love seeks the truth.
Ok, those are all very true and good, but I suspect they still seem cliche. So let me turn to one of my favorite chapters in the Bible- Philippians 2.
This passage speaks of Christ’s humility and how we are to imitate it in our relationships with each other. It speaks of love in a familiar way but focuses in on how Christ’s love for us was necessarily humble.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
Now this particular passage was aimed at believers’ relationships with each other, but I see no reason we not apply this description of love to our relationships with other people… Especially when we consider here that the example we are to follow is Jesus’, and he served all in this way.
Back to politics. Here is my angle: What if part of our mission as Christians in a democratic society isn’t just what our policies are, but what our posture is?
What if we thought it was as important to value our political opponents above ourselves as it was to make our point about how the government should handle immigration? What if we thought it was as important to share power as it was to retain plenty of it? What if listening and being people who take time to understand others was as important to us as arguing for a better/bigger/smaller/more efficient government program? What if being aware of our own fallibility was as big of a deal to us as ‘standing for righteousness’ in our condemnation of those-things-those-people-do?
Gosh, I feel like I’m saying nothing new here, but dammit, we sure don’t act like we we give a shit about our political opposition. We talk about love, but we are so quick to demonize people on ‘the other side’. That is not love. We assume terrible motives. That is not love. We rarely take a second to understand the perspectives of people who are “CLEARLY” on the wrong side of our most deeply held cultural convictions. This is not what Jesus meant when he said to love. We walk in deep fear of what will come of our privileges and rights. There is no room for love in that.
We are failing to be salt when we act like simply having political victory is our end game. Being like Jesus is our end game. He somehow managed to value and care for people who were all over the cultural and political map. We must find a way to do the same.
Now look, Jesus wasn’t a politician. Power and government and many of the political hot buttons of the day look nothing like they do now. This is *part* of why Christians disagree on political issues so much. May that fact actually help us give even more grace to each other and ourselves as we wade through the swamp of this nasty election season. But even if we see some issues as perfectly clear and obvious, it seems rather evident to me that we are never given leave from loving others. Enemies, friends, Christians, non Christians, Americans, Iraqis. We simply don’t get a pass on that. And when we love people, we value them. We look for ways to meet their needs and understand them better. It doesn’t mean we always find agreement. I doesn’t mean a solution to the problem at hand will always be clear. But we don’t get to stop taking a humble and loving posture towards others. If we do, we are losing our saltiness and have sacrificed the core element of our calling.