Angry Political FightUnless you’ve been purposefully avoiding the news, you know that the U.S. government is currently in shutdown mode following a stalemate between Democrats and Republicans over the budget. The big storyline of the shutdown is the thousands of federal employees currently not working and not getting paid. Congress is still getting paid, however, which naturally draws the ire of many citizens. How is it that the people responsible for thousands of others losing their income are themselves still getting a paycheck?

There’s plenty of blame to go around for the mess we’re in. And everywhere you turn you can find someone eager to place blame, whether it’s pundits in the news media or your politically-minded friends on Facebook. (This is yet another of those occasions when suddenly everyone becomes an expert on Constitutional law, and economic and domestic policy.)

And here’s where I, as a pastor, become greatly disturbed by what I see happening. American political discourse has become increasingly rancorous and partisan. Angry accusations are hurled by each side at the other. Each side presents itself as the champions of truth and justice who are justifiably—even righteously—angry at the malfeasance of the other side. And Christians are right in the thick of it. Despite the fact that we claim to follow a King who unequivocally declared, “My kingdom is not of this world,” we seem to get awfully caught up in what the kingdoms of this world are doing, so much so that we, too, take sides and get into the mudslinging with the best (worst?) of them.

I see three big reasons why this Christian partisanship is problematic. The first is that it divides us from each other and even pits us against each other. You may be a hardcore political conservative who can’t stand Democrats, but guess what: sitting next to you in the pew may be a diehard Democrat. When you start blaming the Democrats for what’s wrong in Washington, how well does it go over with your Democratic brothers and sisters in Christ? How well does it go over with you when you find out that they’re Democrats? (“In my church? Unconscionable!”) Are you able to maintain Christian unity with those on the other side of the political spectrum? Are you more likely to be singing “Blest Be the Tie That Binds,” or “Onward, Christian Soldiers,” followed swiftly by “The Battle Hymn of the Republic?”

The second reason why Christian partisanship is problematic is that it distracts us from our mission. The Great Commission tells us that the invitation to join God’s kingdom extends to every nation (Matt. 28:18-20). The kingdom transcends nationality, race, culture, language, and political affiliation (Rev. 5:9). Can you embrace your political opponents as members of the same family of God to which you belong? Or do your political convictions lead you to exclude those whose convictions are different? If those of us in the church can’t get along because of political disagreements, how will we ever make disciples all over the world? Who is going to take us seriously if we’re divided amongst ourselves over matters which only have temporal importance? After all, Jesus said that all people will know we are His disciples if we love one another (John 13:35). If we’re lacking in love, we’re telling the world that we’re not really His disciples.

The third reason why Christian partisanship is problematic is that causes us to sacrifice our Christian values. I have observed that there is an inverse correlation between the party which one blames the most for our current political disorder and the party which he or she supports the most. That might seem obvious; of course we’re going to criticize the other side more. But Christians should have a higher standard of morality than which political party we happen to like better. Let’s suppose, for example, that you tend to side with the Democrats. Your natural tendency might be to blame the Republicans for the nation’s woes. But would you be willing to hold your own party accountable? Would you be willing to stand up and call out injustice, greed, pride, and selfishness no matter who has perpetrated it? It’s all too easy to turn a blind eye to our preferred party’s faults and instead focus on the wrongdoing of the other party.

Far too many Christians seem blindly loyal to their political ideology, and far too few Christians display a sold out, no holds barred loyalty to God’s kingdom that supersedes every earthly loyalty. The first words in the Great Commission establish that Jesus has all the authority in heaven and on earth. No political loyalty should surpass our loyalty to Jesus and to the principles He taught. Can you love your political enemies like Jesus does? Do you have to sacrifice Christian values, like humility, graciousness, mercy, and peacemaking, in order to fight your political foes? Ask yourself this: how would Jesus relate to our current political climate? Can you imagine Him in the thick of political debates blaming, accusing, and deriding the opposition? Can you honestly imagine Him taking a side at all? If you can, I would strongly encourage you to take a closer look at Jesus’ values and compare them with the values of your preferred political ideology. The glaring discrepancies should answer any lingering questions about which party Jesus would support.

The gospel is for everyone: Democrats and Republicans, liberals and libertarians, progressives and conservatives. And the gospel unites everyone under the same banner of God’s eternal kingdom. But when we allow politics to divide and distract us, we deny the power of the gospel and the all-inclusive nature of God’s kingdom. We become a church divided against itself which cannot stand. Make no mistake: troublous times are coming, when the kingdoms of this world will array themselves against the citizens of the kingdom of heaven. But how can the church withstand the onslaught if we’re too busy bickering over which earthly kingdom is greatest (or which is the lesser evil)? I challenge you, my Christian friends, to put your loyalty to God’s kingdom above all other loyalties. Do not let anything undermine your allegiance to Jesus and your unity with your fellow kingdom citizens. Let the words of Paul in Ephesians 4 characterize your life, even in the arena of politics:

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Eph. 4:1-6)

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Eph. 4:29-32)

 

 

My friend Nelson Fernandez, who pastors on South Carolina, has also written an excellent blog along similar lines.

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