The majority of my recent articles have been political, and sometimes I wonder if all my years working in areas of public policy might too easily push aside the more important work of proclaiming the gospel. Then along comes Epiphany, and it occurs to me that it’s a very political event. The entire scene is set in the political environment of the closing years of Herod’s reign. The political maneuvering that enabled Augustus and Tiberius to rule over an empire at (relative) peace set the stage for the Christ to be born and the gospel to be spread throughout the empire. Politics and religion are never far apart. Jesus waded confidently into politics with a message that challenged every political assumption of the day, every day that followed, our own day, and every day yet to come.
It isn’t that Jesus has something to say exclusively to 21st century American politics. God is not a Democrat or a Republican, nor is God conservative or liberal. God has something to say to those who participate in the political arena wherever they live under every form of government.
For a start, how many times must it be said that God is not one player among many among whom we must pick and choose. God is God, and no one else is. Pay attention when God is speaking. If what God says appears to conflict with your political views, change your views. What does God want for us? Life in abundance. That’s it. Sounds simple, but in such a complicated world, how are we to get life in abundance? Are there any reliable guidelines? Yes, there are.
- One’s past doesn’t have to dictate one’s future.
- The most seductive temptations to evil are cloaked with the appearance of good
- Be an agent of blessing to those who live in poverty of both goods and spirit
- Be a source of comfort to those who mourn
- Understand humility and be humble
- Hunger for justice
- Let mercy trump justice
- Be a peacemaker
- Be courageous
- Stop killing each other
- Don’t belittle others
- Let honesty and integrity govern all that you do
- Let generosity overflow without expectation of return
- Don’t let anxiety about tomorrow overwhelm what needs to be done today
- Follow where Jesus has led, and not some other path
- Break down barriers that separate people
- Break down barriers that prevent others from enjoying abundant life
- Oppose policies that exploit and oppress others
- Heal the sick
- Understand what forgiveness is: accept it, give it
- Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless
- When you mess up, get up, reorient yourself in the right direction, and move on
- Blessing has power, so does cursing: bless, don’t curse
- Don’t be so quick to judge others
- Live as a responsible resident of your country, but give ultimate loyalty only to God
There’s a lot of fuel for politics in that. After all, politics is the process by which we decide how to live together in community, and Jesus has much to say about it. Christians have an obligation to enter into the political fray, encouraging decisions to move in a Godlike direction that has been made clear by God’s own self revelation.
I’ve heard well meaning Christians say that’s all well and good, but it’s naive and impractical for surviving and prospering in daily life. It’s OK to hear it in church, but doesn’t work in the real world. Look, either you want to know the path to abundant life, or you don’t. God in Christ Jesus has said what it is. It’s not up for debate. It’s neither naive nor impractical, it is the only way. The problem isn’t naïveté, it’s difficulty. The way of following Jesus isn’t easy. It takes work. It leads to abundant life, but not safety.
Be careful not to use Jesus’ words as crude weapons to defend your own prejudices, agendas, and desires. Proclaiming ownership of one’s faith, and using it to smite others about the head and shoulders is to fall into the traps set by Satan when it is said he tempted Jesus in the wilderness. Jesus shoved him away, but many of us don’t. We go for it hook, line and sinker, deluded into thinking God’s on our side. Repent. The whole point of the Christian doctrine of repentance is to admit that we are not good at getting it right, but having erred we can try again in a new directions with renewed intention and better focus.
And that’s what I have to say about that.