We take Christ’s name as our identity in this world, as Christians. But do our lives, including our acts and words give the lie to such a claim?
America in recent years has become more and more divided. One can’t talk about religion and politics for good reason. It used to be a more or less friendly, though vigorous dispute. But now it seems to be nearly a matter of life and death.
What is lacking in this, in terms of America itself, is an appreciation for just how messy, violent and bad one aspect of our history has been from the beginning, while we should acknowledge that there’s been plenty of good, as well. Certainly many good people have lived and still live here, who lead exemplary lives worthy of respect. It does mean that there’s enough vitriol and unhidden anger, that the fabric of our society is in danger of being torn apart. What’s a Christian to do? And even more importantly, what are we Chrisitians to do about this?
First of all, the answer is not that we would all line up with the same poltical party, or think the same way politically. That’s not going to happen. It is best to acknowledge, as I was reminded by one Christian leader recently, that in these things, in political matters we indeed “see through a glass darkly” and “know” only “in part” (1 Corinthians 13 is not referring to American politics, but these words happen to apply). The one who has all the answers and is not open to revision in such matters, is the one indeed who is not to be trusted. We need an extra large dose of humilty when it comes to the politics of this world. That said, it’s not that we shouldn’t have our opinions and convictions on the matter.
The differences among us should not be sanitized, or white washed so as to pretend they don’t exist so that we can all get along. Instead we can be up front about such things so that we can learn to listen and respect our differences, and even grow from that. But most importantly, we can show the world that it’s the gospel, no less, which unites and defines us as a people. The gospel, God’s vision for the world in and through Jesus, will by and by impact how we think in regard to the politics of this world, though it won’t resolve all our differences. But in that process, when we may be in sharp disagreement along the way, perhaps never resolved, at the same time we can show the world how those at odds in such things can still not only get along, but be united in love in and through Jesus and the gospel.
What the world doesn’t need is the way I sometimes can be (privately at home, not online, or much if any in public), flying off the handle with intemperate remarks, which while I may believe them generally speaking, likely are not helpful in how I should both think and live. There may come a time when we have to say some really hard things. People who have a better historical perspective are the ones to be listened to; I don’t think I’m among their number. I can’t help but think of Bonhoeffer and his warnings long before they came true.
That said, I don’t believe we do well for America, and far more importantly, well in terms of the gospel and the mission of the church to get caught up in the political firestorm that is now assaulting our nation. People should see a difference in us no matter what happens in that. Our lives in and through Jesus are to be defined in terms of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, not in terms of the United States Constiution, even while we can have a healthy respect for that document, and for a democratic republic, or liberal democracy. People need to see that our lives are not defined by the latter, even while we seek to live with all due respect, in compliance to the laws of the land.
The challenge for us is to stay informed about what is happening, so we can pray. And above all, stay true to the one who has called us to show the better way. The way of righteousness and justice in the love of God’s kingdom come in Jesus. We have to hold on to that, and in comparison, let the rest go. People ought to say when they look at us that we really do believe Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not. That our confidence is not in the United States of America, even while we seek to conduct our lives here for its good, and God’s blessing on it, the same certainly holding true for Christians in other nations, just as Israel was to do the same for their captive nations when they were in exile.
We can help America through this storm only insofar as we stay true to our calling, and refuse to get caught up in the war of words and the division which is threatening this nation. As we go on in the society that in and through Jesus will flourish, with the hope of seeing good coming out of whatever happens. And with the confidence that God is sovereign over the nations, and Jesus is Lord.