I became a Christian in college, despite the progressive, skeptical atmosphere in the Iowa liberal arts school I attended. I learned to put into perspective the tensions I saw between what I read in Scripture and what I was learning in college. I didn’t exactly compartmentalize the differences. I was able to synthesize many of them, but some of the tensions I learned to “shelve” for later consideration.
I wasn’t very career minded when I graduated from college. I only wanted to follow and serve Jesus. I ended up packing my bags to go to Alton Bay, NH for a summer job, believing that I was going, like Abraham, to a place God was calling me. I didn’t know exactly what I was in for. I only had a summer job, but I didn’t think I was coming back to the Midwest.
I got deeply involved in the local church in Laconia, NH after the summer job ran its course. It was a dynamic church, growing out of the Jesus People movement in the 60’s, and still going strong. I was more focused on following Jesus than pursuing a career. I worked a number of different jobs over the six years I spent in NH, and got married and had two children there.
This was the time of the rise of the Moral Majority. Pat Robertson ran for President while I lived in the Granite State. Live Free or Die was the motto, and people were proud of it. Politics crept into my faith. I even rubbed shoulders with churchgoers who were members of the John Birch Society.
Then I felt called to go in a different and went to law school. That brought my back to the Midwest where I have remained ever since. Not that the change of scenery was overly influential, but law school challenged my thinking to the core. It’s designed to do that.
I compartmentalized my faith once again, as I had done in college. I set things “on the shelf” as I devoted myself to learning the law. It turns out I was pretty adept at understanding the law, leaving law school with a diploma and a standing of 2nd in my graduating class.
I was not as adept at reconciling the political and cultural influences that crept into my faith under the scrutiny of the jealous mistress of the law. They exposed and challenged under the harsh light of scrutiny, as was my biblical faith.
Years would go by before I reached a point of resolution. My faith survived, but the political and cultural baggage did not. The dynamic church I went to long ago disintegrated into myriad pieces of broken relationships, broken dreams and broken promises. The way was difficult, but I think I am a better Christian because of it, and this is what I believe I have learned.
As I look at the life of Jesus and what he said, I don’t see him being influenced by the political and cultural baggage of the time. He marched to the drum beat of the Father, and narrow road He invites us to take runs at cross purposes to every human ideology and worldview at some point. It’s bound to!
Jesus didn’t mince words in his criticism of the religious leaders. At the same time, he had very little to say (virtually nothing) about the political and governing structures. He was focused on the work of the kingdom of God.
Jesus didn’t side with the Sadducees or the Pharisees. He wasn’t “denominational” in that respect. He was equally critical of both religious camps. Jesus didn’t side with the Zealots or the Romans. Their fight over governing control of the province of Judea was not his focus or concern.
I am reminded of these things as I read the article, CHRIST, NOT AMERICA, FIRST, in Sojourners magazine online. I know that many of my friends who continue to carry the baggage of political affiliations will likely criticize for reading a liberal, progressive magazine. Never mind that the article is dead on.
“Through his entire life and ministry, Jesus was notably absent from involving himself in the political systems of his day. Why? Because the Kingdom of Heaven was his priority, and living out the divine ideals of that kingdom would be contrary to those of any worldly kingdom or system of power.”
Other than an isolated statement about rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, we don’t find Jesus saying anything about getting involved in what Caesar was doing. There were Centurions and other “governmental” employees and officials who appear in the Gospels, but they appear only in relation to their faith (or lack thereof) and interaction with Jesus while pursuing the kingdom work he came to do.
As time goes on, I spend more and more of my time listening to Christians from other parts of the world, because their views provide a counterbalance to the American Christianity that I know. What I see now more than ever is that American Christianity is influenced very significantly by uniquely American cultural and political dyes that color how we see things – for better and worse.
Aside from being comparatively weak and anemic (having a form of godliness, but denying the power of God), American Christianity is infected by two different strains of virus (as far as I can see) that threaten to render it ineffectual and helpless: 1) a proud, nationalistic virus; and 2) an insidious cultural Marxist virus. Most Christians seem susceptible to one strain or the other (because they are in opposition to each other).
“Christianity isn’t a political ideology, or a sovereign nation, or a set of laws legislating values or enforcing a society’s preferred brand of morality. Christianity is centered upon Christ.”
The political and cultural polarization we are experiencing today isn’t what the kingdom of God is about. Choosing sides in that cultural battle, I fear, is choosing a side God is not on – because God is on all sides. God is on the left. God is on the right. God is everywhere people are calling them to Himself.
“[God] made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us….” (Acts 17:26-27)
Paul said this to the Greeks in a city full of diverse people who were polarized in their philosophical and religious views. I have seen people quote these verses in support of tougher immigration laws (God determined allotted periods and boundaries), but they miss the purpose of everything God has done: that people would seek Him and find Him.
Anything that we do that stands in the way or hinders people from seeking God and finding Him is in opposition to God. We should be about the Father’s business as Jesus was about the Father’s business. There is no higher priority. The kingdom of God, which is a kingdom not built by human hands, is our priority as Christians.
Anything else is idolatry. Christ above all is our banner as Christians. Following Jesus in all things will, inevitably, lead to being at odds with every human institution at some point or time. Following Jesus means carrying the cross of being true to Him, and Him alone.
Everyone, regardless of ethnicity, culture, nationality, politics, worldview, or socio-economic background, is loved by God and created in God’s image. We have to ask ourselves regularly, “Is what I am doing or saying a reflection of God’s love and the image of God to others who also bear God’s image?” Or am I simply parroting and perpetuating human political partisanship and cultural biases?
I have taken years to come to realize my own bent toward political partisanship and cultural bias that stood at odds with the Gospel. I am still in the process of having my mind renewed and guided solely by Scripture and the Holy Spirit, to the extent I am able to quiet my own inner voices and hear His still small voice.
It took me years to realize I had thorns growing up with the plant growing from the seed planted years ago by the Holy Spirit, threatening to choke out the life of God in it. So many worries and concerns, distractions and passions, busyness and preoccupation on things that are of this world were tangled up with the life God was trying to water and grow in my spirit that it became difficult to tell the thorns from the plant.
The wheat and tares grow up so closely and intermingled with each other that the sower dare not try to separate them while they are growing, but the tares will be sifted out from the wheat when all is said and done. (Matthew 13:24-30) What are we growing? Are we growing God’s kingdom, which is not of this world (John 18:36)? Or are we growing worldly kingdoms?