Sunday, August 5, 2012

Politics and Faith Development

A couple years back, during the 2010 mid-term election season, my friend Dusty posted a provocative question on his Facebook page:
If Jesus were here in body like He was 2000 years ago, would He be a Republican or a Democrat? Liberal or Conservative? Would He join the Tea Party?


As you might imagine, this prompted a pretty interesting conversation between folks of lots of different perspectives.

Here was one of my contributions early in the discussion:
I actually had a conversation about this topic during the 2008 Presidential Campaign with my 7th grade Bible class. At the outset of our discussion, most of the kids assumed Jesus would be a Republican, but mostly because they identify Christians with Republicans. (I'm thinking they were parroting their parents--Sioux County *is* one of the most staunchly Republican counties in the whole nation.) One outspoken 7th grade girl (whose parents happen to lean left) was bold enough to speak up that she thought there is no way Jesus could be a Republican, because he cares to much about the poor, the sick, the beaten-down, etc. (Ouch.) THAT prompted a lot of conversation!  

I changed the subject a bit so we could talk about the different "political parties" in Palestine in Jesus' day: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Zealots. The Pharisees were definitely conservative--focused on the Law and personal piety. The Sadducees were also conservative--interested in the status quo as the wealthy aristocracy. The Zealots were liberal with a slight anarchist bent--they'd do what it takes to get rid of the Roman occupiers.  

In our conversation, we noted that Jesus didn't really fit in with any of those groups, and spoke against all of them (either through actions or by words). Of course, there's no direct correlation between these "parties" and our contemporary American parties, but the key theme we noted was that Jesus was much more concerned with people than politics. (He seemed to get *everyone* rankled about something!) :-) 

Maybe that's the point? Jesus wasn't/isn't a politician; He seems much more concerned about loving people than who has political power.

Our Facebook conversation went on for some time, and another friend, Michael, suggested that Dusty's original question is perhaps the wrong question to be asking. Michael suggested that Jesus would be probably be more concerned with us as individuals (rather than political affiliations), and how we are each working to advance the kingdom. That really got me thinking, and here is another of my contributions in response:
I agree with Michael, but what does this look like in community? In his first post, Michael brings up the importance of personal commitment to advancing the Kingdom (which I TOTALLY agree with). My concern is (not for your post, but for our "Christian" culture) that we're TOO concerned with people's individual responses to Christ's call--i.e., having a "personal relationship with Jesus." I don't want to sound like I'm minimizing the importance of this relationship; Jesus *is* my personal Lord and Savior and I'm continually awed and humbled by His love for me.   

It's just that...well...the history of God's people is the history of God's PEOPLE--not as individuals, but as a group, right? So...I agree with you that we have to "pick sides"...but what if the way for Jesus' followers is in fact a "third way"--not "liberal" or "conservative," not "Republican" or "Democrat"...maybe it's more that we need to try to be active in politics while recognizing the brokenness of it all too! Jesus isn't a Republican, Democrat, Pharisee, Sadducee, Zealot, Marxist, Capitalist, Socialist, Fascist, Green, <insert-your-flavor-here> any more than He's Reformed, Baptist, Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox, Evangelical, or <insert-your-flavor-here>.   

I sometimes think we worry far too much about trying to fit Jesus into our box--our way of thinking--that we miss out on his real message: to build the Kingdom of God. What does that mean? While I agree with Michael about being personally invested in the political "scene," I'm still struggling for how to answer that question for the greater Body of Christ. How do we *communally* respond to the political fracas?

Jesus never shied away from the culture around him. Think about the rag-tag group of disciples Jesus picked for himself, including:
  • Matthew, the tax collector (hired by the Romans, hated by the Jews), 
  • Simon the Zealot (dedicated to overthrowing the Romans), 
  • James and John, the "Sons of Thunder" (they sound like big talkers to me), 
  • Thomas (the skeptic who demanded proof of the Resurrection), and
  • Peter (the hot-headed, act-first-and-think-second, roughneck fisherman.)
Others, while not part of the Twelve, clearly represented the ruling elite: Nicodemus was a Pharisee, and Joseph of Arimathea was a wealthy man and probably part of the ruling council, the Sanhedrin. 

People of all stripes were drawn to Jesus, learned to follow Jesus. After Jesus' death and resurrection and ascension, they formed a new community, the Body. And while they were of course living in the culture that surrounded them, they were also counter-cultural, in much the same way that Christ himself was.

Lately, I'm thinking more about Jesus and politics and how we should communally respond in our cultural setting as the Body in the 21st Century--perhaps ever more since I'm seeing more and more ads on TV of one politician (or party) lambasting another candidate for President. Everyone is so quick to sling mud and rake muck that it's hard to have a reasonable conversation about political stuff, let alone a faith-informed one. And I really am concerned that many Christians (at least around here) automatically reduce a Christian response to politics to simply voting the Republican ticket. (For the record, I am a registered Republican, but I'd definitely call myself a moderate. If there was a viable third party--someplace in the middle--that's probably where my views would most neatly line up.)

Where does this land us in terms of teaching Christianly? Well...I'm thinking a lot lately about how faith development happens in schools. Scary to bring up a topic like politics, even in a Christian school, because there is clearly a range of perspectives within the umbrella of Christendom. In some ways, it might be harder to talk about politics in a Christian school, which is a sad comment, really.

That said, I think distinctively Christian teachers must address potentially controversial topics like this one. We don't learn discipleship by blindly nodding along to what teachers, church leaders, or other authority figures pontificate. Discipleship, in my mind at least, is a process of actively engaging culture through the lens of Scripture, within the support of the Body.

Learning to be a disciple means we have to engage the world around us! If we, as distinctively Christian teachers, really want to help develop our students' faith lives, we must be willing to have open conversations, even about challenging topics like this.

1 comment:

  1. I must say that I thorougly enjoyed this post because it is something I have talked about with many people (who had very differed opinions). And, I absolutely agree with you. Honestly, right now I'm struggling with trying to decide who I should vote for. I also agreed with your comment about how we need to figure out how to communally respond as a Christian body. Thanks for writing this.