A friend and I had a discussion a while back about whether or not America was founded as a Christian nation. They feel that it was, and I feel that it’s not that simple and that Enlightenment philosophies and theories also played a huge part as well. Overall it was a good conversation. As I thought about our discussion after the fact, I started thinking about politics in general, what I have personally observed, what I have personally experienced, and what I personally feel based upon those observations and experiences. Please note that I am no political expert by any means, so everything I say here may be grossly ignorant or misinformed. If it is, it is unintentional. Show me some grace. Everything I’m saying here is based off my experiences and opinions.
I have always been very slow to involve myself in any discussions regarding politics, even more so posting anything about it on the internet. My Facebook news feed has enough political opinion and ideology to make me want to live in cave for the rest of my life, and the TV has too many talking heads. Everyone is right, everyone is wrong, and everything is spin. I don’t believe there is ill intent behind the majority of it, but for a person of my personality and disposition, it’s something I can’t really get into. It’s exhausting, and that’s why I often stay out of it. But I feel I need to share my thoughts and experiences, because I know I’m not the only one who feels this way sometimes.
The truth is, I hate it when Christianity and politics mix, because I feel that one will inevitably taint the other. I feel that whenever we mix the two, the danger of losing Jesus and the Gospel and replacing them with arguments of morality and who is right and wrong becomes very real. When this happens, I feel Jesus gets lost in the process. It’s as if human opinions become more important than God’s commands. Political legislation is never going to inspire morality (look at how well Prohibition went), or at least sincere morality that confines itself to the Christian ideal because at the end of the day, you can’t expect someone with different beliefs or with a complete lack of religious belief to adhere to your religious standards. It’s foolish to expect people with different belief systems to live under your belief system. I also believe a Christian government would eventually become as corrupt as any other because at the end of the day you’d have fallen human beings, not Jesus, running the country.
Culture, ideologies, power, and especially politics are their own religions in this world, and like all religions, we all can get sucked into their vortex when we lose sight of the big picture, and I’m proof of it. Back in 2008, I was a freshman in college and it was election time. I followed it closely because it was my first real opportunity to vote as a citizen. I examined all the candidates, watched all the news I could, and really tried to be as informed as possible. I felt it was my duty. When it came time to vote, I voted Republican because I felt it was the best choice, but I felt dirty doing it. I felt I was picking the lesser of two evils because deep down, I knew no matter who won, there was a compromising of principles to get to that position in the first place. In all of my involvement, I got caught up in the game of it all, and I became more concerned about being right instead of being kind. In that season, I lost perspective and that began to affect areas of my life. My personal walk with Jesus suffered because of it, and as a result of that and other things, that season of my life was a difficult one.
I hate the mixture of Christianity and politics because I feel that by doing so, you ultimately remove or undermine the most important parts of Christianity: Christ and grace. Christianity and by default, Jesus, have been long associated with the Republican Right, and I feel it’s arrogant to act as if Jesus is a member of your political party. I get annoyed with people acting that the term “liberal” is somehow affiliated with “sinner”. I have many Christian friends who could be considered “liberal” (apart from their pro-life views), and I think it’s sad that people are often immediately dismissive because of that. I feel it’s a shallow way to look at things. We all need to show each other some love and grace, even if we don’t line up exactly politically. Jesus isn’t a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or Communist. He’s God, and he doesn’t fit into any of those boxes, nor do I think he would want himself to be. The “Jesus/Republican” relationship often bothers me because I feel some traditional Republican policies don’t reflect his nature. Traditional Republican policies do not have a good track record of caring about the poor, yet Jesus considered caring for the poor to be a vital part of Christian living. People talk about the “welfare state” and it’s abuses (which we can’t deny there are, as there are abuses in every system), but I’ve also seen real poverty first hand and how there is definitely a need for it. Traditional Republican ideals celebrate wealth, but Jesus warned against the dangers of making money your god. My point is, there are good and bad points to every political policy, and I feel that the danger of grouping Jesus to a particular political ideology is that we could lose the real Jesus in the process. Much like the abundance of one issue voters, we end up celebrating a one issue Jesus and by association, a one issue Christianity as well.
Whenever I mix Jesus and politics, I end up cherry picking issues and sins, not only in how I deal with others, but in my own personal walk, and I feel the Church and Christians sometimes fall into the same boat. We (the Church) and the Republican Right have been traditionally outspoken against homosexuality, gay marriage, and abortion, but we don’t speak nearly as often about other sins such as adultery, sex outside of marriage, pornography, divorce, abuse, greed, gluttony, gossip, or the gambit of other sins that not only plague America and our world, but also our churches. I worry sometimes that we don’t look at the big picture within the world, America, our churches, and ultimately ourselves. I worry because I often forget about the big picture, or worse, callously ignore it in my moments of selfishness. God doesn’t need America. We are not more special than anyone else. In reality, God doesn’t even need us, but he WANTS us as individuals, not the entity of imaginary borders and policies called “America” that we live within.
Context is important. Many pastors celebrate the Puritans such as Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield but ignore the fact that many either owned slaves or were indifferent to the practice of slavery. Many religious leaders in the 50’s – 60’s were either slow to speak out in support of King and civil rights or were opposed to it. King himself was involved in numerous extramarital affairs. Martin Luther became bitter in his views against the Jews in his later years (which was complete 180 compared to his views as a younger man) and his comments became huge influences on the policy and propaganda of Nazi Germany. Many of the Founding Father’s were flawed men with complex belief systems and hypocritical lives. Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, fathered illegitimate children with slaves, and literally wrote his own version of the Bible to suit his philosophical ideals. Benjamin Franklin was a professing Deist and notorious womanizer who also had an illegitimate son. America has some great moments in it’s history, but it also has some awful ones. We virtually wiped out the native population and have left it’s survivors as nearly second class citizens. We systematically abused a large portion of the population through slavery and Jim Crow for over a 100 years. We put our own citizens in internment camps in the Second World War. We’ve abused the trust of the populace with invasions of privacy. No one is perfect, no country is above reproach, and everyone is flawed. Are we wrong to celebrate the contributions of men like Whitfield, King, or Jefferson? No, but I feel we must also acknowledge these men and men like them were human, and we should celebrate how God used these men in spite of their flaws, just as Christ chooses to use us even though we are a mess. Christ is made real to others through our lives, testimonies, and love for one another, not by having a spot on top of an imaginary mountain of popular morality. Humility and grace speak more powerfully than an attitude of superiority, and I fear that bringing Jesus into politics could lead to that kind of attitude. I feel it already has in many cases. Modern Christianity doesn’t shape the culture, it’s fighting against it. It’s known more for what it’s against than what it’s for. Politicizing Jesus, at least to my observations, turns conversations into arguments where imposing our cultural values becomes more important than kindness. We should lovingly point out sin, but when we don’t do it from a place of love, we look out of touch and hypocritical. Trying to “throw our weight around” by protesting and boycotting things doesn’t send a message that we love people and care about their souls, instead it’s showing that we care more about preserving some kind of moral high ground. Boycotting Starbucks because they support gay marriage is counterproductive. You might as well live in a cabin and make your own clothes if you’re going to boycott every business that supports that. There’s no more “culture war”. We’ve already lost it. Instead of engaging culture head on, we took our ball, or if we are being more literal, our Jesus and went home, creating our own pop culture to keep ourselves safe. We have the cringeworthy t-shirts to prove it, and I feel we lost a huge amount of influence in the process.
I love America. I love what it has accomplished in it’s history. I love how far it’s come. I love it’s beauty, it’s people, it’s inventions and innovations. I believe democracy is the best political system in human history. I love the freedom it celebrates and that it represents around the world. But, at the end of the day, America didn’t save my soul. God did, and I want to always put him first.
Do I believe Christians should be involved with politics? Absolutely if they feel called to. Believers need to be involved in helping shape policies that can help others in a way that glorifies God. Do I think that politics will change the hearts of people toward God? Not really. To reach people for God’s glory we must use the Gospel and the Gospel as demonstrated our lives, testimonies, and love for each other to truly change hearts. When I get too involved with politics, I lose sight of that and become prideful. I lose sight of Jesus, and that is something I can’t afford to do. The personal danger I feel with politics is that when I get too absorbed in policy (or legalism within Christian circles for that matter), I tend to ignore the things God finds important first. There are people who can do that without losing perspective, so more power to you. I’m not at a place where I can. If I do, I lose the plot.
My honest and sincere desire is that Jesus will shape my heart and my mind to help make my time on this earth as glorifying to Him as possible, and as helpful to others as possible, and I want my political views to reflect that desire. But I don’t want my political views to shape the image I have of Jesus, or to try to put Jesus in a box he doesn’t belong in.
I guess the purpose behind this whole exercise is to preach to the choir, and that choir is made up of me, myself, and I. I don’t want to lose perspective on what is truly important like I have before. I don’t want to pray at the altar of America instead of praying in the presence of God. I don’t want to fall into a trap of pride and thinking that God owes me something because I go to a church in America. I want to be a follower of God before I’m an American. Am I doing well trying to be a follower of God before everything else? Not really, but thank God he’s always willing to welcome me back.
I personally don’t care what party you’re in as long as you truly love and follow Jesus. If you love Jesus, I think your policies will sort themselves out. If we all strive to show grace and love towards one another first, that will help improve lives and this world for God’s glory, not politics or career politicians.
So what are my political beliefs? In the big picture, they’re not that important. They probably are not very different from yours, but there is more to me than those beliefs. There’s more to others than their political beliefs. I feel it’s important for us to not lose sight of that.
I will say this though: Frank Underwood scares me, yet I want him to narrate my life and negotiate every single business decision I ever make.