Why we can't stay out of politics

February 14th, 2017

Working as an editor for this site, I'm tasked with multiple responsibilities, including engaging with readers. I, with my colleagues, seek to publish interesting content that makes you want to ask questions, talk with other readers, and (hopefully) dialogue with your own firmly held beliefs. Feedback is a natural response to that process. So I read comments under articles, try to guide discussion, and occasionally comment myself.

One critique that pops up a lot is "Why are you talking politics? As a ministry site, you shouldn't be doing that!" Each time I read something along these lines, I take a moment to think through why we posted the piece, what political statement it's making, and how it's related to the work of ministry. I want to be clear about the intentions of a piece before, during, and after it goes live.

It's good to be clear, because 99% of the time I'm going to stand by the decision to engage political issues from a ministry perspective. I understand why folks don't want to discuss politics, as it's a subject with the potential to be toxic and divisive, something we try to avoid as the cohesive Body of Christ. But I firmly believe there is no escaping the political, especially as followers of Christ.

Politics, as we all know, can be frustratingly complicated, but what it is at its center boils down to two things: wielding power to exert will, and using that power to shape the path of communal life. If there are two things Christians can't get away from, it's the subjects of power and community.

From this perspective, Christ's appearance in our world is intensely political. He was born to upend traditional power, and in doing so, formed those who followed into a new community. Christians as a whole are the result of a political act by God. Mary's Magnificat is witness to this shift in power. Jesus lives this out as one who disrupts the political order, challenging both established communal/religious norms and the authority of Rome.

I realize some might see Jesus' life as apolitical, a reaction against any "side" in favor of living out God's call. But let's remember, people aren't often executed for being apolitical. Jesus was killed by a government for pushing God's kingdom here on earth, which is an intensely political idea. It's just not politics as usual. It still deals with power, will, and community; however, it's God's power, will, and we as the community of believers filling the old roles. And while the players have changed, the political game is the same (even though the game has been redeemed through Christ).

This might strike you, again, as too divisive a viewpoint to be helpful in daily Christian life. But while Christ teaches us the value of love over violence, the power of life over death, he never strayed away from necessary conflict. Disciples rebuked, Pharisees chastised, a temple cleared of money changers...these are also pictures of Christ.

Sometimes, a political witness is divisive. We must do our best, as a Body, to reconcile when the political things Christ has called us to do cause tension among believers; but that does not mean we can avoid doing them. Would your church stop caring for the homeless because a member objects to "giving free handouts?" If this example sounds far-fetched, I'd encourage you to read some recent headlines a little more closely. Often, the church's political witness runs at odds with the political aims of our governments. Jesus' sure did.

When we realize that our own foundation as a community of faith is built on the political, it becomes very hard, even impossible, to say "Christians shouldn't talk about politics." Everything we're suggesting — lose your life to save it, follow Christ over and against the powers of the world, be in solidarity with the marginalized, reject wealth and status in favor of the Kingdom — is a political statement. This doesn't take away from all the other things the Christian journey is about, but it does mean we can't stay out of politics. Christ was born into and lived through the political, and so must we. We're called to witness to a new power and a new path for community through that power, after all. Our faith depends on it.

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