Around election time you may encounter a Pastor who brings out Scripture from Peter and Paul’s Epistles relating to the centrality and preeminence of the Kingdom of God for the Church and those who follow Jesus Christ’s teachings about God. This is a core belief for those who adhere to the Christian’s belief that there is an eternity where our thoughts, actions and words will be judged by God, a sequitur made clear by the words of Jesus to Pilate; “My kingdom is not of this world…”
Some will take this opportunity to make the inference that earthly politics has no place in the church, which sounds good to those who “hate” politics, but actually does harm to the idea that “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof”. The church has a wonderful history of engaging in the cultures of its times, but with closer look, we see that often it is not the church, but people whom history has honored and recognized after their time. Indeed, during many of these saints tenure on earth, the church was made up of very “political” people who made those whom we now honor to suffer at their hands.
Take for example Martin Luther. John Wycliff, John Hus, Hugh Latimer (there are many others, check out Foxe’s Book of Martyrs) and you will see a pattern. The church, in articulating the need to be “separate” from the political culture of its time breeds a political arrogance that exercises the same sins as its earthly authority. We call this “projection”, and it is in the heart of many Pastors in America that project a desire to be “neutral” in their Sunday morning sermons on issues between political parties that have life and death consequences. Take for instance the issue of abortion. Is there any Pastor ready to say that the Democrat party is not different than the Republican party in their desires to govern the nation of America? Only a fool, or one who is ignorant of the actions of Legislators in state and national Legislators could say something like this. There are many other issues that affect those around us in meaningful ways such as poverty, educational opportunity and the freedom to worship God that cause suffering in many due to the unwillingness in some to proclaim the evil of their time because of their fear of being labeled political, or associated with one political party or another. It is always “safer” to be “neutral”, but the history of that has caused untold deaths, suffering and misery to the humanity created by God in His image. It might just be the sin of pride that compels many to take a silent view on things that would make them vulnerable to mislabeling by those who have evil intents against the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus showed us that the kingdom of God is to be lived here on earth as is stated succinctly in the prayer he taught us; “Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven”. Paul brings it home when he says to pray for the governing authorities and to pay Caesar what is due Caesar. He meddles with those who say we should be content in all things when he states in I Corinthians; “Were you called as a slave? Do not worry about it. But if indeed you are able to be free, make the most of the opportunity.” The obvious implication is that freedom is “better” than slavery. How many Pastors do you know who would articulate that sentiment during a political season? This is a good indication if they can’t that the Pastor is playing “politics” with the kingdom of God and their congregation. Indeed the kingdom of God is preeminent, as one can see by reading the rest of the chapter, but it is not an exclusive claim to the manner, occupation or allegiances of earthly lives. It does, however, require us to be thoughtful and proclaim our beliefs in the politics we support, even as Paul, the early Christians, and Christians down through time have to great effect.
Some have interpreted Scripture’s statement that we are a “peculiar” people, translated in the New English Translation as a “people of His own” to be an exclusive claim on our earthly lives, giving rise to monasteries and other seclusive manifestations of Christians acting in accordance with their conscience and beliefs. A church that demands much of its congregates time is acting tangential to this sentiment. Ecclesiastes states that there is a time for everything under the sun. The author goes on to state his point, even to the extremes of a time to kill and a time to heal. America was founded on ideas that were radical at the time. The idea that “all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights…” was as bold as the Magna Charta was in its day, yet it was intended for everyone, for every race present in the country at that time based upon the historical records of the Founders deliberations, not just the elite of the time with the Magna Charta. That expediency would compromise this principle from the very beginning with the 13 Colonies is a stain on this country that reflects more the results of the blindness of the human heart when it exercises power on issues that are foreign to those of the kingdom of heaven. The idea, however, that a nation could be founded on ideas that find their roots in Scripture should be taught from every church that has allegiance to the kingdom of heaven in America. Indeed, churches all over the world are persecuted in the same manner that the Romans persecuted early day Christians because the ideas inherent to the kingdom of heaven inevitably topple tyrannical and evil political regimes that have caused immeasurable human suffering to this day, as in Nigeria and many other countries.
Does that mean that the American experiment is without sin in its implementation? Is there a church anywhere that does not have it’s implementation issues? Of course not. But the idea here is that we should, according to Paul, prefer the freedom for the Gospel to flourish where God’s mercy works on hearts through our testimony, our actions in life and the work of the Holy Spirit. A Pastor that states that the church flourishes in suffering and persecution is cruel in his unstated premise that it would be better for all Christians to suffer in like manner, being raped, murdered, abused and laid bare to the desires of evil. Our politics does matter, for confusing the political issues of the day can lay waste a society where Christ is honored and the humanity that God created for His pleasure are cut short. This is not a call to suffering for Christ, it is a corruption of our understanding of what the Kingdom of God entails for each of us to live in a manner to honor God and be a blessing to our community. While suffering is a tool that can be used for our benefit, God makes it clear that it is not his purpose that any should perish, but all should have eternal life. He also makes his intentions clear when Jesus states; “My yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry”. That is possible when earthly politics are influenced by a heavenly kingdom, and not the other way around.
My premise in this post is that a Pastor who articulates a misunderstanding of the legitimate place of earthly politics and the discussion of every other aspect of life that touches our humanity here on earth in a church with a supposed allegiance to the Kingdom of Heaven has one or more of these issues going on, and potentially others I have not mentioned:
Ignorant of the totality of Scripture (Unskilled in exegeses of Scripture)
Envious of the power God gave earthly authority over aspects of their lives
Motivated by fear of earthly authority
Intentionally misleading people in an understanding of what the Kingdom of heaven entails for each of us.
Certainly there may be other motivations, these are ones I have observed through my time here on earth. Pastors are people that have made choices about their “callings” in life. Pray for them, for they face greater struggles than most throughout their lives, other than the military people that protect their right to speak freely the Word of God.
There are a few quotes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer that are germane to this post as follows:
“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
“Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial.”
“The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.”