Confession: I don’t actually like politics.
There was a time in my childhood that I considered being a lawyer, a judge, a politician, the President. But I quickly got bored with all the posturing and empty rhetoric that honestly didn’t make any sense to me and seemed like a whole big hullabaloo that complicated life, made people easily offended and offend-able, and seemed to dehumanize humanity into labels, issues, arguments, parties, monoliths. To my 11-year-old imagination, politics clouded simple Truth.
At one point in my young adult life, I experienced a temporary resurgence of this desire to be a lawyer who would champion justice through our justice system in this great experiment called American democracy, and was on the verge of applying to Law school. I even aced my LSATs. However, when I sat down to write my personal statement, I was confronted with the same dilemma of unbelief in empty rhetoric and our political system.
So I shipped off to Korea to learn the language and came back 2 1/2 years later to attend a graduate program in Korean Studies. I thought that maybe the change I was hoping to contribute to the world could happen through scholarly academic writing and research. However, after completing my Master’s degree, and sitting down to write my proposal for a PhD program, I was met with more disillusionment–academic rhetoric, although I had enjoyed it (to a degree), ultimately became just as deceptive to me as political rhetoric, no matter how socially-conscious or revolutionary that rhetoric was.
But in recent years, I’ve found my social media feeds inundated with the same politically-charged & academically jargonistic rhetoric that I had disentangled myself from years ago. I suppose if one is to be any kind of responsible modern global citizen, you can’t really escape politics and rhetoric…you have to engage on some level.
But…even though I engage, I don’t want my imagination and soul to be limited to or subjected by any political paradigm. I simply don’t think that’s the reality for a Kingdom citizen.
Jesus didn’t carry any of the political spirit in Him, and in fact resisted the temptation to try and redeem the world through politics and worldly structures of government. When Satan [who is a legalist and staged a coup/rebellion to overthrow the Most High] showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and said, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me,” Jesus refused to bow to Satan’s political dealings and wheelings and manipulations. He knew that way was ultimate failure because that way was unrighteous and informed by worldly wisdom, which is foolishness and temporal.
Jesus declared to Satan’s offer, “You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve”(Matthew 4:8-10). He chose to submit to the Father, to fulfill YHWH’s eternal law through the only way possible–the cross, a death to self, a willing sacrifice of a life and blood uncorrupted by the ways and spirit of a fallen world.
But how many of us fall for this lie of the enemy? The lie that redemption & reformation of society will happen through politicians and worldly systems of government instead of through the way Jesus lived–through dying to self, through carrying the cross, through submitting to God the Father and rejecting the ways and spirit of the world. Through prayer, healing the sick, feeding the poor, loving our enemies and our neighbors alike…through obedience to God and surrender to His loving, sound will. His way of redemption and deliverance of society was–and still is–unexpected. Through empowerment by His grace and spirit to live a truly free, loving, kind, wise, supernatural and holy life.
Many in Jerusalem were expecting a Messiah who would come in military and political power&glory to free them from the oppression of Empire (Jerusalem was under the Roman Empire at the time). Similarly, we may sometimes fall into the same trap of searching for a political and/or military leader/savior who’ll free us from our spiritual oppression, free us from the chains of hegemony, poverty, exploitation, and systematic genocide. But I think we need to be careful about looking to any one leader or group of political leaders or political party or extremist party or world government to give us the changes we so desperately want and desire for our nations. Yes, freedom and justice for ourselves and our communities is very godly and right and true and deserved, and yes God can work through and with world governments, and yes, I get it, we are to honor our leaders because even their positions of authority have been God-appointed–but if freedom and justice are to be true and lasting, they must first be defined by God, not by our politics. Then we must embrace the power and wisdom we have been given through Christ and be the ekklesia – God’s governing body here on earth.
It actually boggles me that we continuously look to centralized government to do the work of feeding the poor and caring for the orphans and widows–that is the church’s responsibility. It upsets me that we have neglected so much of our work over the years and so we have bred a culture of expecting the government to do all our work. And we all know that the bigger a centralized govt is, the less freedom and power the people have. We are the ones who are to build, give, sacrifice and do the work of transformation; we are created with the capacity to self-govern.
The political spirit in any arena (not just in government and politics, but I’ve seen its malfeasance in organizations, churches, families) makes absolute heroes or absolute villains out of real individuals (and their platforms) who are more mixture than entirely godly or entirely abominable. Ultimately, it we submit to the political spirit, it can blind us to Truth because we are susceptible to relegating our Kingdom identity in Christ to second place when it comes to ideologies and political identification.
Honestly, I don’t think simple A-or-B, democratic-republican, conservative-liberal, fundamentalist-radical linear polarized issues are an accurate way to view what’s actually going on. These categories–while I recognize that we may sometimes need them to help organize our world–I feel are largely mistaken, too rigid, or drawn along misinformed lines. I think the way we have divided up our society is entirely different from the way God sees and it is causing levels of deception. We don’t wrestle against flesh and blood, but against unseen principalities and powers of the air. Or, the way Brian Zahnd puts it,
Admittedly we live in a world where much is wrong. But what is most wrong with the world is not our politics or Congress or who lives in the White House. This is either the naïve gullibility or the manipulative rhetoric of partisanship. What is most wrong with the world is the ugly distortion of humanity brought about through the dehumanizing forces of lust, greed, and pride. [Zahnd, Beauty Will Save the World: Rediscovering the Allure and Mystery of Christianity, 15.]
I do believe that real evil exists in the world, and we see evil’s work in human trafficking, slavery, abuse, violence, racism, abortion, exploitation, bullying, intimidation, and poverty…for starters. But knowing that real evil exists causes me to be that much more adamant about pursuing, expressing, and creating beauty, truth, hope, love, shalom, joy, comfort, calm, solace. To discover, know and pursue Truth, who is a person named Jesus. To love and connect and build relationship with others. To serve and bless whoever and wherever I am.
This pursuit has, over the years, continually challenged me to surrender all my partisan beliefs and reground them–simply and without worldly biases or even a fallen rhetoric of tolerance and worldly peace–in Scripture, in the Living Word. In the Word become Flesh.
We have the choice to build and promote one of two kingdoms: 1) God’s or 2) Fallen-Man’s under bondage to Satan.
If we choose to build God’s, we need to be aware that the systems of this world are at odds with His ways & His thoughts…a lot of times, a liberal or conservative politic is outright Antichrist but we’re so blinded by a pleasing or inflammatory rhetoric that either offends or appeals to our sense of justice, that we don’t notice it’s preaching (and we’re agreeing with) an other kingdom that clashes with the Kingdom of God inside us–maybe because we’ve assumed that the systems within which these discourses are operating is all there is.
I’m not suggesting that we willfully ignore politics or our citizenry in earthly nations and pretend these systems don’t exist; nor am I suggesting anarchism and a total rejection of government. I do believe there’s divine purpose to our earthly citizenships and histories, that we are called to engage with our governments and this world, to pray for and bless our world leaders and politicians, to fight injustice, to be active. But I also won’t let worldly systems or propaganda have a place in my life that they shouldn’t; won’t let them determine my core identity, internal culture, values & choices.
If we want real reformation, HE has to be our plumb line. Jesus the Word must be both our foundation and the measuring line, and we cannot compromise–we simply cannot. All else is sinking ground.
Choosing God’s will & His Kingdom 100%–really making Jesus Lord–will require us to die to all of our flesh…and to all of our good or bad, right or wrong, just or unjust, racist or tolerant, conservative or liberal politics. We’ll have to die to these conventional binaries; die to monolithic views of the world; die to our sacred cows; die to empty religion.
Beloved, I’m asking you to help me envision something new. Something that celebrates the fullness of all the facets of God’s glory and all the spaces in His Holy and Righteous Kingdom. To help me think outside of worldly binaries. To help me think outside the box. Because God’s not contained in a yin-yang version of the world, and neither did anybody ever discover the Living God inside a box.
We can choose to embrace Jesus the Way, or stay imprisoned within the ways of Caesar.
In rejecting the way of Caesar, “Christ showed that the world was a text that could be read differently: according to the grammar not of power, but agape.” [Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite, 122.]
I know this will take time, decades–that there’s no overnight delivery to this kind of change. But I have hope, and I have faith that writing a world according to a grammar of truth and love is entirely possible.