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The Church and Politics

When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.”The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.” When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.

John 19:6-11a

The Problem(s) with Politics

Let’s just say this right up front: there is a lot to hate about politics. And there is not enough space in this little blog post to cover all the problems. In a world where the ends always justify the means, there are always going to be plenty of bad “means” at the front and center of our attention. In politics, getting into office is the “end” that, in seemingly every winner’s mind, justifies whatever I have to do or say to get there. And, while there may have been a softer, gentler time when winning the election was followed by a season of sincere public service, those times are gone (at least on the national political scene). Today, every election is immediately followed by campaigning for the next election. And that, of course, means bad behavior is justified every day, all day, all year long.

But we have come to expect that much. We jumped on that train a long, long time ago. Then came social media, adding to that already dangerous mix the amplifying of all the extreme voices. That has been a game changer. Now, rather than the larger part of our culture pooling toward the middle, more moderate (and rational) positions, the opposite is taking place. The “outrage culture” of social media is pressing otherwise rational-thinking people out toward the fringes of their respective ideologies, just so their voices can be heard. The louder one side screams, the louder the other side responds. And it is all for the sake of “winning” the political war. This is true because, like so many cultures that came before us, we have largely placed our hope in these political “solutions” to the world’s problems. We are foolish that way.

The Church’s Embarrassment

Enter the church. This is where the absurdity really gets interesting. One side of the political games begins to invoke God’s name in their campaigns. They insist that God is on their side of all the political arguments. Yes, the Almighty Creator of the Universe, the Great I AM, is sitting somewhere wearing a team-jersey for one political party or the other. In an effort to point out how ridiculous that sounds, the other side begins to invoke God’s name in their own campaigns. In doing so, they actually become the very ugly thing they are protesting. Eventually (and this should come as no surprise), the church looks like hypocrites, worshipping their idol of politics. And it looks silly.

This, of course, is not the first time in history religion and politics have become strange bed fellows. You can probably think of plenty of other examples (all of them end badly, by the way). But the one I am thinking about is chronicled for us in the gospels. It was the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. And in that story, there are at least a couple of important lessons for us about politics.

Two Political Forces at Odds

The two political forces in that story are clear. It is the Jewish religious leaders versus the local governor of the Roman empire. Both are willing to do whatever they have to do, and say whatever they have to say, in order to “win”. Don’t be fooled by Pilate’s “I find no guilt in him” sentiment. That may sound like a conscience, but it is not. It is all about preserving his job, which was basically to keep things peaceful in his little corner of the empire. He would ascribe to whatever “truth” would accomplish that. His question, “what is truth?” rings familiar in today’s culture as well.

The Jewish leaders, on the other hand, were intent on maintaining their grasp of control of their people. In their minds, Jesus of Nazareth was a serious threat to that control. There was only one possible “win” for them: he had to die. For them, the problem was political. So the solution would be likewise. Make no mistake, the earthly forces that brought about Jesus’ public execution were purely political, and came from both sides of the aisle.

Lessons We Learn about God and Politics

First lesson: the church never looks more out of place than when it plays politics. This is not to say individuals with deep seated faith have no place in politics. In a democratic government, all of us as individuals have a civic responsibility to exercise our right to vote. And certainly our faith-based worldview can and should come into play in those decisions. But the church’s corporate energies mobilized in the muck and mire of political game-playing is an enormous betrayal of where our hope lies. It is trusting in “horses and chariots” rather than in the Lord. It is an ugly look.

Second lesson: God uses politics to accomplish His purposes in this world. Jesus’ crucifixion was God’s plan from the beginning of time. And He orchestrated with perfection the evil intent of the enemy as well as the puny political thinking of men to accomplish His purpose. He still does. He always will, to the end of this world. So, what does that mean for us, the church? It means our gathered prayer for our country or our world is leveraging an infinitely more effective power for change than our collective political voice will ever have. In other words, we should remember where our hope lies. Less politics. More prayer.

As a peacemaker, my disdain for the political machine and the selfish agendas that drive it could not be stronger. I so loathe the bias and propaganda and twisting of truth on every side of the games. And I have serious doubts about its ability to really serve our country or our world any longer. But as a Christ follower, my faith in God has never been stronger. He is truly the hope for the world–the ONLY hope for this world. We, the church, must be clearer on that now than ever.

© Blake Coffee

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