Why we must talk about the politics of Jesus

 

Church and politics make uncomfortable bedfellows. At least that’s what we’ve been told, especially in the United States. There should be a separation of church and state!!

But at the same time that we say that there should be that separation, we’ve seen a proliferation of religious based discrimination in the political realm. The arguments against gay marriage were often religious. So, too, the denials of bakers to bake cakes and of doctors refusing to treat transgender people because of their religion. We see it in National Days of Prayer and how often the response to a national tragedy is to dash off a tweet that says “thoughts and prayers.”

So should our faith stay out of our politics?

And can it?

When it comes down to it everything is political.

And everything is spiritual.

Our politics affects real humans and real lives at every single level. And because God is intimately concerned with real humans and real lives at every single level then everything that happens politically happens out of our faith (or lack of it).

You cannot separate the political from the spiritual. It is practically impossible to keep faith out of politics.

In fact, most of Jesus ministry was political. When Jesus started his public ministry, in Luke 4, he starts by declaring his own mission statement:

Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been raised. On the Sabbath he went to the synagogue as he normally did and stood up to read. The synagogue assistant gave him the scroll from the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the synagogue assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the synagogue was fixed on him. He began to explain to them, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.”

Luke 4:16-21 CEB

Economic justice, prison abolition, and liberation to the oppressed? Um, that’s pretty political. Jesus didn’t say “I have come so that you will pray a prayer to secure your entry into heaven.” Or “I have come so that you will not swear or drink or have pre-marital sex.” Or “I have come so that you will be really nice and polite to your elders.”

Nope.

Jesus said I have come to herald the kingdom of God. A kingdom where everyone has enough, where there is peace and restoration and justice; true justice.

If we are followers of Jesus, then how we behave in the world needs to reflect that. Our faith calls us to DO SOMETHING.

If I believe that my faith calls me to care for the poor, feed the hungry, free the prisoners, and restore health to people then that will impact what policies I vote for, where my money goes, what I choose to support, and what I don’t. And if my faith doesn’t call me to do those things, then that also impacts how I vote and what policies I push.

Because what we believe matters. It affects how we live our lives. Even when our values don’t match our actions (or maybe especially when).

So how can we know if our politics and our faith are matching up?

For me I go back to that passage in Luke and then outward to the entire arc of Scripture. When I do that I see that my politics should be leading more toward a world where more people are in and less people are out, where our policies are centered on the well being of the oppressed and the marginalized, where women have positions of authority and respect, where there is enough for everyone (and the list could go on).

The life and ministry of Jesus becomes, once again, my guiding star. Pushing me to follow Jesus more closely and to examine my life to see if it lines up with Jesus’ teaching.

And that means not only my faith, but my politics as well.

All month we’re going to be diving even more in depth into this topic of politics, faith, and Jesus. We’ve got two webinars scheduled (register here and here), podcasts, and more articles. And, of course, we’re talking about all of this more deeply in Sanctuary Collective. So excited to dig in with you.

Photo by Penn State Special Collections Library