22 July 2016

How your politics will kill your testimony.

Couple months ago I found one of my favorite theologians is on Twitter. I have a few of his books, and used to listen to his radio program—in podcast form, naturally; who listens to radio anymore? So I decided to “follow” him.

About two weeks later I simply had to stop following him.

Why? ’Cause everything he tweets is angry, partisan, hate-filled, deliberately provocative, overly zealous… and sometimes even the reverse of what Jesus teaches. You know, works of the flesh. The times he actually reflected Christ—the times he acted like the thoughtful theologian I originally became a fan of—were once in a blue moon. Now he’s spewing forth nothing but bile.

What happened to this guy? He got political.

I know. If you’re the political sort, your dander’s probably up already. Might be from the title. “Politics kill my testimony? What, are you one of those [bums from the opposition party]?

Maybe. But no, I’m not saying politics is gonna turn every Christian, or even you, into a fruitless Christian jerk. It’s not the politics: It’s what the politics might turn you into. It’s whether your support of your party, your candidates, your political views, or your “Christian worldview,” ultimately make you unlike Christ. ’Cause it can happen. ’Cause it happened to me.

I don’t have an issue with politics per se. I have political friends. On both wings; I grew up in the midst of the American Christian Right, and I’ve since made lots of friends among the Christian Left. My own irritating politics pick and choose from both sides, based on whether I think they reflect Christ Jesus’s teachings best. The reason they irritate people is ’cause they don’t neatly fit into the popular categories. The reason my friends put up with it (and me) is ’cause a lot of times we do agree. And when we disagree, I’m not a dick about it. (I try not to be, anyway.)

Now, when I was younger, different deal. I was semi-solidly in the Christian Right. I say semi-solidly because while I fully agreed with their moral views, I had big problems with their economic ones—which don’t come from Jesus, but from libertarian capitalism. I had doubts, and rightly so. But I stuffed ’em, ’cause I wanted to be loyal. I zealously supported the party. Too zealously.

Problem is, I didn’t realize zeal is a work of the flesh. Ge 5.20 And why would I? My NIV translated it “jealousy,” and I wasn’t jealous; my KJV translated it “emulations,” and I didn’t know what emulations were. Plenty of Christians believe zeal’s a virtue, though it’s rarely used that way in the scriptures. We figure zeal’s what we should feel for the beliefs we hold, the causes we support, the Christ we worship. It justifies every unkind thing we do in their support.

I didn’t realize partisanship is also a work of the flesh. Ge 5.20 But that’s what zeal becomes when applied to causes, parties, even churches. We figure we’re right, and everyone else isn’t just wrong: They’re stupid, ’cause they mindlessly believe the dumb stuff they’re told; or they’re evil, ’cause they’re too smart to really believe what they claim to, and must therefore be deliberately leading people astray.

So I indulged both. And I had lots of help… from people in my own church, who saw me pushing those causes, loved my zeal, and cheered me on. Even when I started bashing my political opponents. Even when I cursed them as fools, tried to pick fights with ’em, believed every slanderous thing said against them, and was impatient, unkind, unforgiving, fearful, angry, and unloving. They didn’t deserve my love, y’know; they were evil.

So when I saw this behavior in that fellow on Twitter, it reminded me too much of myself. Had to get away from it.

The good news, turned bad.

When we share Jesus, when we share the good news of his kingdom, a central part of this gospel is grace. ’Cause God is love, and grace is how he expresses his love. It’s central to his character. It’s the power that makes God’s kingdom work. It’s how he expects his followers to live. It’s what makes the good news good.

But politics doesn’t do grace.

It can. You know it can; I expect it’s the first objection you’ll make towards my saying it doesn’t. There are politicos who actually exhibit kindness, compassion, and charity. But you also know the bulk of them aren’t that way. Certainly not towards their political enemies.

See, they’re pursuing earthly power instead of God’s. As a consequence they do a rotten job of reflecting God’s character. Instead of producing the Spirit’s fruit, what oozes out of ’em are anger, partisanship, hatred, rabble-rousing, irrational zeal, and unethical behavior. Ga 5.19-20 Their opponents are enemies, and they’ll do anything to ’em to defeat them. Anything.

When they’re Christians they assume their political beliefs are also just, ’cause they know plenty of good Christians of good conscience who believe the same way. Depending on your party, Jesus would totally be in favor of building a wall to keep out immigrants, or abortion on demand. They don’t see any contradiction between Jesus and their views. He’s all for them. And with him on their side, it justifies every unethical thing they do.

Now, if you’ve permitted, even indulged, that much evil in your life, how’s it gonna get people to embrace God’s kingdom when you finally put down the campaign posters and finally share Jesus? They just saw you behaving like a raging jerk, and now you’re gonna turn round and proclaim the Prince of Peace? You’re gonna point to a Lord who loves the whole world, Jn 3.16 after you just demonstrated you’ve nothing but contempt for the poor (if on the Right), or the rich (if on the Left)? You’re gonna talk about grace when all you’ve been screaming is wrath?

I know; politically-minded Christians really don’t see this as a problem. Their Christianity and politics work hand-in-hand. Everyone they know, believes the same as they do. And really, if they preach the gospel to anyone, first thing they’re gonna have to do with those poor souls is get ’em into church, get ’em cleaned up, and get ’em to start voting “the right way”—with them. If those pagans find them and their politics off-putting, they have the problem.

What about when Paul talked about being all things to all people?

1 Corinthians 9.19-23 KWL
19 Having freedom in everything, I enslave myself. Because I could get many!
20 I become, to the Judeans, like a Judean. Because I could get Judeans!
I become, to Law-followers, like a Law-follower. Because I could get Law-followers!
21 I become, to Law-breakers, like a Law-breaker—
Not breaking God’s Law, but following Christ’s Law. Because I could get Law-breakers!
22 I become, to the weak, weak. Because I could get the weak!
I become, to whomever, whatever. Because however I could save some of them, I will.
23 I’ll do anything for the gospel, so I can be a part of it.

“Oh that,” they’ll say. And then try to find some reason why it’s not applicable to their politics. It has to do with adapting yourself to an ethnic culture. Or a religious culture. But applied to politics… well, that’s just compromise. And they can’t compromise their beliefs.

It’s funny, in that sad way, how often graceless people don’t realize there’s a difference between grace and compromise.

What’s the difference? Fruit. If our beliefs, no matter what they relate to—religion, politics, economics, esthetics, baseball—produce works of the flesh instead of the Spirit’s fruit, you’re doing it wrong. There’s nothing wrong with having a favorite baseball team, but if you get into fights over it, you’re doing it wrong. There’s nothing wrong with favoring bonds over stocks, but if you end friendships over it, you’re doing it wrong. There’s nothing wrong with backing one candidate over another, but if you’re talking violent revolution if your fave doesn’t win, you’re doing it wrong. Christians don’t get to take a break from fruit of the Spirit simply because something else in our life is going awry.

It’s for this reason I had to go cold turkey from politics for a few years. ’Cause I wasn’t compromising my beliefs… but I was compromising my Christian life. Heavily. And God needs to take priority.

Priorities, folks.

Nope, I’m not saying you have to be apolitical. I’m certainly not. If you figure an issue legitimately does represent God’s kingdom, go ahead and advocate it. But not “by all means” advocate it. Some means are evil.

Don’t put up with people who advocate those evil means. If your favorite candidate lies, call her on it. Don’t try to explain away her lies; she will, but if her excuses are rubbish, admit they’re rubbish. You don’t like that about her; you can’t approve of it. She should repent. But don’t pull the wool over your own eyes—or the eyes of others. Christians need to be about the truth.

Likewise if your favorite candidate commits adultery, call him on it. Don’t minimize it, and insist, “He has all these other good qualities”: You don’t like that about him; you can’t approve of it. He should repent. As he should if he sins in any other way.

Don’t demonize your opponents. Yes, there are evil people among your political opponents. But let’s be honest: There are also evil people on your own side. Everyone’s trying to slander everyone else. Everyone’s flinging mud. You don’t believe every report said against your candidate (though sometimes you should!); why should you believe every report said against theirs? Be skeptical. Demand proof. Watch out for liars; there are many.

Politics is a dirty, dirty business. ’Cause like I said, it’s about earthly power. Most of these folks would totally accept Satan’s deal to bow before it for the kingdoms of this world. Mt 4.9 In a way, some of ’em already have. So handle everyone who dabbles in it—even your favorite pastors who dabble in it!—with caution. ’Cause it’s not the way God’s kingdom is gonna spread. The kingdom only spreads through the Holy Spirit. Beware anyone who claims different.

Once you’ve managed to keep your conscience clear, you’re gonna find yourself able to share Jesus with people in the opposition party. Seriously. Because while they may not agree with your politics, they’ll still respect you as a person who won’t sin for the sake of your party. They’ll recognize you still practice self-control, still love your neighbors and enemies, still behave as kindly as Jesus. That appeals to people, no matter their political stripe. You, they figure they can trust—unlike those other jerks in your party.

You might already know Christians like this: People who aren’t in your party, but you see their fruitfulness. You know them well enough to recognize, even though you disagree politically, they belong to Jesus. (Well I hope you already know Christians like this, and aren’t so partisan you assume they’re all antichrists.) Aspire to be like them.