America is more sharply divided than it has been in my lifetime, and it is not just a political divide. It is an ideological one, and it has led to an almost compulsive distrust. Few on either side show respect for those with whom they disagree or even listen to their opponents and try to understand their positions. The result is an exceptional level of animosity not just in the houses of Congress but in homes across America.
Where does the church fit into this picture? One only has to ask the question to discover that the ideological fault line runs through the church too. Depending on which side of the line they find themselves, Christians are accusing their brothers and sisters on the other side of racism, xenophobia and greed or of biblical unfaithfulness, theological dishonesty and infidelity with an ungodly culture.
Evangelicals sided overwhelmingly with the Republicans in the last election, and the mainline churches cried foul. They sided with the Democrats, so much so that Professor Will Willimon (once a United Methodist bishop) could call his beloved Methodist Church “the Democratic party on her knees.” Which should we choose? Should the church side with Republicans or Democrats, with the right or with the left?
Neither. It is not the church’s job to side with political parties. Her allegiance belongs to the kingdom of God. I hasten to add this does not mean that Christians should drop out of political engagement. Rather it means that Christians should use the political parties insofar as they promote justice and people’s wellbeing. They should use the parties, not be used by them. The church must not allow itself and its gospel to be coopted.
The church’s position is roughly equivalent to the Free French (aka “The Resistance”) during the Second World War. Their goal was to see a democratically-elected government, free of Nazi interference, established in their homeland. The church longs to see the kingdom of God established on earth.
People who join the church are not joining a religious club or a theological society. They’re joining The Resistance. They are ordinary men and women who know that things are not the way they are supposed to be in the world and, more importantly, in themselves. They are willing to change and to be change agents, and yet they are not committed to change; they are committed to their King. They have sworn allegiance to his kingdom.
The people who belong to Christ – who have faith in him – are his operatives in hostile territory. Their job is not to set up a kingdom – the king will do that. Neither are they tasked with subduing the people around them. They force no one to follow their ways.
The job of a Resistance member is simple: always keep communication lines with headquarters open and, when a communication is received, follow orders. They gather regularly to send communications to headquarters, to be encouraged and to receive instructions. But when they leave their gatherings they do not leave the Resistance. Instead, they go into their schools, into their places of work, into public settings and private homes and work for the Resistance; that is, they obey their leader. They make car parts and study history and teach elementary kids and drive trucks and wait tables; they do the kinds of things they’ve always done – that everyone else does – but unlike everyone else, they are always awaiting instructions from their leader.
Their work for God’s kingdom will have political ramifications, sometimes very large ones, but they are not working for political solutions. They’re working for their king. They may at once be more conservative than the traditionalists and more radical than the progressives, but not because they subscribe to an ideology but because they obey a king. They refuse to allow their political party affiliation to overshadow their primary identity as God’s people.
Such people often side with a political party, at least in the U.S. But when their party loses an election, they are not crushed. When it wins, they are not euphoric. They cast their ballot for a president, but they’ve thrown in their lot with a king.
First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter