Since the 04’ election has come and gone, most the political dust has settled. Now we’re in for another term of a President elected under the usual entrenched acrimony of partisan politics. Those who are part of the “winning” side feel a partial sense of accomplishment tempered by the awareness that they have to protect what they “won” from the ensuing political processes of Washington. Those who are on the loosing side are a bit deflated and feel a sense of exclusion.
Part of the divisiveness of politics comes from vigorously held religious ideals lingering underneath the bi-party system of politics in this country. Both sides hold religious mindsets and use the Bible, but in strikingly differing ways. Conservatives use it to try and prove the preeminence their case over that of the Liberal. But more subtly, perhaps without know it, they also construct a rigid pharisaic system that motivates and separates them from everybody else. Religious Liberals use the Bible too, but they are more moved by what they see in the human predicament, seeking to apply what they hold to in the Bible to what they see.
Naturally a belief is for living out, but this doesn’t mean that politics is the place we should do it? What I am getting at is that there are more similarities between the two groups than differences. Both equally seek the political realm as a means to live out their beliefs in society. For starters both groups are political. Both groups claim the Bible as a means or at least a perspective. Both try to control policy according to their way of seeing things. Both engage one another in a competition of inherently religious ideals. Both try and increase their market share come election time.
While many would agree to all this what we may not have seen is that both are merely flip sides of the same coin. Another point we may fail to see is that both groups are taking part in a system that is bigger than they are. It is this “bigger thing” that we should look into. What compromise does one have to make to be a part of such a system? Is any of the most basic essence of what we hold to, lost to the system when we us it as a means to “live out” our belief?
It is this bigger system Jacques Ellul refers to when he wrote: “the moment one confines oneself to the basic notions of the problem as defined by non-Christians, (the world). In doing so, Christians achieve an exact confirmation of the analysis of Marx, according to which Christianity is (merely) a superstructure (in a larger organism). Christians, if you refer to them as either Liberal or Conservative, only confirm a system that is beyond them when they engage their “faith” through political means. They are not as much living what they believe as they are perpetuating and empowering a system through which they’ve chosen to voice their beliefs.
What does this really say? It says that the system is preeminent, not the messages being floated through it by various factions. It also diminishes the true uniqueness of the messages people try to voice through the system, as I shall articulate further down. In the short term this system and process in reality turns everything into shades of difference rather than total differences as opposite sides would imply.
Those hoping to be like Christ, for whatever reason, by exclusively using the political system, in trying to “live out their belief”, are immediately disqualified because Christ did nothing like this modern tendency. He never floated what He “believed” through the systems of men. In fact it is never recorded that He “believed” anything. Some may say that He did not have the opportunity to work through a government, an obvious allusion to the modern systems of representative government. This thinking is a joke because whether a regime of Christ’s era represented you, because you were part of the elite or it oppressed you as a paean, it always turned on a dime in response to rebellion. In addition, in similar ways it responded to being upstaged. Every solution was then, as it is now, the systems solution favoring the “sacred” institution of the state.
Christ did things in response to problems and issues, but on His own terms. In one instance, Jesus said tons about the cultures’ treatment of women and slaves without actually saying a word, or going the Sanhedrin, to Herod or Pilate. Women in those days had about, as much value as a mop handle and slavery was rampant. When visitors came to someone’s house, it was the slave woman’s job to tend to the visitors dirty feet. Now we are talking about the lowest part of society here. Yet in John 13:3-8, Jesus stripes down to His underwear, something a Jewish leader would never do, and immediately shrieks of emotion removed the oxygen from the room. Next He takes up a washbasin, grabs the disciple’ feet and again the oxygen leaves the room, as He begins washing the Disciple’s feet. The social implications of what He did were so outrageous, because only women slaves were good enough to wash people’s nasty feet. Good teachers were thought to be above ever stooping to this level. Yet, Christ made a statement in what He did, not a reaction to what some else did or did not do.
Christ dethrones the systems of men by doing what it refused to do and doing it outside of their means of slow controlled culture change for the expediency of the state… Christ ministered to the needs of people, being devalued and demeaned, by valuing them in ways the society had used to oppress them. Christ didn’t need a political platform, a place provided by the state to air complaints and work out clumsy laws that barely meets needs. He did not need to find people to say things better and create an issue for society to bat around in public debate for a while before a screwed up government solution was hammered out that would fit all the special-interest requirements.
Questions to Ponder:
1. If Christ did not use the political system to do his work, and we look to the Bible as a guide of sorts and consider Christ as a leader, why don’t we see His example and take notes?
2. Why do we need to form behind a faction of the political system today over issues they create and maintain to obtain a following?
3. Why do we allow ourselves to be divided over issues they develop and propagandize, when we can be like Christ and step out of the group politics and meet needs?
We will no longer be compromised in our work by depending on a system or other people in that system to carry our water for us, as religious conservatives and liberals tend to be. We’ll be able to provide a true alternative rather becoming either a synthesis of the political process (a dialectic reduction according to Hegelian theory) or the acrimonious polar options such as Conservatives are currently peddling as the lead purveyor according to this last election. We’ll not be frozen out of empowerment do to a system that pits competitors against each other for the chance to “lead.”
Christ was altogether different than the politicos of our day or conservative/liberal plebeians that empower them. The uniqueness of Christ, aside from obviously being the Son of God, is that He acted exclusively out of what His Father showed Him to do, (cf. John 5:19; 5:30; 6:38 and 8:28). Many today would back away from attaining this level of relationship with God. But the scripture is clear that God still has things to say, and we should be listening. Revelations mentions the phrase, “let him who has ears to hear, let him hear WHAT THE SPIRIT IS SAYING,” several times. Notice the present perfect tense of God saying and continuing to say things in this phrase. Notice that this phrase is repeated in the New Testament in various forms at least 16 times. This should indicate that God wants to show us what we should be doing.
When we step into the political realm as the exclusive means to “live out” our belief we are tempted most of the time to react to the stimuli the system throws at us, rather than acting on what God is showing us to do. Many times Jesus paid little attention to the systems’ antics as we can see in one story of the woman taken in the “act,” (cf. John 8:3-9). As Jesus is confronted with this weighty moral issue, He squats down and starts doodling in the dirt! The guys buttonholing Him are not some common folk; they are the “important leaders of the community.”
The Jewish ruling class was totally upstaged by Jesus, who were usually more absorbed with more exterior moral appearances and their own high positions in society than anything else. And with respect to Jesus Christ, they became paranoid about their political importance. Notice the High Priest’s fear in the comments recorded in Acts 5:28. In John 6:15 the 5000 Christ just fed intended to forcibly make Jesus king, which would be a loss of power for the current regime. Matthew 5:46 shows the malice of the leadership of Israel towards Christ. They were becoming less significant to the public and they feared it.
More Questions to Ponder:
1. Is the political realm solving the issues people face everyday? Or are they making problems bigger as a means to gather a following by the issues that are created from these problems?
2. Politically once you have a following, you need to maintain it. This doesn’t happen if there are no issues to dangle in front of people.
3. Are all people empowered to be helpful through the political system? Or are people just pitted against one another for preeminence in how change is going to be implemented through the system?
If we don’t have serious questions about using the political system as a means to meaningfully live out our faith, we ought to! We will find that we are more capable then the political system wants us to be. We will also find that change will happen much easier when we are listening to God and following Him. We can look at both the Liberal and Conservative agendas over the years and wag our heads because of the ineffectiveness of either side. In contrast to this, can we find any situation in the Bible where people obeyed God exactly in everything He told them to do and it failed? I think not!