Keeping Our Kings Straight: Now more than Ever
There once was a time in American politics when working across the aisle and moving towards centrist policies were viewed as virtues. Today, however, it seems that, on both sides of the aisle, such behavior is considered weak and unprincipled. While I appreciate that there are principles for which we must be willing to die, I am concerned with the deeply polarized politic of our country right now, and even more concerned that this politic is dividing our religious communities.
Bethany is, perhaps, one of the few churches that has been able to maintain a civility in our discourse, even though we by no means voted uniformly in the last presidential election. But wherever we are on the political spectrum, we need to be careful:
On the left:
1. We must worry in the present environment that cynicism is only creating a capacity to critique, and not a capacity to offer constructive solutions. To point out weaknesses in a current administration's policy, especially retrospectively, is frighteningly easy. Cynicism and criticism, left alone, will usually lead to the easiest path of all: disengagement. On the other hand, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, when he saw weaknesses in the rise of the Reich in Germany, came to the conclusion that he could not simply write from the other side of the ocean about the dangers. He needed to return to Germany. His return led to the establishment of an underground seminary, his participation in a failed plot to assisinate Hitler, and ultimately to his arrest and execution. Of course, writing essays from New York would have been easier, but the real solutions usually require blood.
We are called to pray for our leaders, asking that God would give them wisdom, in order that we might be able to live in peace. Too often, anger and cynicism have left no room for prayers.
On the right:
We must be mindful of the dangers of the current environment because it is an environment that, whether intended or not, discourages questions or challenges to present positions. In such an environment, even conservatives who question present policy are immediately labelled. Let us begin by thanking God that we are in a nation where any critique is tolerated. But let us move, individually and collectively as God's people, to carefully weigh policies and decisions against the teachings of Jesus and the history of the church. For example, it is not unpatriotic, nor unsupportive of our troops, to consider the church's historic teachings on what constitutes a 'just war', looking at it from the left and the right, and to be persauded in our own hearts about these things before the Lord.
We must be crystal clear in our distinction between the kingdom of God and our nationalistic loyalties and aspirations. We can appropriately pray and sing, asking God to bless America, but let us never confuse our primary loyalties. When the day is done, the everlasting kingdom to which we belong and to which we owe our primary loyalty and our lives, is the kingdom of God in Christ. Making patriotism and spirituality somehow synonymous inevitably leads to trouble.
Is it possible to have civil discourse between followers of Jesus who live on the left and those who are on the right? Of course, but not without humility! May our Lord grant us such as we listen to each other in the coming days, continuing in the meantime to pray for leaders, for the victims of war, and for those serving in the military.