Reminding myself about politics

The air is thick with anxiety these days: many people are tense, on edge, and agitated. I am sure that the ongoing economic uncertainty is part of it. The news about the economy, especially about employment, isn’t solid and positive enough to give people durable hope that things are getting better. The length and breadth of this economic shockwave has left many folks unsteady on their feet, and increased their feelings of frustration, feelings that find an outlet in their harsh reactions and sharp responses to the people around them. It’s understandable, and it’s difficult.

And, the run-up to the midterm elections also has people nervous. The mudslinging and negativity between candidates is wearisome, and those ways of “debating” important public issues make the rest of us think that there is value (there isn’t) in characterizing complex issues with oversimplified sound-bytes. Negative campaigning also coarsens our ways of interacting with each other. It subtly but surely convinces us that it’s OK to attack people with whom we disagree, because we have concluded that we don’t just disagree with them, but they are personifications of all that is wrong with the way things are.

As the election approaches, I keep reminding myself of some important truths:

God is neither an American nor a Democrat nor a Republican.

The “agenda” of the Kingdom of God transcends, something judges and sometimes affirms, aspects of all “political” arrangements. Abraham Lincoln once told some visiting ministers that he did not worry whether God was on his side or not, “for I know that the Lord is always on the side of right.” It was, Lincoln said, “my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord’s side.”

The “charter”—the platform— of the Kingdom of God is the Sermon on the Mount.

Our understandings and interpretations of that Sermon, and all other texts, are partial and incomplete.

What’s more, the implementation of our understanding is complex. There are gaps, which leave room for ambiguity and disagreement, between our understanding of what is right based on our following of Jesus and how that understanding finds expression in politics and governmental policies.

Political alignments are not, for the Christian, “ultimate.” We make those alignments, and we engage in the political process, in full recognition that politics, politicians, and policies, like all things human, “fall short of the glory of God.”

The most important task for Christians and for the church is to live in our world with the spirit, character, and commitments of Jesus. Greg Boyd, pastor in Minnesota, said wisely: “The distinctly kingdom question is not, ‘How should we vote?’ The distinctly kingdom question is, ‘How should we live?’”
The way of Jesus leads us to work for justice and peace and to demonstrate compassion and mercy. It is also, in my experience, a way of life that makes it difficult to be entirely comfortable with the political process.