“This Jesus-way of bringing his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven has a lot of political implications.” – Craig Greenfield
We’re going to bring this introductory series to “Politics with Jesus in Mind” to a close with this 3rd and final post.
The first two posts can be found here:
+ Part One: How the Hope of Belonging to Jesus Shapes Our Politics
+ Part Two: The Story of God and Our Practices of Justice Today
If you have been following and reading these posts, I hope that they have helped you consider how we can grow in our communication of discussing politics among those who follow Jesus as well as those who don’t.
We’ve heard from Latinx, African-American, Asian American, and Caucasian sisters and brothers in our continent, and have also read the inspired Word of God that He communicated through people of different ethnicities and cultures. The way that God Himself came in Jesus in the time He did, and what He chose to say and do as well as how He chose to communicate, reveals much for how we can and get to live with Him and each other today. And this includes political implications. Consider this:
… Almost the entire Bible is written by people living in the shadow of one political Empire or another. The first readers of our scriptures were slaves and fugitives, fishermen and fools. They were the oppressed of Egypt, the exiled in Babylon, and the peasants under Roman occupation. And so, it made perfect sense that Jesus would choose to come as one of those underdogs of a political Empire—a vulnerable child with nowhere to go, His parents shuffled about by the Roman demand for a census.
But here’s what we miss about Jesus’ birth. There are really only two goals in carrying out a major census—the kind that framed His entry into the world. Just two reasons to go to all that extra expense and bureaucratic hassle to count every single head in the entire Roman world (Luke 2:1). The first reason is to determine the number of people who can pay taxes. And the second, is to figure out the number of men who can fight in an army. Tax and War. Money and Power. Politics. In other words, the birth of Christ took place in the shadow of the twin pillars of a typical political Empire: economic power and military might.
Isn’t it interesting then, that when Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist is asked what it means to repent, he directly addresses the representatives of those two pillars of Empire by calling on the tax collectors (representing economic power) and the soldiers (representing military might) to act with justice (Luke 3:12-14). Then, Jesus comes along preaching a radical alternative to this type of Empire. Something He called the Kingdom of God (or as Matthew calls it, the Kingdom of Heaven).
Jesus’ subversive Upside-Down Kingdom stands in stark contrast to the way we like to do politics. (And His Kingdom is) something that will come on earth as it is in heaven. Whereas Empire comes on a white military horse wielding weapons of shock and awe, the Upside-Down Kingdom comes on a donkey’s back and says love your enemy, even if he crucifies you. That’s a deeply political stance. Whereas Empire consolidates power and says let’s make our nation great, the Upside-Down Kingdom kneels with a towel and washes feet, saying I come to serve—even those of other tribes. That’s a deeply political stance. Whereas Empire honors the influential and celebrates the celebrity, the Upside-Down Kingdom welcomes little refugee children and gives food to the hungry. That’s a deeply political stance. Whereas Empire is about power and status and tax breaks for the rich, the Upside-Down Kingdom is led by a handful of unemployed fishermen, rejected bureaucrats, a prostitute, and some failed revolutionaries. That’s a deeply political stance. Whereas Empire is a rat race to the top, the Upside-Down Kingdom says the last should be first, losers are winners, and the most important among us will do the dishes. That’s a deeply political stance (Craig Greenfield, “Yes, the Bible Talks About Politics. All the Time.”).
Did the Son of God’s Embodied Life as a Poor, Dark-Skinned Palestinian Jew Impact the Political Values of His Church Then, and Does this Continue to Impact Our Values Now?
Below are 10 values that Jesus’ Church embodied during the Roman Empire that were political (because, as mentioned above, Jesus’ Kingdom is always political if it is an embodied faith that submits our hearts, minds, bodies, and souls to Him in sacrifice and service for others so they might also enter His Kingdom) with dynamics that help us consider which way we may tend to sway in current U.S. politics based on our personal history, culture, preferences, assumptions, etc. The foundation for these values were provided by Rodney Stark via his research as a sociologist, and extracted as 10 in comparison with our often two-party views by David Fairchild. I have sought to honor Stark’s and Fairchild’s work while adapting some of the language and tone in order to provide more of an invitation for curiosity and consideration for people across the political and social spectrum.
10 Values that Seemingly Shaped How Jesus’ Church Practiced Seeking His Kingdom First and His Righteousness and Justice in the Roman Empire that Relate to Our 21st Century U.S. Political System
1. Christians refrained from going to the Coliseum with the majority of the population. They chose not to go to gladiatorial events in order to honor the value of human life because the events often debased and defiled humans who were created in the image of God. This made them appear to be anti-social.
2. Christians were known to include Roman citizens who chose to refrain from serving in the military to support Caesar’s wars of conquest. This made those who chose to abstain to appear disloyal to the Roman Empire. Examples of reasons for Roman Christians abstaining could include: 1) emperor worship was especially strong in the army; 2) officers had to sacrifice to the gods and soldiers assisted in the ceremonies; 3) soldiers who served under the Pax Romana and the Roman aquila (i.e. eagle) were called to a commitment to the legion resembling a religious-like devotion that would challenge devotion to Jesus, the Church, and His Kingdom; and 4) a Christian soldier might be called upon to take part in the execution of fellow Christians depending on the region of battle and/or the level of persecution at the time.
3. Christians were pro-life from womb-to-tomb. In the Roman Empire, both abortion and infanticide were acceptable, along with leaving the lame and sick to die (see value 8 for more on this). To throw your baby out on the dung heap if you didn’t want it was not taboo. Yet Christians loved their own infant daughters and sons, as well as adopted others who were left to die.
4. Christians empowered women by showing their value and dignity in places of learning and service which had previously been exclusively for men in Roman society. Christians held women in high regard and treasured them rather than viewing them as merely serviceable and/or expendable (just slightly above children and servants).
5. Christians were committed to honoring sex within a Scriptural view of the covenant of marriage. This focused fidelity was considered odd and against the trends of Roman society. Sexual desire was viewed as one of many desires to be satiated like eating or sleeping. Christians chose to engage faithful sexual fidelity within the bounds of a lifelong covenant between one man and one woman that mirrored Christ’s sacrificial and committed love for His bride, the Church.
6. Christians engaged with deep faithful and familial friendships between a woman and a woman and a man and a man (as well as between women and men), yet abstained from active sexual relationships between people of the same or differing biological sex outside the bounds of covenant marriage. This was odd in a time when sexual practices of many different varieties were indulged in the Roman Empire regardless of marriage or gender.
7. Christians were generous with their resources with friends, neighbors, and strangers. They shared what they had with one another and practiced hospitality with strangers across classes, cultures, and ethnicities, which was shocking to the Roman Empire’s proposed and practiced hierarchy.
8. Christians were sacrificially postured towards the poor, handicapped, and sick. In a time when all of the above were simply “getting what they deserved” in an “only the strong survive” view of the world, Christians were committed to loving and serving people in the margins of society at great cost to themselves. For example, during a plague, Christians would face death (and many would die) in order to nurse people back to health.
9. Christians mixed with people of differing economic, cultural, and social classes and considered them family in ways that were unseen in the Roman Empire, and they were scandalized for it. For example, when an educated Greek considered a barbarian family an equal in Christ, this was bizarre to the point of mockery. And for a Jewish carpenter to be invited into the home of a Roman citizen for a meal, and for the carpenter to accept the invitation to dine with the Roman and his family, not only brought the oppressed and the oppressor together as equals, but revealed that Jesus was the only One who could bring service, equity, and love like this among the people in a way that was generously offered in the face of potential public scorn and marginalization.
10. Christians believed Jesus Christ, the dark-skinned Palestinian Jew, was divine and human, God in the flesh, and that He was the one and only God come near to us so that people from all nations could enter the Kingdom of Heaven. This was in a time when people could have one or multiple gods to suit their vocations and ambitions, and anyone could worship their different god(s) in a polytheistic and pluralistic culture. In the midst, Christians shared that Jesus was the God come to us to sacrifice Himself (instead of needing to make sacrifices to get a god to bend an ear) and refused to bend to other gods or worship the emperor as a god.
Considerations for Conversation: Do the Practices of the Church from History Inform How We Move Forward Today?
Which values resonate with you? Which have you not considered? Do you see values that might fit within a U.S. political party that you support? Do you see others that sound like a U.S. political party that you have ignored, marginalized, or demonized? Consider:
As followers of Christ in 21st century western culture, if we hold to:
- Value 1. Not participating in or supporting sports that dehumanize due to unnecessary risks and injuries;
- Value 2. Abstaining from militarism and/or military involvement that could harm followers of Christ in other countries;
- Value 4. Empowering women above the current society’s standards;
- Values 7. & 8. Being generous and sacrificial towards the poor, handicapped, and sick, as well as consider them more important than our financial security;
- Value 9. Mixing with and learning from diverse economic, ethnic, and social classes of people together in solidarity as family,
we will be considered “liberal” by the U.S.’s current ideologies.
Yet if we also hold to:
- Value 3. Being pro-life from womb to tomb;
- Value 5. Sexual activity honored within a lifelong covenant marriage between one man and one woman;
- Value 6. Practicing strong, familial friendship without active sexuality with people of the same and differing biological sex; and
- Value 10. Glorifying Jesus, the Son of God and Son of Man, as the only Liberator, Healer, Redeemer, King, Savior, and Friend who can bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth and welcome people from all tribes, tongues, and nations into eternal salvation,
we will be considered “conservative” by the U.S.’s current ideologies.
How do these reflections above help us become better listeners in political conversations? How do they help us celebrate the differences of those who see the U.S. political system in another way than we do? How do they challenge our current stances and invite us more into a posture of humility and grace?
For those who follow Jesus and seek His Kingdom first above all other kingdoms, by God’s grace and the power of His Spirit, we are becoming a cruciformed, yet empowered people who seek to embody the words (orthodoxy), works (orthopraxy), and compassion (orthopathos) of Jesus. We will need to remind each other to trust Him above all others and seek His Kingdom politic as we hold to His Way, Truth, and Life in consideration of values like the 10 mentioned above that challenge us in our current positions.
Are we willing to grow in unity and solidarity with Jesus’ Church that began thousands of years ago and continues today? This is one reason why the current U.S. two-party political system that separates more than unifies us is not life-giving like Jesus’ Kingdom is. A faithful priest as part of Jesus’ Kingdom of priests can see glimpses of heaven’s intentions in various parties in the U.S. even based on our current parameters. So as we continue to be involved in politics and engage with political parties, we must continue to seek first the Kingdom of God with other sisters and brothers who balance our view in order to give us holistic considerations and critical distance necessary to both critique our own party (if we have one) and commend the good values in other parties.
Jesus’ Church is called to be a signpost, a foretaste, a glimpse of His Kingdom coming to earth. With this in mind, let’s celebrate that we get to live abundantly beyond the limited ideology of one party allegiance as we learn from Jesus and His faithful followers who are Democrats and Republicans (and Libertarians, Green Party, etc.) who can and will help us see a part of the biblical vision of God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
Join the discussion One Comment
Great article. Insights for God’s people to feed on and enact.
May I suggest that, as Christians, there is a prejudice lurking underneath our theology that remains largely unaddressed in our dialogue today? It’s a prejudice as old as Christianity and remains thoroughly entrenched in theology, thinking, vocabulary, and behaviors. And its subtly reflected in your article.
Was Jesus a “dark-skinned, Palestinian Jew”? Dark-skinned? Yes. A Jew. Of course. A Palestinian? Well, that’s another matter altogether.
Whatever your view of the Palestinians may be (and I’m sure it’s gospel-based), “Palestine” and “Palestinian” are theo-political terms packed with assumption: theological assumptions about God’s supposed rejection of his chosen people, Israel; theological assumptions about the church replacing Israel; theological assumptions about the land as part of God’s covenant with Abraham and his people. Assumptions for sure. Correct assumptions? I’m not so sure.
Maybe some of our Western, Christian theo-political biases need reassessment. Maybe God still has a plan for his people and the land he promised to them. Maybe our theological and political views on the “Israel/Palestinian” issue will remained suspect as long as we get this one wrong.