Providing an Alternative

BY JEREMY TREAT

The political landscape of our country is complex, messy, and requires nuance. And yet, while the political need is complicated, it often seems that the solution boils down to simply choosing one of two options: Democrat or Republican. Then, on top of the pressure to pick a side, that party immediately attempts to lay claim to ultimate allegiance in your life, even over your commitment to Christ as king.

It’s certainly uncomfortable if you find yourself unable to fully agree with either side and you see inconsistencies between both of them with Scripture. But you might be in just the right place.

Finding a New Center

Tim Keller wrote an article for the New York Times about the Christian’s place in today’s politics. The title summed it up nicely: “How Do Christians Fit into the Two-Party System? They Don’t.” Part of the problem is that our two political parties offer “package deal ethics,” meaning that if you care about one issue then you must then align with that party on all other issues. You’re not allowed to think independently about gun rights, abortion, immigration, racism, and taxes. Pick a side. 

The problem is, however, that the biblical teachings on each of these issues don’t fit neatly into one side or the other. The kingdom of God cannot be reduced to one political party. It stands outside of political parties, critiquing every one of them and calling us to unite in Christ alone.

This does not mean, however, that the church merely finds the middle ground between both parties. As Rich Villodas says, “The Church is not to be found at the ‘center’ of a left/right political world. The Church is to be a species of its own kind, confounding both left and right, and finding its identity from the ‘center’ of God’s life.”

The church is not meant to find the perfect place on our existing political spectrum, but rather to offer a different kind of political community altogether. 

A Different Kind of Community

Jesus calls the church a “city on a hill” (Matthew 5:14). The Greek word Jesus uses here for city is polis, which is where we get the word “politics.” The church, therefore, is an alternative polis, a different kind of city where greatness is defined by service, power is guided by love, and justice is truly given for all. We are different. We don’t have a cancel culture. We have a forgiveness culture. We don’t respond to hate with hate. We respond to hate with love. We don’t wag our finger at others. We repent of our own sins. We don’t demonize our enemies. We pray for them. And our quiet faithfulness has a subversive effect on a culture screaming for peace. 

This kind of community is exactly what’s needed in our culture today. Patrick Deneen, a professor of political science at Notre Dame and the author of the book Why Liberalism Failed, argues that, while Conservatives and Liberals are often viewed as polar opposites, they actually have something far greater in common—their rugged individualism. That is why, during this time of division and fragmentation, there is an opportunity for the church to provide the kind of community that we were made for and that the government cannot give us.

The church is a community of the kingdom of God and we are called to be a peculiar people shaped by our devotion to Jesus. No matter who is in the Oval Office, Christ is on the throne. Jesus tore down the dividing wall of hostility and makes us one people and gives us peace. It’s through the gospel that we are made citizens of the kingdom, formed as virtuous people, and made to be a community that offers a different way of life.

A People United by Jesus

When politics causes division, we must fight for unity in the church. This does not mean we should all be Democrats, Republicans, third party, or apolitical. That would be uniformity. Christ does not want or expect his church to be uniform. Even Christ’s apostles were not united in political beliefs. Matthew was a tax collector working for and benefiting from the Roman occupation of Israel. Simon was a Zealot who wanted a violent end to Roman rule. But they found unity in following Jesus.

This kind of unity is only possible through the gospel and it’s been on display throughout church history. Justin Martyr, a follower of Jesus in the second century, put it well when he said, “We used to hate and destroy one another and refused to associate with people of another race or country. Now, because of Christ, we live together with such people and pray for our enemies.”

While there are certainly different political views in the church, what we have in common in Christ is greater than our differences apart from him.

 

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Oct 4, 2020