Here’s a no-brainer: religion and politics simply don’t mix. I’ve heard that my whole life from people close to me whom I know and trust, from others in authority, and even from late-night comedians. It’s in the religious, social and cultural air we breathe. So much so that we often hear it expressed as a rule of thumb, indeed, a “no-brainer.”
I must now confess that I must have lost my mind—totally! Not only do I reject this maxim, I firmly assert that its opposite is the no-brainer, at least for the mind made new by the Spirit of Jesus. Let me explain.
First, because Jesus is Lord, who he is, what he did and does and how, relates to every sphere of reality. Jesus’ universal Lordship simply and necessarily has to do with everything about how people govern, or are governed.
Second, the Lordship of Jesus and the Kingdom Jesus proclaimed are precisely the good news, the gospel. The best news ever is that Jesus rules—in the U.S.A. and in Iran, and everywhere else. Therefore, those who understand who is really in charge have special responsibilities both to the One in charge and to all the others who don’t yet know. This is the subversive element in the Apostle Paul’s naming of Christ-followers as “Ambassadors for Christ.” They represent their nation like all ambassadors, but their nation and King claim the whole world.
Third, the story of God, and of those made in God’s image, is a story that positions God’s people in places of influence and power. Think about Joseph and Esther. Think about the witness of Christ-followers through the ages, some of them martyr-witnesses. Their witness proved so telling, and will prove so triumphant, because it engaged the powers who controlled public life.
Fourth, the great command to love and the great commission to share the whole gospel with the whole world require political witness and action. Love that does not address injustice is not love, and injustice cannot be addressed in a political vacuum. The good news that the Lord of all saves us from the worst evil for the best good—in time and eternity—profoundly challenges the social systems and power arrangements that govern our lives. Those systems often oppose the gospel and what the gospel would accomplish. Therefore, gospel-telling and living necessarily will draw us to take action that is, in fact, political.
Fifth, that is why we have specific commands that also lead to political action. If we are light, for example, we will shine in dark places—not by accident but on purpose. Dispelling darkness doesn’t happen without political consequence. We are commanded to submit to governing authorities and to other forms of engagement with the social and political arenas. At different times and under differing systems such submission and engagement will assume varying expressions. But we do not have the option of sanitizing our lives from interaction with those who have and use power for good or ill. Even isolation and intentional nonparticipation are forms of political action, by default if not by design, which on occasion Christ-followers and others have used powerfully.
So, there you have it, I have indeed lost my mind, rejecting the no-brainer altogether. Or perhaps I’ve just traded it for another mind. I know that this does not necessarily make anything easier, and probably harder. It raises all kinds of questions—just like the voter’s guide in the last post, and my other musings on participating in elections do. Some people are question-adverse and loathe to seeking answers. If that describes you, maybe you want the recognized authorities simply to tell you what to do. Others of you, I am sure, will resent it if any such authority even tries. Some folk who are not question-adverse do not wish to go to the bother to think, consult with the Scriptures and those who seem wise in understanding the times, and plot ways to contribute that might move people, processes, and even the culture in Christ-ward directions. And, because there would seem to be no clear, pure and perfect paths to choose some other folk will give up or opt out. I sympathize with them but, unfortunately, we are seldom given what is clear, pure and perfect among the options facing us in the nit and grit of our lives. Maybe only a few will struggle with the discomfort of “losing their minds.” Your choice.