Tonight, while millions gather around their televisions for the presidential debate, I will be at a church meeting, struggling with several lay leaders to fine-tune (not in vain, I hope) our Sunday coffee fellowship.
That we’ll be immersed in the tedious chores of church life during such a significant national event seems almost a cruel joke to the pastor and political junkie in me. To the Christian in me, though, spending tonight focused on church life, even the mundane parts of it, seems like the perfect counter witness, a reminder that the Church is neither red nor blue, nor red, white, and blue, but is a transnational People whose primary citizenship is to the Kingdom.
The Church isn’t a people who have political positions. The Church isn’t a people who participate in politics. The Church is meant to be its own politics. An alternative community. The Church is meant, as Israel was called, to be a ‘light to the nations.’
Instead all too often the reality is that we have blue churches that are alternatives to red churches and red churches that are alternatives to blue churches but few churches committed the cruciform way of Jesus as an alternative to every hue of the world’s politics.
As Shane Claiborne puts it in Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals, Christians on both sides of the aisle have so fallen in love with the state, we’re so used to practicing our faith in the world’s most powerful nation, that it’s killed our imagination:
‘We in the church are schizophrenic: we want to be good Christians, but deep down we trust that only the power of the state and its militaries and markets can really make a difference in the world.”
It’s of course true that both political parties have legitimate perspectives on serious issues and that engagement in those issues is an appropriate concern.
But deep down, Claiborne’s right. And, I wonder, if the Church is in decline in America because we don’t really believe in the product we’re selling? Or is it because we believe in America more?
Either way, Claiborne’s right.
We’ve turned Christ’s Kingdom into some pie-in-the-sky-after-we-die realm because we don’t really believe the way of Jesus can transform this world. Or maybe we believe it but, deep down, we know that way comes at too high a cost to the positions we hold dear or the lifestyle we enjoy.
The result is that we can’t imagine what it means to be a People whose very life together points to the only thing that can truly transform the world.
Our reliance on red/blue categories, on market-based solutions, on policies has muted our imagination as Christians.
As evangelical leader, Tony Campolo puts it: “Mixing the church and state is like mixing ice cream with cow s*&$. It may not do much to the manure but it sure messes up the ice cream.’
And so tonight as millions watch the candidates volley memorized soundbites back and forth, I will be at church waist deep in a conversation about coffee hour, my own small prophetic counter-witness to Christ’s Kingdom.