Archives For Partisanship

This weekend for our Counterfeit Gods sermon series we’re tackling the idol of politics. Sigh.  I can already imagine what my inbox will be like on Monday morning. 121101065950-red-blue-state-jesus-custom-1

As a pastor, I frequently hear from Christians:

‘I think Christianity is private, personal. Politics should be kept out of the Church.’

I certainly get the fatigue behind the question. Fatigue over our hyper partisan culture and how the Church has dirt all over its hands by participating and encouraging that culture.

And yet when someone makes a statement like that I often ask, in love:

‘Just what bible are you reading?

Because you’ve obviously never read the Old Testament prophets.

Or the Exodus story.

Or any of the Gospels.

Or the Book of James.

Or Revelation.’ 

Like Judaism before it, Christianity has always been a public faith. The first Christians were called an “ekklessia,” meaning they were ‘God’s called-out people.’ Christians, it was believed, lived their faith publicly with very public consequences. Questioners in the gospels asked Jesus about everything from adultery and divorce to poverty, taxes, war and patriotism. St. Paul, on the other hand, wrote most of his letters to churches to help new Christians with the difficulties that came with balancing their faith and their worldly commitments.

Christianity is not, and never has been,

simply an interior faith.

It is not limited to my own inner spirituality or my own personal relationship with God. Nor are the concerns of Christianity limited to the Church sanctuary. Christianity places expectations on its followers that follow them from worship to the church parking lot on Sunday morning and, from there, all through the week.

The way of Jesus offers a particular way for us to be in and view the world, and that the Christian tradition has a needful witness to help us make sense of our lives and the issues that confront us.

Claiming Jesus is Lord meant for the first Christians that Caesar was not. It was a big, bold confession that had implications on every part of their lives.

Even if we don’t like it, confessing the Lordship of Christ should still impact every square inch of our lives too.

But before we can figure out those implications, we need to learn what the first Christians didn’t have to learn; they had the benefit of a unity brought on by mutual suffering under the Empire.

In America, we are, for all intents and purposes, the Empire. In America, Christians first need to learn how to get along.

And listen.

Episcopal priest and author Barbara Brown Taylor says:

People who are shouting at each other are constitutionally incapable of seeing the image of God in someone else.

 

Our culture is characterized by much shouting. Given the divisive nature of our contemporary culture, how we talk about politics, as Christians, is nearly as important as the conclusions that we draw.

 

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Yesterday afternoon, Dennis (my associate pastor for those of you outside the congregation) let me know he couldn’t preach this weekend after all.

So I’m up at the plate this weekend as we continue our Lenten sermon series on idolatry, Counterfeit Gods. And what absolute, crap, spit-ball of a topic do I get?

The idol of…

Politics and Political Partisanship.

Fun.

At least, you know, church people aren’t known to get their panties in a bunch over preachers mentioning politics.

The text for this weekend is the question put to Jesus about taxes. They crucify him right after he answers.

Let’s hope I fare better but I suppose if I’m faithful to the text, I shouldn’t expect to get treated any better than Jesus. 

Here’s a video with some bona fide Jesus truth from Tim Keller on how our poisonous partisan culture is a faith issue and how CIVILITY IS A CHRISTIAN VIRTUE.

If you think being right on an issue is more important than how you speak to or about someone who disagrees with you, then you’re wrong.

At least as it concerns your faith.

And which is the more important? Your faith or your issue?

Don’t believe me, check out Jesus’ brother:

The tongue is placed among Christians as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. 

7For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 

9With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 

10From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters. 

This ought not to be so.

– Book of James, chapter 3

Scroll ahead to 4:40 for the bit on Civility and Politics:

 

Lincoln vs Red/Blue America

Jason Micheli —  February 18, 2013 — 2 Comments

16al_header_sm     Today, as Gabriel dutifully reminded me over chocolate chip muffins, is President’s Day. Usually not one for such things, I thought I would give a patriotic cum theological shout out to Abraham Lincoln. As it happens, it’s a shout out that also echoes the themes of our Lenten Sermon Series on Idolatry, Counterfeit Gods.

Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, though panned by its original hearers, is to my mind the best piece of theological writing an American has ever produced (Well, at least it takes a bronze to Rick Warren and Joel Osteen).

Yes, that was sarcasm.

A great book I’d recommend to anyone is Ronald White’s Lincoln’s Greatest Speech, which analyzes the address in theological terms.

As you probably- should- know Lincoln changed his mind about slavery. Lincoln wrestled long and hard with theological questions raised in his mind by slavery and the Civil War. In a private letter to a newspaper in Kentucky, he wrote that both the South and the North would be judged for complicity in the sin of slavery, and that such judgment would ultimately cause people “to attest and revere the justice and goodness of God.” 

     In his essay “Meditation on the Divine Will” he reflected:

“In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be wrong. God can not be for, and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God’s purpose is something different from the purpose of either party…”

Lincoln’s theological wisdom lay in being able to distinguish the relative justice of our finite causes from God’s will and work in the world. That both sides of a conflict always claim God’s blessing should give us humility. That God may very well be against both sides in a debate should give us pause. This is exactly why Lincoln’s address is much more theologically sophisticated and biblically grounded than, say, ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’ which sees only God acting in a very unnuanced and human way on behalf of one side of a conflict.

Where the author of the ‘Battle Hymn’ looked at the Civil War and saw divine affirmation of their point of view, Lincoln looked at it and saw only God’s judgment on both sides.

     Not only was Lincoln’s address prescient for his time, I think it’s a helpful, prophetic word for us today, as so many have staked out uncompromising footholds in the black/white, red/blue, Rep/Dem, Fox News/MSNBC partisan warfare that divides and paralyzes our nation. When friends and fellow citizens find themselves on opposite sides of an inflammatory issue, the recriminations and self-righteousness can be ferocious. It is as true today as it was in Lincoln’s.

Using Lincoln’s theological insight, I think one could make the argument that our present partisan impasse is God’s judgment upon the nation. Following the reasoning, a theologian like Lincoln might speculate that what our nation presently suffers is divine punishment for absolutizing and making idols of our political ideologies.

For putting our parties and politics over people.

     This President’s Day I think a theologian like Lincoln might echo Jesus himself and remind us that we must always be aware that God’s purpose is probably something different from the purpose of any party, group our ideology. Therefore it is not a good idea to act as though one side or the other is in possession of the absolute unfiltered truth.

     After all, this is the season of Lent when we prepare ourselves to recall that  Christ took God’s judgment upon himself, commanding us not to judge others.

 

 

The Least Segregated Hour(s)?

Jason Micheli —  September 3, 2012 — 1 Comment

The Least Segregated Hour(s)?

The wife and I took the boys to see Premium Rush, a pretty tight B chase movie about a fixed-gear bicycle deliveryman. We see a lot of movies especially in the summer. This summer we’ve seen the Avengers several times, the Spiderman reboot, Batman and, gosh, I don’t want else.

Maybe because it’s political convention season or maybe jogging through the neighborhood or driving through the church parking lot and seeing the competing signs and bumper stickers has gotten my attention, but watching Premium Rush I found myself remembering and resonating with this article from the NY Times from a few weeks ago.

Sitting in the dark with several hundred strangers watching a fictional cyclist zip through Manhattan, I became acutely aware that all of us there in the theater quite possibly had nothing in common other than our love of film, our desire for escape, our longing to laugh or smile or be distracted by another’s life.

In our dark sanctuary, our political, partisan opinions mattered not at all. And, realizing that, I realized how, increasingly, the same cannot be said for churches. The movie house may be the least segregated, most politically diverse outlet left in the culture. The same is not true of Christian churches.

Increasingly, congregations and denominations are becoming monochromatic in terms of their partisan affiliations. The days are gone when Christians of one party regarded the Christians of the other party as brothers and sisters in a Body which demanded a more ultimate loyalty. It should not be the case that Marvel superheroes elicit greater non-partisanship than Jesus. That Christians have allowed that to happen may be sign, I fear, of where or in whom we actually put our faith and devotion.