In an earlier post, I talked about the struggle to understand truth in a world of deception and misinformation. I described my main sources for spiritual reflection (Scripture, human traditions, and personal experience), and concluded that in Jesus, I have found a center that has proven true time and again.
For those of us who identify as Christian, it’s vitally important to take this a step further, and evaluate the current political and social landscape in light of Jesus’ teachings.
With so many people of differing views claiming to be Christians, how do we know what Jesus would do in this situation?
While providing an in-depth summary of Jesus’ teachings on every political and social issue goes far beyond what I can accomplish (and certainly beyond what I can say in a single blog post), I think there are some important things that need to be said.
For the purposes of this post, I will be focusing on three specific issues: immigration, war, and the separation of church and state.
While Jesus never mentioned the issue of immigration directly (at least not as recorded in Scripture), He did say some things that I feel are quite relevant.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy,” Jesus tells us (Matt 5:7).
While the issues surrounding immigration are undoubtedly complex, banning travel to this country based on religion or national origin doesn’t seem very merciful to me – nor does the idea of building a huge wall.
The most biting critique of harsh immigration policies, however, comes in the parable of the sheep and the goats.
Speaking to the wicked who are headed toward eternal loss, Jesus says, “I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me. Truly, I tell you, just as you did not do it to the least of these, you did not do it to me” (Matt 25:42-45, italics mine).
I can’t help but think we’ve been less than welcoming to the stranger on a national level – and this is only going to get worse if the current administration gets its way!
With regard to war, Jesus’ teachings are even clearer. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God,” He tells us (Matt 5:9).
Even when He’s about to be crucified Jesus doesn’t resort to violence to defend Himself, instead telling His disciples, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matt 26:52).
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven,“ Jesus teaches. “For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Matt 5:44-45).
I have never understood how killing our enemies could possibly be a way of loving them!
Certainly it would be asking a lot for our government to cease all war; but when one of our leaders calls on us to “bomb the shit” out of other nations, those who follow Jesus should make it clear where we stand. We can’t allow the name of Christ to be attached to causes that are in direct conflict with His teachings.
Finally, there’s the issue of church and state. While many are eager to make this nation into a theocracy, where everyone must conform to some pre-determined idea of Christianity, this is completely at odds with what Jesus teaches.
In one of His most well-known sayings, Jesus tells those who question Him about taxes to “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s (Matt 22:21).
From this it should be clear that the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this earth cannot be the same. The “emperor” will always claim more than he has a right to, which is why Jesus must tell us to also give “to God the things that are God’s.”
In case this isn’t clear enough, however, Jesus also says that “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over” (John 18:36).
This is the fundamental difference between the kingdom of God and all earthly kingdoms – the former is built on love and mutual cooperation, while the others are almost always built on violence and coercion. Those who confuse these are not simply misguided; they are actually worshipping a different God than the One Jesus knew!
“If any want to become my followers, let them take up their cross and follow me, “ Jesus tells us. “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matt 16:24-25).
These words have been repeated so many times that we have lost the radical nature of their origin.
We have often assumed that bearing the cross means dealing with the daily struggles of illness or misfortune, with keeping ourselves pure from “sins of the flesh” like fornication or drunkenness, or with being made fun of because of what we believe.
For the earliest followers of Jesus, however, “taking up the cross” had nothing to do with any of this. The phrase had a clear meaning; it meant taking a stand against injustice perpetuated by a cruel empire – even to the point of death.
When the earliest disciples saw Jesus crucified, they saw with absolute clarity the true cost of following Him, of where this path would lead.
I believe that in America today, we’re in a situation very much like that of the earliest Christians.
Like the early Christians, we’re living under the rule of a violent empire that’s quite hostile to outsiders – especially those whose religion, race or ethnicity doesn’t align with that of the ruling class. And it’s getting worse. With the election of a shameless dictator, what small impact we can have as private citizens may soon be gone entirely.
In the face of such tyranny, it’s more important than ever that as Christians, we make our convictions clear.
“On the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned,” Jesus warns us (Matt 12:36-37).
We cannot allow the name of Christ to be attached to any political system, and certainly not to an autocracy. We can only have one King, after all!
While I’m not sure what the most appropriate forms of action will be (in resisting the current regime), I know that it must start here – with a clear articulation of what it means to be a Christian. Against the claims of nationalism, war, and neo-fascism, we must say unequivocally that whatever else being a Christian may mean, it cannot mean that!