Yoder-Short: Define ‘political’
“We can’t put up the sign because it’s political.”
When seeing the sign, “No matter what country you’re from, we are glad you’re our neighbor,” what do we see? Does including Spanish and Arabic words make it political?
It’s not political to talk about the beauty of a river, a warm February breeze or a good cup of coffee. Bundle the beauty of a river with chemical runoff, a warm February breeze with climate change, a cup of coffee with corporate exploitation, and we have crossed the line. One person’s faith is another’s political hot button.
It is inevitable that our faith intersects with politicized issues. Flannery O’Conner described using a word with a private meaning and a public odor. Our words and signs take on a contextual smell as they enter the public arena. When do our faith words become political?
Was Mary, Jesus’ mother, being political when she sang about bringing down the powerful and lifting up the marginalized (Luke 1:46-55)? Is it automatically political to talk about the mighty being humiliated, or does it depend on one’s status?
Was Jesus being political when he overturned the tables where dove sellers were taking advantage of the poor and moneychangers were setting unfair exchange rates (Mark 11:15-16)? Is it automatically political when unjust economic structures are exposed, or does it depend on one’s financial investments?
Was John the Baptist being political when he criticized Herod’s lack of sexual integrity? A clue might be that his head ended up on a platter (Matt. 14:1-12). Is it automatically political to speak against the integrity of a leader, or does it depend on one’s partisan allegiance?
Were Paul and Silas being political when they were accused of acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor (Acts 17:6-7)? Saying “Jesus is Lord” in a context where “Caesar is Lord” smelled political. Is it automatically political to make statements that conflict with national self-righteousness, or does it depend on the depth of one’s patriotism?
Jesus rejected political power. When the tempter offered him all the kingdoms of the world, Jesus responded, “Worship the Most High God; God alone will you serve” (Luke 4:8). This is a reminder that we do not serve any national kingdom or political party.
Being faithful to Jesus can sound like we are taking sides with the poor, taking sides with the immigrant, taking sides with being pro-life and nonviolent, taking sides with creation care. The problem enters when we let a partisan agenda divide us.
We can read the welcome sign as anti-Trump, since President Trump is pro-deportation. We can read it as a faith statement that proclaims we welcome strangers. We can read it as a reminder to ourselves that not everyone is privileged.
To call the sign too political may not add clarity to the conversation. Not putting up a sign can also be political.
As Jesus followers, our dance with national policies is complex. Let’s not let the world’s words create smelly divisions among us. We aren’t interested in a right, left, conservative or liberal agenda. We are interested in seeking Jesus-faithfulness.
Putting up or not putting up signs isn’t nearly as important as how we actually treat our neighbors.
Jesus brought together disciples from opposing political groups. He was enough of a political threat to be executed.
Next time someone suggests an action is too political, let’s find out what is behind the label.
Jane Yoder-Short attends West Union Mennonite Church in Parnell, Iowa.
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