The ‘Christian’ politics of stone-throwing

Jul 5, 2017 by

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One of the challenges in any era is what to do when there is a difference of opinion.

Two key areas come to mind: theology and politics. Yep, so-called Christian politics.

When I was in my 20s, I deconstructed my faith and politics like crazy. I encountered the idea that the good news of Jesus was so much bigger than I had ever known. Not only did Jesus die and rise to save me from my propensity toward the way of rebellious dehumanization, but he saved the whole of creation from its “bondage to decay” (Romans 8).

The gospel is cosmic in scope! I’ve come to think about the transformative mission of God through Jesus like this:

  • Jesus is reconciling the cosmos to God.
  • Jesus is reconciling a human community to God.
  • Jesus is reconciling people, like you and me, to God.

What this tells me is that God cares about more than individual souls.

  • Every human is of deep value to God, but so is the earth.
  • Every human is of deep value to God, but so is the larger human community.

When we get these two points wrong, we can overly individualize faith. And when that happens, we can allow a hyper-individualized faith to shape our politics. Rugged individualism is an American/Western value. It is not a specifically Christian one.

When all of these things came together, as I deconstructed and reconstructed my theological convictions, I had to ask: Does this matter at all for my political leanings?

As my politics have changed, I’ve engaged in painful conversations. People in the U.S. especially have a tendency to equate certain political views with the gospel.

Even in my shift, especially during my deconstruction period (by the way, I am always in some sort of de/reconstructive period, but my 20s were often defined by this), I found myself swinging toward a different set of assumptions about what the gospel has to say about politics.

I am now much more comfortable with the idea that people with various views about how a government should or shouldn’t be run can have those three points of God’s gospel mission (reconciliation with creation, community and people) in mind.

I know some progressives who are amazing human beings who desire nothing more than to see the oppressed, hungry, widows and underprivileged of society live unafraid in our communities and to have all that they need to live life to the full. They want to see Jesus work in the world and lives changed by the gospel.

I know some conservatives who share that exact desire. (Some of you more progressive types aren’t liking this sentence.)

And I know Christians on every point of the political spectrum who are able to unite around the way of Jesus, rather than to divide on the politics of “Caesar.”

This isn’t easy. Not even close. But Jesus’ vision is that the church — God’s people — would “be one” (John 17).

In our conversations with each other, as Facebook continues to determine the terms in which we converse, what are the implications of a bigger gospel and the big call to be “one?”

Well, what I want to suggest is that perhaps one practical implication for how we Christians relate to one another is that we enter spaces of difference with humility.

(Let me highlight that those of us with a level of privilege in society need to take with the utmost seriousness that we can’t simply impose this on people who experience the world through marginalized lenses — who have a different level of fear, pain and distrust. We need to seek relationship with them and learn with them.)

I try to imagine that a Jesus-follower who is engaging with me has vulnerably handed me a sack of stones (even if their vulnerability isn’t obvious).

I have three options as I engage with him, at this point:

  1. I can take those stones and throw them at him at complete disgust for our differences. Seems like Jesus isn’t a fan of this approach.
  2. I can build a wall between myself and the other by deciding to reinforce the “wall of hostility” (to borrow a Pauline metaphor) that Jesus came to tear down.
  3. Or, I can do everything within my power to build a bridge in his direction. To seek to understand, even if in the end, I will disagree.

I also note that at the same time, I have handed him my sack of stones and he has the same set of choices in front of him.

However, I also recognize that I can model how to use the stones by taking the initiative from the onset to choose option #3.

I realize how hard this actually is, but in our current political climate, we’ve got to figure out a new way to talk to each other. To choose to see the best in each other. To notice the unique way that Jesus is working within and through each other. And to be able to confront difference, not by conformity or compromise, but through bearing with one another as we seek a better future together.

We can find ways to seek the good of God’s reconciling mission for creation, human communities and individuals.

We can be one even though we are many.

We can be bridge-builders.

At least, I hope so.

Kurt Willems (M.Div., Fresno Pacific) is the founding pastor of Pangea Communities, a movement of peace, justice and hope. The church plant, in partnership with the Brethren in Christ and Urban Expression, is based in Seattle, Wash. Kurt writes at the Pangea Blog, where this post first appeared.

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