Politics and the Gospel

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The problem as I see it with the politicization of every aspect of life is that when it is applied to the Gospel, it creates distorted images of the Gospel, and of Jesus Christ. What I mean is this: most people seem to begin, not with the Gospel, but with their politics; they then take their politics to the Gospel and either try to spin the portions that do not fit with their politics, or they simply pretend as if those portions do not exist — and to be fair, the “spinning” of the Gospel is simply an effort to nullify those portions with which we do not agree.

The Gospel is neither Conservative, nor is it Liberal. It is neither Capitalistic, nor is it Socialistic. There are elements that sound Conservative to us today (which were probably quite radical for the first century), and there are parts that sound Liberal to us today, and there are parts that even sound Socialistic or Communistic. But the whole Gospel is not any of those things, and never was intended to be. If we approach life with the attitude that Conservatism is always right, or always wrong; or that Capitalism is always right, or always wrong; or Liberalism is always right, or always wrong; or Socialism is always right or always wrong; then when we approach the Gospel and take our predetermined views to it, we end up believing and promoting a Gospel that is occasionally right, and usually wrong.

What the Gospel is in its entirety is Revolutionary and Radical. It is Revolutionary because it overturns the order and structures of the world. Power as the Gospel teaches is not power as the world teaches. The Gospel is also Radical because Radical means “to cut to the root” and the Gospel cuts to the root of what faith, religion, Judaism, and Christianity and spirituality and interpersonal relationships, and international relationships, and our relationship with God is supposed to at its very root — at its very source, at its very core. And that root/source/core is LOVE! The self-giving, self-sacrificing love that seeks nothing in return and which seeks to love in such a way that can never be paid back is the radical source from which the Gospel grows, which is why it becomes a Revolutionary prospect to the world. The world says that power must be seized; the Gospel says that LOVE is power, and the one who loves the most has the most power. The world says the one who dies with the most toys wins; the Gospel says that the one who wants to be the ruler of all must become the servant of all.

This putting the Gospel first and using the Gospel to define our politics (rather than the world’s method of beginning with our politics and then trying to force the Gospel to fit within our politics) confuses the world. The confused world then sets out to try to understand the Gospel and those who are promoting it in political terms. This is why the current Bishop of Rome is said to be “Liberal” or promoting “Liberal” policies. But he is not Liberal and confuses Liberals because they think he is one of them, but he is not Liberal enough or seems to go back on his Liberalism. Conservatives are dismissing him and criticizing him because they think he is Liberal, and because they look at the few things he does and says that sound “Liberal” to them, they ignore the rest of him, including those places where he is in no way “Liberal” at all. This is because the Bishop of Rome has (rightly for a Christian) put the Gospel first and stopped worrying or caring about politics, and the politically charged and motivated world has no idea how to hear or respond to what he says.

The Gospel of course does have political consequences. A society in which some or all of the people are motivated by the radical love that turns power structures upside down is going to have political outcomes since politics is about power. But there is a big difference in saying that the Gospel has political and economic consequences, and saying that I have political goals and the Gospel conforms to my political agenda.

For instance, a politically motivated person would look at a situation in which one percent of the people own ninety percent of the wealth and in which large segments of the population have very little or nothing at all in terms of politics and would attach a political label on someone for how they interpret that situation: Those who seem to be in favor of it are Conservative; those who are not and want to take wealth away from the one percent and even out the economic disparity are Liberal.

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Someone who begins with the Gospel in this matter may sound “Liberal” but the person is not Liberal. The person is leading with the Gospel and it has a political outcome — a redistribution of wealth. And this redistribution is not based on politics; it is based on love and justice (and yes, since God is a God of justice, and God is love, justice must be tempered by love in order to be a biblical expression of justice).

Justice says that in a world where there is more than enough for everyone to have some, it is unjust for a very small few to have all and a large minority to have very little or nothing. And this is not based on politics. It is based on love. God who has all power gives that power to human beings through Jesus Christ. God shares ALL power by giving ALL power in heaven and on earth to Jesus Christ who shares ALL power with ALL people who live under His Lordship. That is what love is — self-giving and cannot be repaid and seeks nothing in return. Potentially, God shares that power and love with all people, but not all people accept it.

In a world where there was not more than enough to go around, perhaps the just thing to do would be to hoard as much of everything as you could get your hands on. But in a world where there is enough food to feed everyone, and we let thirty thousand children die every day from hunger and starvation, it is not Liberal to say that is wrong, and it is not Conservative to defend that status quo — it is love and justice (it is the Gospel) to say that situation is wrong and it is evil to justify it. In a world where there is more than enough money to go around, it is unjust, unloving, un-Gospel-like, un-Christian, for a few to own 90 percent of the money or more. The fact is that we can take money away from the top one percent of wealthy people and give that money to the poorest, so that everyone has a decent quality of life, and that top one percent would still have more wealth than they know what to do with. Saying that in a world with more than enough money to go around, and where the rich would still be rich regardless, that taking money from the rich to give to those in need is a good thing is not a Liberal statement, and opposing that is not a Conservative statement. It is the Gospel! Opposing it is opposing the Gospel.

Personally, I do not think that the Church should be taking sides in elections, or endorsing political parties or ideas. I think the Church should be communicating the Gospel — offending both Liberals and Conservatives because the Church refuses to be defined by either and sometimes sounds like both. The problem I see with many churches is that they have taken political stands and by so doing, reduce the church into an arm of the political organization.

Now I, like the Bishop of Rome (and that is where the similarity ends because he is so much cooler than I), often get branded a “Liberal” because I tend to focus on those parts of the Gospel that have to do with the powerless, the down and out, the poor, the dispossessed. It is not because I refuse to accept the rest of the Gospel or because as a “Liberal” I will only accept the “Liberal” aspects of the Gospel. I tend to focus on these parts because I live in a land where the powerful, the up and in, the wealthy, need no one to speak on their behalf. But I assure you, my friends who actually are Liberal get frustrated with me because I sound Conservative (or at least more Conservative) when I preach or teach those parts of the Gospel that sound more conservative.

I will end with this, since I had no intention of saying any of this: it is more than acceptable for good and faithful people of good character and moral fortitude who are intelligent to disagree about what parts of the Gospel means and how to apply it. Actually I believe we should always be discussing and debating within the community of faith as to what the Gospel means and how best to live it. It is not a thousand years ago, and what the Church or Christians decided then may no longer apply now, and we may have issues that the Church a thousand years ago could never have envisioned. What is unacceptable is when we do not temper our discussion or debate with love — accepting that we are all good and faithful and intelligent Christians trying our best to authentically understand the Gospel for ourselves and to live it within our context.

If you made it through all that, you’re a better person than I am. I have no idea why I wrote it or even if it makes any sense. But if it applies to anything, then apply it. If not, then ignore it and forgive me for wasting your time.

I have a whole history of being wrong about stuff, so I may be wrong about all or some of what I have said above.

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