By Jim Tune
Jesus Christ turned conventional views of power upside down. Jesus was remarkably indifferent to those who held political power. He had no desire to replace Caesar with his apostles. He gave civil authority its due, rebuking both the zealots and Peter for using the sword. This seems to have infuriated the religious right of his day. In an effort to discredit Jesus, the Herodians tried trapping him over the issue of allegiance to political authority.
I am mystified by the Evangelical obsession with power and influence. A made-in-America Jesus seems more concerned with nationalism, patriotism, and power than the Christ of the gospels. As a Canadian, maybe I’m missing something. It wouldn’t be the first time. That said, I’ve cheered for American Jesus plenty of times. The problem is, many Americans are turning away from this Evangelical relic of Christendom.
We’ve cluttered up our message with opinions, political positions, and placards so completely that a growing number of younger North Americans are actually repulsed by what we’ve packaged and marketed as Christianity.
Nothing distinguishes the kingdoms of man from the kingdom of God more than their diametrically opposed views of the exercise of power. One seeks to impose its values, the other to listen; one promotes self, the other prostrates self; one seeks prestige and position, the other lifts up the lowly and despised.
Shane Claiborne says the question for him is not are we political, but how are we political? It’s a question I’m asking myself these days. As Christians, we need to be politically engaged, but we must be more imaginative in how we engage. I wrestle with this tension. I have political views. I want my community and country to be governed well. I vote.
At the same time, I must not forget my true citizenship. I don’t want anyone to assume that because I am a Christian, I am a servant to the “religious right” agenda.
Early Christians felt a deep conflict with the empire in which they lived. I think we should too. To be nonpartisan doesn’t mean we’re not political. But we understand that no government, person, or politician can ever coexist peacefully with the kingdom Christians are called to inhabit. They are two different things.
This tension will always exist. It should exist. It began right after Christ’s birth. King Herod, a vicious tyrant, was gripped with fear when the Magi arrived seeking the “King of the Jews.” Herod feared Jesus not because he thought Jesus would become a great religious or political leader. He had suppressed such upstarts before. Herod feared Christ because he represented a kingdom greater than his own.
Our hope is not found in the nations. To some extent, the church and the state must always be in conflict. The struggle for power, which inevitably corrupts, is unavoidable in this sinful world. The church will either be persecuted by the powers, or corrupted by them. I think as Christians we should always be thinking this through—and living with the tension.