No king but Caesar

“…we must first repent of our worship of the state, of country, of national ideals, of capitalism, of social justice–of our own ideas.”

The nature of the Church’s relationship with political process reveals an ugly side of her condition. The last election cycle proved that the Church–at least in these United States–is just as hopeless, desperate and blind as everyone else. Rather than being at the vanguard of presenting truth and the gospel, the Church went about the business of politics with fervor. Sadly, my compatriots, we are fixated on a small branch of a much larger problem. Our problems to contend with are not flesh and blood.

On one hand we all affirm that we must not put our trust in men; politicians, princes, kings, etc. The Church as a whole is very adept at paying this lip service. On the other hand we take such a keen interest in all workings in politics and throw so much weight–moral and emotional–behind the acquisition of power that it reeks of hypocrisy. We lie when we say we don’t trust in politics because our actions tell another story altogether.

But, we say, we have an obligation to do our part and take a stand and oppose evil and preach truth! That is true and probably truer than we can imagine. The problem among Christians is we are no different from how the world approaches their own political responsibility: the imposition of a moral imperative. To move people, the world must inspire a moral responsibility. Just the act of creating moral choices, or throwing a light of moral question among christians, causes all sorts of raucous as everyone scrambles to find themselves on the right side of the ‘dilemma’. In politics no such dilemma or imperative exists.

When God does not reside in the heart of men, politics become essential. The political arena is a sideshow of men’s balance of power. Power is unbecoming of Christians. Force and domination are methods of the world. Christ did not come as someone powerful to overthrow and establish through domination. The Mission is accomplished subtly, through every God’s children displaying the gospel as light and salt to the lost world. Any use of force or power or domination do ‘disseminate’ God’s word is a false use of our gifts and a misappropriation of that Mission and mandate. Nowhere are we given a different example.

Our Mission goes so far beyond the flashy display of the political process that it should be cause almost for a complete disillusionment from the exchange and groping for power. The world would have us believe that elections and political action and involvement is very important. Why? First, to the world politics present the surest route to what he needs. It is the best option of all earthly endeavors. It can be dangerous to the Christian because it eliminates any distinction in their approach. When we are just as vehement, vitriolic, or dogmatic, fearful and angry as everyone else we lose any ability to offer a different story than the loud narrative of the social propaganda machine. Second, it provides false, enticing ideas of creating change and improving our world. It’s an illusion of progress, to use the phrase of Ellul. The kingdom of God will not arrive on the wings of capitalism, or social reform, or on ideas of equality.

We are explicitly told that change and restoration of the kingdom will not come through physical manifestation, through man’s material effort. The mistake of Israel and the Jews in their response to the Son of God is notorious. Action, violence, policies, reforms, those are the things which get things done. Counterintuitively, the kingdom is none of those things.

When we succumb to the notion that politics and elections–because they are useful–are therefore vital, we forget the subtle and small voice who reassures us who our author and finisher is. We run apt to give in to fear when these processes seem to go against us. We become lazy when the processes turn in our favor. We lose our voice to proclaim our mandate. We fail our Mission. We marginalize God’s promise.

How would we as Christians act if we lived in Spain in 1936? faced between fascists on the right and communists on the left–the only two choices given by the world–how would we act? Would we throw ourselves to one side or the other, electing for a less evil choice? Would we remove all choices out of moral indignation? Or would we see beyond the violent tumult to live a more substantial truth?

The truth is most of us, from those on the left and right, have succumbed to a flagrant worship of idols. To approach elections and political action with any degree of perspective we must first repent of our worship of the state, of country, of national ideals, of capitalism, of social justice–of our own ideas. We must be violent with the idols in our own lives–iconoclasts in the highest degree. We must stop playing games with each other. When our hearts fall away from Christ, politics and elections become vital. If you cannot approach an election with freedom, peace, and detachment, you probably should abstain from voting. Do nothing unless it is in faith.

I do not propose some emotional or logical scheme to arrive at a very convenient answer that makes everyone feel good about their decision. What so many influential christians do is regurgitate a whole lot of scripture, pontificate on a moral plane, evoke God’s mercy and throw all hope behind a candidate, party, or platform. It’s a very elaborate way of beginning with a conviction, running it through a bath of piety, and presenting a political choice all whitewashed in sanctimonious drivel. It might as well be a witch’s brew. Not only does it miss the point entirely, but it demeans the word of God by attaching it to a means of worldly power. It poisons whatever political action we may choose to do. It also leads us astray, giving way to the potential to be very disappointed in God for allowing our moral choice to fail. If our cause was righteous why did it ultimately fail? God failed his people. No such thing!

Every election is an opportunity as Christians to preach the gospel. Rarely are we given such stark moments to present truth in such revolutionary and contrary terms to our fellow men and women who are full of fear. Everybody is running around anxiously, in anger and turmoil, because their ideals, to which their hope is bound, are at stake. Everything is caught up in the actions of men. Christians on the other hand, should be calmly and faithfully going about our own business, giving our opinions in humility. Our opinions and political ideals are detached from our hope and vitality because we are not bound to the world!

Have we forgotten how he led the captives out of Egypt, through the wilderness? Have we forgotten how his Son defeated the enemy? Have we so lost hope in our God and ignored the Spirit so effectively, that our political discussions only mention him as a last resort and as an afterthought; attaching him as a footnote to support our own convictions?

We think the world is in need of saving grace and repentance. We think our enemy is the world’s position on who gets to go into which bathroom. But we must first begin with ourselves: a radical repentance and change in our approach to politics and involvement in elections. It isn’t our involvement itself that is at issue. It’s the degree to which our hearts are invested in the enterprise. It reflects foremost a spiritual poverty, which is revealed in a fervent, impassioned yearning in the process of men.

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Send in the Brownshirts

I am always amused by politicians and pundits on TV and radio. They get so worked up, and usually when they start to run out of steam–of witty responses and vicious jabs–they always have one thing to rely on: the Nazis. Bring in the Stormtroopers! It is amusing because they are doing exactly what the Nazis themselves did: that when all else fails, you can still bludgeon your opponent. You can always resort to violence!

But it has a deeper meaning and problem. Those pundits’ remarks betray a misunderstanding of the past by a broader audience. The next genocidal, ethnic-cleansing government won’t be the Nazis. I guarantee it. History repeats itself, but c’mon, not that closely. They rarely pop up overnight with reeducation camps, gulags, and book-burning parties. They won’t sport fantastic mustaches and march around with big boots. And they’re probably not going to be wearing white hoods. They won’t live in volcanoes or wear capes, or be aficionados of opera. Sorry, they’re not that easy to spot. But I think many do actually expect them to be like this. I am annoyed by the outlawing of Nazism. It too misses the point. As if any Nazi worth his salt is going to name his new political party the “Fourth Reich”, and wear red armbands and bash drums. Why is the swastika a banned symbol? Are we ashamed of the truth? The swastika didn’t cause the horrors of what the NSDAP did. The ideas behind it did, and of course, the people who embraced those ideas. By banning it, we give it power it does not deserve.

So when things start to get dicey in a political discussion, please don’t mention the Nazis, because it doesn’t actually prove anything. We sometimes try to bash the heads of our opponents and condemn evildoers of the past in one strike. We think we’re proving something by being gruff and calling the bad guys names. “You’re a Nazi!” may be true, but it doesn’t solve problems, and it doesn’t show that you learnt a lesson from history, or that you even know a Nazi when you see one. They’re so easy to lambast, and for good reason: they lost. They weren’t around long enough to change their own history like other despotic regimes and murderous ideas. By labeling all our enemies Nazis we miss the chance to expose the dangerous ones.

But memories pass with each generation. Less than eighty years after the Nazi regime’s passing, there are relatively large numbers of neo-Nazis in the world, and they’re growing! So yes, I suppose we’re going to repeat history, but only if we have learnt nothing. But to prevent the past from repeating itself, you’ve got to understand that it won’t do the same thing twice. And we won’t stop it by banning Nazism, or by making hate-speech a crime. All those regimes and governments didn’t start killing and pillaging and burning and destroying from the get-go. The death camps didn’t start churning from day one. Far from it, they were the culmination of an idea put into full practice. To stop it, you must meet ideas with ideas, see them, and address them. You must identify them and they must be met and defeated. Veni, vidi, vici.