8:58 AM Good morning, cyber geeks of the world. I feel a need to respond briefly to the pushback I’m seeing in the evangelical world against the federal government’s incursion into our personal affairs through reading our private emails, monitoring our website usage, etc. One of the essays I read yesterday made much of our “Founding Fathers” and their concern about government “overreach and abuse.” The author suspected that had the Founders lived in the 21st century they would have called a new constitutional convention to “deal with the erosion of our freedoms.” I’ve also noticed a sort of cynicism toward “silent” Christians who sit idly by and say nothing. One author said that “there will simply be no privacy unless someone speaks up. That someone should be Christians.”
I understand where these evangelical patriots are coming from. America once seemed invincible. After all, we were founded on principles of personal liberty and a high work ethic. When our freedoms are being eroded, we Christians cannot remain silent.
Or can we?
I think this approach is a dangerous one. For one thing, I think it downplays the radical aspects of New Testament Christianity. Evangelicals continually face the danger of mixing the kingdom of God with politics and the sin of nationalism. While I’m in total agreement that our nation was founded upon principles of liberty and freedom, I’m somewhat hesitant to accept the notion that our eroding personal liberties is a biblical problem that “Christians” can and should resolve. Many of the arguments used to support the idea of a “Christian” nation are quite speculative. If political freedom was central to the biblical storyline, wouldn’t it be a little more obvious? In fact, Revelation 13 suggests an ongoing animosity between the state and the kingdom until Jesus returns. Personally, I’m not convinced that protesting against the erosion of liberties is the sort of behavior Jesus would encourage. If Christians are to speak up against government excesses, where will it end? I’m not pretending that government surveillance of my private emails doesn’t concern me, or that I think the TSA “handlers” should be allowed to pat down my private parts. Nor am I pretending that government is a neutral player in cosmic affairs. In fact, I will go so far as to say that protesting against this or that government policy is fine and dandy as long as we don’t confuse the kingdom and the world system. Until Jesus returns, the whole world will be held hostage to cosmic forces of evil. In the meantime, God is calling to Himself men and women and transforming them into citizens of a kingdom that transcends all national or political allegiances and is characterized by peace, love, and humility. As I have argued in my book Christian Archy, whenever Christians have become apologists for this or that political view it has been disastrous for the advance of God’s kingdom. It should be obvious to anyone with even a cursory understanding of the context in which Jesus lived that our Savior chose to love, serve, and die for His political enemies rather than engage in debate with them over politics. As followers of Jesus, we are called to imitate this attitude and behavior. My point is that regardless of whether or not we can adequately justify political engagement on the part of Christians, this shouldn’t stop us from following Jesus’ example and obeying His teaching in the least. In other words, the best way we as Christians can protest injustice in our society is by living and acting like Jesus — period. Our only allegiance is to Christ and His upside down kingdom. Therefore, our confidence as kingdom people can never be placed in political solutions. It is to be placed exclusively in God, and our lives must always be centered in replicating the sacrificial love of Christ to all people regardless of their political convictions.
Again, I don’t think this means that a Christian cannot be involved in politics. But it does mean that we can’t divide our loyalty between Christ and Caesar. Everything in the New Testament points to the way we are to go about changing society — by simply imitating our Lord. Rather than becoming the new zealots, let’s reject the temptation to advance the good by political means — the very temptation Jesus rejected. Given that the essential message of the New Testament is not about politics (including our precious “freedoms”) but rather about sacrificial service to others, shouldn’t we be more focused on how we as Christians can serve the world rather than arguing with each other over government policies? Hudson Taylor refused to be compensated by the Chinese government after his property had been destroyed in the Boxer Rebellion. Chinese leaders were amazed by the virtues of Christianity. In the so-called “battles” we face today in the political arena, the meekness and gentleness of Christ may sometimes be more effective in reaching the lost than fighting for our “rights.” Jesus told us not to resist an evil person. He said if someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. He said if someone wanted to take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone (probably a government official!) forces you to go one mile, go with him two (see Matt. 5:39-41). Many today would view these actions as cowardly, as personal defeats, as a loss of face. But the followers of Jesus know that the real battle is too great for them to become sidetracked by minor causes and the loss of face.
How many people in America have rejected the Gospel simple because they can’t stand the political machinations of so-called Christians? The only hope of the world lies in Jesus Christ, not in political activism, whether the issue is liberty or race (on the latter, see Robert Martin’s masterful piece called What Do We Do About Racism — an Alternative Way).
Well, this is already too long. I’ll discuss this topic more in my book Godworld. For those wanting to go further into the topic, I strongly recommend the works of Jacque Ellul and Vernard Eller. Both authors present a balanced yet compelling case that Christians have a responsibility to grant allegiance only to Jesus. We can’t serve two masters. This isn’t to say that Christians can’t participate in politics. But it isn’t our duty to do so.