Tony Campolo, one of my favorite authors and speakers, once said, “Mixing the church and state is like mixing ice cream with cow manure. It may not do much to the manure, but it sure messes up the ice cream.”
I’m not sure which one is ice cream and which one is manure, and sometimes, if we’re honest, both the church and the state have been and can be a mixture.
But, as people of faith, rather than pretend like this election season isn’t happening, I think our call as people of faith is to engage it directly rather than ignore it.
I’ve heard many people say they’re not sure how we ended up where we are in 2016, and they wish we had a different way, some kind of alternative. And so I’m writing a series of posts based on our current sermon series at The Village Church in Nashville, where I’m the pastor. This series is called “Platform: A More Excellent Way.” I hope that if nothing else, it’s a helpful alternative.
Let’s start by looking at the campaign slogans themselves:
Donald Trump talks about making things “great again.” If you want to talk about being great, and you’re a person of faith, I think you’ve got to talk about King David’s prayer in Psalm 86 where he says to God, “For you alone are great.”
Hillary Clinton encourages her followers to say #imwithher. If you want to talk about being with somebody, and you’re a person of faith, you’ve got to talk about the name of Jesus itself, which means “God with us.”
In the last several election cycles, our candidates have lifted up the theme of hope. If you want to talk about hope in a political sphere, and you’re a person of faith, then you’ve got to talk about the inventor and the source of all hope.
And so I think the question for us as we engage with anything in our culture, the question for you as you try to figure out how to navigate a season like this is: What’s your orienting principle? What’s the thing or idea that you build everything else around? Your orienting principle impacts everything about what you think about politics.
Dr. Miroslav Volf, theologian and professor at Yale Divinity School, writes, “The ultimate allegiance of a Christian is to Jesus Christ…A Christian ought not embrace any practice, no matter how prudent it may seem from the standpoint of national security or national competitive advantage, which conflicts with her or his allegiance to Christ.”
What Volf is saying is that, in the end, Jesus is the orienting principle for his followers. The story of Jesus and of his kingdom should always be held above our political stories. When we engage policy, when we engage debate, when we engage candidates and their platforms, Jesus should be our measuring stick. While we may be electing a president, Jesus remains King.
I read somewhere this week: “If you have more faith in Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton than you do the local church to be an agent of change in your community, then you need to find a new church.”
And so, holding Jesus as the orienting principle, what’s it mean to be a follower of Jesus and to engage in these issues, especially in a time of such deep division, polarization, and animosity?
Although Jesus never ran for political office, he described in great detail his vision for a new kind of kingdom, the Kingdom of God. In Matthew’s Gospel, chapters 5-7 is something called the “Sermon on the Mount.” It’s the most extended teaching from Jesus in the New Testament. If Jesus were to run for office and if Jesus were to give a stump speech on the nature and reality and vision of God’s Kingdom, this would be it.
So, over the next three weeks, I’m going to re-read these words, and I’d encourage anyone who’s a person of faith, and anyone who’s not a person of faith but is looking for a different way, “a more excellent way” as it says in the book of 1 Corinthians, to join me. There’s a lot of talk about fact checking going on right now, and over the next few weeks I’ll be studying these words of Jesus, I’ll be using the words there for my fact checking, my plumb line, my basis for evaluation, and I’d encourage you to consider joining me.
In the end, this is not really about politics; it’s about faithfulness. If you claim to be a Christian, what I’m asking you to consider is to drop the partisanship and to define yourself first and foremost by your followership of Jesus. I’m not talking about candidates, I’m not endorsing anyone, I’m going asking you to have laser focus on Jesus, on his words, on his vision, on his kingdom, and I’m going to asking followers of Jesus to vote with their lives for that.
As a sidenote, if you don’t identify as a Christian, I understand that you may have certain perceptions of what it means to be one based on the statements of religious leaders during this campaign, and that those perceptions might be positive or negative. What I hope to do in this series of posts is to describe my understanding of a Christian to you based on the words of Jesus, and I’d ask you to consider whether or not you’d be willing to follow the Jesus you meet in his words here in the Sermon on the Mount, regardless of what the people who claim to follow him say and do.
The heart of this series of posts comes about midway through the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus offers these words: “Seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness.” (Matthew 6:33).
One last thing, here’s a disclaimer: The Gospel of Jesus is an equal opportunity offender, it should step on everyone’s toes equally. If I’m not challenged to live and think differently based on what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, then I’m not listening. If you’re not challenged to live differently based on what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, then I’m not sharing the words of Jesus very well. Be warned: it’s not possible to line up 100% with either major party political platform and also line up 100% with the vision of Jesus for the Kingdom of God.