Kingdom of Politics vs. Politics of the Kingdom

Our Current State

David Brooks in "The Second Mountain: A Quest for a Moral Life" has a scathing commentary on our world today:

"Tribalism seems like a way to restore the bonds of community. It certainly does bind people together. But it is actually the dark twin of community. Community is connection based on mutual affection. Tribalism is connection based on mutual hatred. Community is based on common humanity; tribalism on common foe. Tribalism is always erecting boundaries and creating friend/enemy distinctions. The tribal mentality is a warrior mentality based on scarcity: Life is a battle for scarce resources and it's always us verses them, zero-sum. The ends justify the means. Politics is war. Ideas are combat. It's kill or be killed. Mistrust is the tribalist worldview. Tribalism is community for lonely narcissists.

These days, partisanship for many people is not about which political party has the better policies. It's a conflict between the saved and the damned. People often use partisan identity to fill the void left when their other attachments wither away -- ethnic, neighborhood, religious, communal and familial.

This is asking more from politics than politics can deliver. Once politics becomes your ethnic or moral identity, it becomes impossible to compromise, because compromise becomes dishonor. Once politics becomes your identity, then every electoral contest is a struggle for existential survival, and everything is permitted. Tribalism threatens to take the detached individual and turn him into a monster."

And a monster it has turned us into.

This is the minefield of American politics. Ripe with mudslinging and name-calling, ignorance and bigotry, lack of friendship and understanding. It has made us all into monsters of sort.

It is a place for only winners and losers, the right side and wrong side of history. It is no place for discussion, dialogue, a listening disposition or a place to admit the most forbidden omission of the 21st century – “perhaps, I am wrong, or have been wrong.”

It is no place for disagreement without disdain, or cordiality amidst difference. To be seen engaging in meaningful – even jovial – conversation with "the other side" is deemed as fraternizing with the enemy.

The state of American politics may not be the worse it’s even been, but it feels like the saddest it’s ever been.

Kingdom of Politics

However, as sad as that is, none of it is all that surprising. It is not surprising that people deal in labels, nor is it shocking that name-calling is the currency of communication. Broken people say despicable things out of insecurity, fear, loss of control, animosity, and general disdain for others quite frequently. This has happened since the beginning of time, and though the politicization of social media has dumped kerosene on the embers, we can’t be that shocked when our political fray doubles as our entertainment, and we feel important – as players in the game – to contribute  to the mess.

Don’t get me wrong. When AOC is named a “disgusting (expletive)” our senses should be disgusted and appalled, but we aren’t that surprised. Women have been degraded since the dawn of time. When President Trump says {expletive things}, we should not be shocked or surprised, though we are saddened and disgusted. Leaders of the world have long used their power to excuse their words and actions. When Presidential Nominee Joe Biden says that if you are an African American and don’t vote for him, you’re not really Black, we should not be shocked or surprised, though we are discouraged and disgusted. Leaders have long used their platform to marginalize people by shaming them.

Honestly, it actually makes plenty of sense that this is how people engage. It is much easier and simpler to bury someone by degrading their sex, gender, nationality or place of origin. It’s easier to outright cancel someone and destroy them on the basis of their opinion (informed or uninformed as it may be) than it does to listen with the intent to understand, even if the conclusion ends in disagreement.

The political tribalism and party lines in this country are not difficult to figure out. Each side of the political aisle mirrors the other. Each consistently puts the other on blast, looking to out their character and blow up their career.

Truth is, it’s pretty irrelevant what side of the aisle you fall on. Frankly, no side is more moral than another; it only depends on what one uses to justify morality. One side hides behind elitism and progress; the other behind God Himself – neither are shields for moral ineptitude. Both sides have their virtues, and both their vices. Both are broken, and both have yet to find ways in which to “fix” America.

None of what is stated above is new than what it’s always been. It is more heightened, perhaps. More frenzied because of the social media monster. But it is not altogether different, or altogether unique. In some ways, we live with what we have because this is what we’ve always had.

The Alternative to the Empire

What’s more surprising (and far worse), however, is the level of vitriol in which such discourse takes place by those who claim the mantle of Jesus. Whether it be on the basement floor of our social media sewer, or in the grocery line where opinions on masks have become the new sword to wield, self-righteousness wells up.

It’s surprising because at the heart of the message of Jesus is a kingdom that embodies self-giving, not self-taking. A kingdom that does not pride itself on issues of Christian nationalism or religious preservation or “back in the good ole days” thought process. A kingdom that is the opposite of "showing our righteousness (or rightness) before the crowd to be affirmed and adored."

The Kingdom of God is not America, though pockets of the kingdom are breaking out in this country. Rather, this is a flawed, tragic, lovely, nuanced, difficult, scarred country. It is not one of those things, but all of those things, simultaneously.

To have convictions and political leanings is one thing; but to propagate them up as the saving grace of our world, constantly dragging the other side out of fear of “X” takeover is quite another. That way represents the way of the lion, but not the one of the tribe of Judah.

Those who claim Jesus recognize their citizenship is not namely in the empire of man. But believing that and practicing that are not the same.

In one of the more sobering rebukes in all of Scripture, James and John walk with Jesus, arguing over who will sit in the seat of honor next to Jesus.

Jesus turns their ask upside down and shows them the way of the Gentiles saying, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not be to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)

Above national politics being the saving grace of our world, what is more alarming and disheartening is a misunderstanding (at the very least), and an ignoring and disobeying (at the worst) of the central call of Jesus. The call underneath all other calls which is to absolve one’s self of power.

And the central premise of politics, particularly partisan, 21st century, 2020 politics is to claim absolute power.

For followers of Jesus, our goal is never to obtain power, and it is almost always to fear it. Since our country’s inception, most (white) followers of Jesus have enjoyed religious liberty in this country. And while the freedom to exercise any religion is in itself something good, we do not leverage our liberties for power; rather, in most cases, we lay down any power we have been granted out of love for our neighbor.

Ultimately, (unfortunately) for many of us, we care about politics because we care about power. In our fragmented, politicized moment the worst thing that could happen to us is to lose power, and the best thing that could happen to us is to be identified with it.

“But it shall not be so among you.”

If there is one thing that Jesus warns his followers about more than anything else, it was that to follow Him would require you giving up your life which, in many ways, includes renouncing your power. That means allegiances to political parties, addictions to political prowess, cravings for some sort of manifest destiny and alliances with those who oppose the kingdom of love with the empire of power.

It is difficult to square in our hearts, but not difficult to comprehend with our heads. The kingdom of God does not have room for a little of Jesus and a little of utopian America and her fearless leader, left or right. The kingdom has only one King – who does not identify with a political party – who sits on one throne, unwilling to share it with another.

There’s many a parable that Jesus tells about the kingdom of God, but the mustard seed analogy strikes prominent. “The kingdom of Heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it grows larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32)

The grain is small, underground, unnoticed, uncelebrated. It does not want for anything. Rather, it grows slowly, and deeply, and widely – over time. Mustard grains are nothing to look at, nothing to want, nothing to cherish.

The life of a mustard seed transforms and evolves over significant years, with rain and sod and dirt and nutrients. It does what it does without noise and without commotion and without sound. It is a stark contrast to our political frenzy.

Jesus goes on to give 7 parables, 7 metaphors of the kingdom – the subversive, counterculture, upside down vision of a world different than that of the empire. None of the parables of the kingdom, and nothing ever said about the kingdom, ever had to do with Caesar or Rome.

And nothing about the kingdom of Jesus has to do with this country or the leader of the free world.

Citizens of the kingdom do not obsess over getting a seat at the decision-making table; they seek to offer their seat at their small, kitchen table (particularly to those who they would not dare associate with on their own accord).

Citizens of the kingdom do not seek to tear down their opponent, or slander their enemy’s name; they seek to affirm them, understand them, and hear them out.

Citizens of the kingdom do not engage or concern themselves in needless social media squabble. Instead, they move outside the walls of the Internet, of their own home, to engage in neighborly love, good works and the common welfare of the community.

Citizens of the kingdom are not enthralled in the echo chamber of their own thoughts, but understand they are susceptible to unhelpful, wrong thinking – which is why they seek to listen more than speak, grow less in anger and more in compassion and mercy.

And maybe the most subversive, counter-American and counter-human act that the citizens of the kingdom are about is enemy love.

The call to non-violent, self-controlled, patient, sacrificial care and devotion for your enemy’s good and well-being is a message for followers of Jesus in 2020 if there ever was one.

The Kingdom of God is not coming on Air Force One. In fact, in almost every political sphere, at every political turn – Republican and Democrat – the Kingdom of God directly opposes the empire of man.

The Kingdom of God breaks in as a counter-intuitive use of power; not of seeking to obtain it, but of seeking to die to its allure and temptation, and to leverage whatever ounce it is afforded for the sake of another.

By doing so, we fight for the common good. We advocate for the poor, oppressed and unjustly treated. We listen to, and stand with, the voices of the marginalized. We think critically and carefully about things regarding homelessness, justice, abortion, mass incarceration, single parents, affordable housing, the opioid crisis, and a plethora of other important issues.

But we do not put any fundamental hope into the office of Caesar, or his court jesters. Nor do we put all our energies and attention and time and effort into lambasting others who disagree with our view of Pennsylvania Avenue.

We submit to leaders. (Hebrews 13:17)

We (actually) pray for them. (1 Timothy 2:2)

And we pray for and love those who support leaders that we don’t. Because, even though we may disagree on policy and procedure, we understand that the Oval Office is not the end-all be-all. It, like many things, is held by people that wield great power for (namely) self-interest.

It doesn't mean we can't care about politics; it just means we don't worship it.

“But it shall not be so among you.”

Though we may be at one level earthly citizens of a country painted in red, white and blue, we are merely ambassadors, serving in an embassy role. And we are simultaneously citizens of another kingdom that’s bathed in crimson blood of Galilean man.

The Faux Persecution

And as citizens of this country, there are things that we can enjoy about it. And one of the ways we speak of what we enjoy is our badge of “rights.” But as with most things, that which can be enjoyed, can also be that which is idolized.

These “rights” have been interpreted, misinterpreted and re-interpreted over and over again. Some of which afford liberties to us all; others that have not. My aim, though, is not to concern ourselves with the intricacies of these rights. It is to concern ourselves with our obsession of these rights.

The gospel implores us to care about our neighbor over ourselves, and that includes over our “rights”, however we define those. With freedom and security in who we are in the person and work of Jesus, we are not obsessed over our “civilian rights” being taken because we gave up any “right” to things we had a long, long time ago. Our devotion and loyalties are aligned with a Middle Eastern refugee who got up from dead, turning the world upside down with his message of irresistible grace.

As he awaited the humiliation and deplorable crucifixion by the empire, he did not plead with Pilate about his rights as a Nazarene, or even as a human unjustly treated, tried and publicly executed. He – the One with unlimited power, prestige and position over the world – laid down his power for those who were killing him. (Philippians 2:1-11)

To say we follow Jesus is to say we follow the lifestyle of Jesus -- his ways, his words, his actions. A life and lifestyle that stepped out of places of privilege and prominence and into the lowliness of earth and its estate for the good of those who would do nothing but deny him and betray him.

A lifestyle of Jesus was filled with non-violence, particularly against the State. There was no fear of another way of government; there was a resolve to show a better way of love.

Our apprenticing under King Jesus and His reign means we have adopted the lifestyle of laying down our power and rights for all those who would deny our beliefs. Any "right" we feel we had we abdicated to the person of Jesus. He disciples and forms our thoughts, convictions, lifestyle and worldview. We are now free to lay down our lives for those around us.

One of the great harms that American Christian Nationalism has done in our day (besides being a syncretic religion) is convinced us that any plight that we, as followers of Jesus, face in this country is an immediate equation to persecution and suffering. A message of, "Look out, world! They are coming for our churches; they are coming for our speech!"

We have been discipled by our comfort and ease, and when an inch of discomfort or disruption comes, our cry is, "persecution!"

The Constitution and the Declaration of Independence stand rival to the Bible as the text we take our cues from.

“But it shall not be so among you.”

Jesus has much to say about dueling and competing loyalties.

And our brothers and sisters across the world have something to say – and teach us – about the life of the (truly) persecuted and suffering.

Places like Nigeria, where thousands of Christians are openly murdered in the streets for their faith is persecution.

Places like China where minority Muslim groups like the Uighurs are being held in modern-day concentration camps is 2020 persecution.

Our experience is nothing close to that, and our faithfulness (or faithlessness) proves as much. To compare our moment of momentary annoyance against true human atrocities is ignorant and asinine.

Early followers of Jesus did not pride themselves on, or consume themselves with, the “rights” of the individuals (cloaking it in language of meeting together, particularly in Hebrews). In fact, they embraced actual suffering -- to the point of upside down crucifixions and stake burnings, because to do so was to share in the sufferings of the Crucified King.

 "Individualitis”  has seeped through the worldview of Western thought and taken over the many of the hearts and minds of those who claim Jesus.

“But it shall not be so among you.”

The True Politics of the Kingdom

Our current cultural moment is post-political, meaning no opinion, no thought, no conviction can be without partisan. In a kingdom of politics, you are your political opinion, and nothing more. You are only as good as your latest take. You are defined by your worst, and latest, vote. If wrong then you are cancelled by a community that once loved you -- or at least a perception of love.

However, the currency is different in the kingdom, because the politics are different.

In the politics of the kingdom, it is flipped right-side up. Everything that fills our false-self and our need to bury people begins to fade, because we suddenly realize -- "I am not at war with them!"

Unfortunately for most of us, the politics of the kingdom are the least liked because they require the most work.

The political persuasion of joy is different in the kingdom. In a post-political world, criticism and cynicism reign. Anger is the currency, and rage is the way to the top. Whoever is the loudest is heard; and vengeance is superiority. If you are not with me, you certainly are against me.

But the political persuasion of joy is counter-empire. It sees the best in our enemy, and offers them a seat on our couch. It does not view people with a different worldview as evil; it seems them through the lens of the image of God, beautiful and broken, like you and me.

The political persuasion of peace is different in the kingdom. In a post-political world, fear and anxiety reign. Driven by angst and uncertainty, compulsive fear leads to panic and outrage (likes and comments).

But the political persuasion of peace lives a quiet, solitary life, concerned with those who are immediately around them, who are most affected by them. They are disengaged from the quagmire that is a newsfeed, and the calmed reasonableness they have stands in contrast with the exclamation points, passive agressive posts and fury that categorize our moment.

The political persuasion of love is different in the kingdom. In a post-political world, contempt and ego reign. Driven by hate and “othering”, we shout into the echo chamber of noise where we only hear ourselves, and those like us.

But the political persuasion of love embodies a way of life that welcomes those who disagree into your home, into your heart, for deep and meaningful relationship, for love and good deeds to flourish.

In a kingdom culture, our affection and our attention and our aim and our energy are not spent on social media trying to convince the “other” side how they are wrong or how they are killing our country. It is not spending inordinate amounts of time reading fear-mongering posts from pundits and talking heads -- and then reposting them.

On the contrary, in a kingdom culture, citizens of the kingdom are concerned with how to care for and love those near them, because they realize their belonging is to another country; and they desire others to see the beauty of that one in the midst of the craziness of this one.

In a kingdom culture, our time is not spent “debating” our enemies online; it is spent dining with our enemies over bread and wine.

In a kingdom culture, our time is not spent crucifying anyone; it is spent learning what it means to crucify ourselves for the sake of everyone.

In a kingdom culture, what is most maddening is not the political sphere; it’s the sphere of our own hearts that are taken captive so quickly by the constant current of the political fray and madness.

In a kingdom culture, we will always be dissatisfied with national politics; but we will even be more dissatisfied by our infatuation with it.

In a kingdom culture, we know the world is broken with broken people; but we are more appalled with the brokenness inside us than those around us.

Citizens of the kingdom do not spend their time on the endless cycle of dribble from FOX or CNN. And it’s not that either of these outlets don’t have something to say (though more than likely they don’t), but it’s because the focus of kingdom citizens are more neighborly and less cowardly, more courageous and less obnoxious. More quiet and unseen, less in-your-face and on the Internet.

As citizens, our politic is different. We do engage in the realm of common good, in the world of neighborly affection and care. But we don’t engage in the mindless and needless division and dissension that “shall not be named among you.”

Our associations of Republican and Democrat, right or left, conservative or liberal undercut our witness to the King and his reign. We have grown dull to the mysterious world around us, and are infatuated by the empire that has an end, ruled by a lion that wants you so enamored with conquering, and averse and numb to sacrifice.

Our obsession over national affairs when we are apathetic to local injustices is an indictment on us as followers of Jesus. We have no place, no right, no platform to speak on issues that are way over our head, if we are not engaging in issues that are right under our feet.

“But it shall not be so among you.”

So What Do We Do?

The cry of “Jesus is Lord” was in direct opposition to “Caesar is King.” But in that cry was not a mere theological statement, it was a reaffirmation of a lifestyle that was lived in direct opposition to Roman lore – a more beautiful vision of the coming kingdom community.

Followers of Jesus lived in such a way that was compelling, not vengeful. They took the sick in as their own; they cared for the foreigner and the outcast in the city; they were willing to suffer loss without retribution or revenge, knowing their property was not their highest good (Heb. 10:34).

As we engage in another hostile election season, let’s do something simple and profound – let’s put down our phone. Let’s turn off the TV. Let’s disengage from the digital world that is all-consuming and engage with the analog world in front of our face; our neighbors, our families, our friends, our co-workers, our city.

Let’s read more books. Listen to more music. Be drawn in by silence. Learn the ways of self-control, especially with the tongue and fingers. Invite those into your home who you disagree with, and share a meal, a laughter, a common experience of what it means to be human. Heaven forbid we engage in civil, life-giving, energizing dialogue and relationship that might alter our perspective on things.

At the end of the day, you can have your political convictions.

But don’t be a slave them. And hold them loosely. Care more about the ethics of the kingdom that has no end – a love so surprising, so enthralling, so mesmerizing that you can’t help but consider others more significant than yourself.”

A committed group of Jesus followers that are more committed to others than they are to themselves, their political allegiances, their attachments to a more "protected" way of life point to the King and the Kingdom, who became poor, so we might be rich, who suffered death, so that we might have life, who stepped off the powerful throne of heaven, that we might experience the power of God in us.

There have been thousands of kings in this world who have sought to defeat their enemies by putting them to death; but there has been only One who has loved his enemies enough to die for them. He is a King of whom the world is still not worthy.

And it’s time for his followers to lay down their weaponized words, their keyboards, their addiction to power, their militarized mentality, their American Exceptionalism, and pick up their crosses and follow Him.
Posted in
Posted in ,