Friday, October 31, 2008

The Politics of Jesus

Lee Camp (Associate Professor of Ethics at Lipscomb University, author of Mere Discipleship, and a good friend) hosts a theological variety show, what could be considered a "Christian version of Prairie Home Companion," called Tokens, although to describe it like that sell both Tokens and PHC short. It combines story telling, music, interviews, and skits, to talk about some of the pressing issues of the day.

At the last Tokens Show (which I wasn't able to attend, but you can listen to clips on the Tokens site), Lee opened with this:
Dirk Willems was arrested in the latter part of the 16th century. When he was jailed, Christianity had been in cahoots with the prevailing political powers for about 1200 years. But it had not always been that way. Christianity had once been illegal, and Christians had been persecuted on and off for the first three centuries of Christian history. But by the end of the fourth century Christianity had become the only legal religion in the Roman empire; and so then, Christians, once persecuted, became the persecutors. Indeed, by Christmas Day 800 A.D., Christian king Charlemagne had defeated the pagan Saxons in battle, and told them all that they could come either to be baptized, or else he would kill them.

Willems and friends, the so-called Anabaptists, were hated, thought be to be the most despicable of heretics. But the Anabaptists thought there was something quite wrong with how Jesus was being used by the powers. So they refused, as had the early church, to fight the kings' and princes' wars; they refused to swear oaths; they refused to baptize babies; they refused to say that the Sermon on the Mount was not to be taken seriously. And so the Catholic and Protestant authorities arrested them in droves, killed them by burning and drowning, sometimes cutting out their tongues, sometimes tearing their flesh with red hot tongs.

It was all done with great piety, in the name of Jesus. Many political horrors have been done in the name of Jesus.
So Willems was awaiting trial one cold wintry day, and escaped. He fled across a frozen river, but the deputy in pursuit fell through the ice, called for help. Willems, his consciousness suffused I would guess with words about love of enemies, stopped, turned back, and pulled the deputy to safety. The sheriff arrived, demanded that the deputy arrest Willems. The deputy protested. The sheriff insisted. The deputy obeyed. Willems was soon executed.

There are important questions at stake in any national election, but we will not be giving such guidance tonight. Our agenda is different: it seems to me that Jesus was undoubtedly political, for he talked about and taught round all of the things the politicians talk about: offenses, debt, law, enemies, sex, money, power, women, children, the least of these. The question is not whether Jesus was political; the question is whether any of us really want his kind of politics, an extravagantly gracious, painfully truthful, suffering servanthood, that got him killed, a way of life to which he also called all who would follow him. Few people liked his campaign platform them; few like it now, including, I confess, myself; who really, after all, wants that kind of king? But it's tokens of that sort of politics for which we look tonight.
I'm going to quote that last paragraph again, because I think it's SO important.
There are important questions at stake in any national election, but we will not be giving such guidance tonight. Our agenda is different: it seems to me that Jesus was undoubtedly political, for he talked about and taught round all of the things the politicians talk about: offenses, debt, law, enemies, sex, money, power, women, children, the least of these. The question is not whether Jesus was political; the question is whether any of us really want his kind of politics, an extravagantly gracious, painfully truthful, suffering servanthood, that got him killed, a way of life to which he also called all who would follow him. Few people liked his campaign platform them; few like it now, including, I confess, myself; who really, after all, wants that kind of king? But it's tokens of that sort of politics for which we look tonight.
No matter where we might fall in the political, or even if we choose not to participate out of conviction, followers of Jesus have to understand that we are called to a higher purpose than political ones. No matter how inspired by a candidate we might be, or convicted of the rightness of our cause, we are still called to a higher purpose than what might be accomplished through whatever candidate we support.

God will continue to work in this world whether McCain or Obama is elected on Tuesday. The question is: will we work with God?

5 comments:

Justin said...

Amen.

nick said...

Well-done, Phil. I've been telling my high school students this month that the kingdoms of this world only have two political methodologies -- violence and manipulation.

Jesus taught and showed that the kingdom of God operates with completely different methodologies -- indiscriminate love and truth-telling.

in HIS love,
nick

jettybetty said...

Very good.

Lee said...

Thanks, Phil.

Glad you found the monologue helpful. I was very interested to find that folks on both sides of the spectrum responded well to our Tokens program that night (with, okay, a few exceptions).

By the way, I prefer to call Tokens what you get when you combine Bill Moyer and Prairie Home Companion, or what you get when Thomas Merton goes to the Grand Ol' Opry. ;-)

Peace, LC

Brandon Scott said...

excellent reminder!

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