As fear of COVID-19 and the divisiveness of a presidential election sweep across America, I’m reminded how very political Jesus was in pretty UN-American ways. At a minimum, I believe the Christ invites people of any, or no, religion to a new, incredible way of being human. One marked by togetherness, interdependence, caring for all, and lovingkindness.
As a Christian and American, two things I find ironically hilarious are how we proclaim the “separation of church and state”, while portraying the U.S. as a “Christian nation”. While our churches and state are separate in that the government can’t declare an official religion or force people to embrace one, they are also very much NOT in that the consumerism, capitalism, and militarism of our country have greatly shaped and influenced the beliefs and practices of Christianity. In my experience, there’s frequently such a bias toward ‘Merica and its ways in our churches, that we miss out on some of the radical awesomeness at the core of Christianity.
In laying out many of the essentials of His politics, Jesus said: “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matthew 6.24, NRSV) The U.S. is unabashedly a capitalist and consumerist society, which means we’re a nation that serves mammon, an ancient word for “wealth”. Think about it: How many people vote based on their “wallet”? Why do we have entire days devoted to spending and shopping (Black Friday and Cyber Monday)? Is there a reason why, during a recession, the phrase, “it’s the economy, stupid”, helped Bill Clinton get elected president? Why do the financial “contributions” of corporations and the views of their lobbyists have such a massive influence on our politics?
I point this out not to bash America (I like, and fought for, my country), but to illustrate how the politics, i.e. life TOGETHER, of the Christ comes with a completely different mindset. While America brainwashes us to compete and compare, Christ teaches us to care and cherish. If capitalism encourages us to hoard wealth and use it for our own benefit, Jesus shows us our money, possessions, property, and energy are for sharing. As He travelled from town to town during His ministry, the Christ healed the sick for free, fed the hungry without payment, and gave His time and attention to the poor and powerless as much, if not more, than He did the rich and powerful.
The early Christians took Jesus’ political example seriously, making sure EVERYONE had enough when it came to food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, and such. As I’ve read, one of the main attractions of Christianity in its early years was how when a plague hit a city (or section of it), while everyone else fled elsewhere to avoid getting sick and possibly (or likely) dying, the Christians stayed behind to care for the sick and hurting. I don’t know about you, but this seems especially relevant with the COVID-19 pandemic facing us. This Christian political mentality of using wealth, in all its forms, for the betterment of everyone has continued to progress and influence the U.S. through the years, resulting in primary education for everyone and steps toward universal healthcare. I imagine it’ll keep growing and guiding us to greater health and wholeness, collectively and individually.
I’d sum it up like this: At the center of the Christian politic on wealth is a mindset of abundance, which sees there’s more than enough for everyone, and a heart of giving, so we might together thrive.
As I was pondering the transition to this paragraph, it occurred to me it might help a lot of things if, as Americans, we named and owned that we have a national religion. While I think it’s easy to see how our civil religion focuses on wealth, violence, and division, I think it’s also important to note these are flip/shadow sides of our bent toward the pursuit of happiness, liberty, justice, and being a melting pot for people of all types.
A second beautiful pillar of Christian politics, which generally stands at odds with the ways of nations, is nonviolence as a key component of lovingkindness. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ manifesto on life together (i.e. politics) in the Realm of God, after encouraging us to turn from anger toward reconciliation, to shift from objectifying and using people to honoring them, to stay trustworthy and faithful, and to say what you mean in Matthew 5.21-37; Jesus goes on to say, while an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth was a step in the right direction, to be fully human and to reflect the Divine is to go further. While “an eye for an eye” mentality leads to a never ending cycle of violence, the Christ invites us to join Him in breaking the cycle with peaceful resistance (turning your cheek), by giving to those who try to take, via doing extra for those who force us to serve them (go the extra mile), by sharing with those who ask, through loving our enemies, and by praying blessings on those who wrong us, because that’s what it means to live out the politics of heaven!
If history shows us anything, it’s that the appetite of the god of war is endless, in that wars, injustices, enslavement, oppression, and violence in all its forms inevitably leads to MORE violence … unless the chain is broken by lovingkindness. Christ’s politics are radically pro-life, in that it affirms and calls us to care for and cherish EVERY human.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say: In the Christian way of being together, our thoughts, words, and actions are meant to nourish, heal, and free, and NOT harm. Period.
A third, and related, hallmark I see in Christian politics is unity. One of the most revolutionary aspects of the Christ’s new way of being human is it calls us to see the fundamental equality, essential dignity, inherent belonging, and God-given value in each and every person. Jesus didn’t create boundaries and divisions, He crossed them. He ate, hung out with, listened to, and healed conservatives, liberals, poor, rich, foreigners, and enemies of all sorts. In one of the earliest writings we have about the Christ, Galatians, Paul declares that in the Christ’s “nation”, which everyone is invited to join, there NO hierarchy, separateness, or difference, only connection and oneness as children of the Divine. (Galatians 3.26-29)
Is it just me, or is that some pretty radically awesome stuff? While hunger for wealth via hoarding, power via violence, and control via division often riddle our politics and infiltrate our religions, I believe Jesus shows us a better way to do life together. The politics of Christ invites us to choose to share all forms of wealth so everyone can thrive together, move from states of fear and violence to hearts of lovingkindness, and embrace the essential equality of everyone!
As always, I hope and pray my musings encourage, inspire, and bless you. I share what helps me Love God, others, and myself more, because maybe it’ll do the same for you! What do you think? How might this apply to what’s going on with COVID-19?
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