Thursday was riveting television like nothing I’ve seen since 9-11. (Good thing I’m retired and didn’t have to phone in sick to watch it..) A sexual assault victim’s allegation against a United States Supreme Court nominee and both main players subjected to intensely personal questioning on national television. Politics. Statements. Power. Questions. Politics. Anger. Lawyers. Having the last word. Politics. So much passion and self-righteousness and politics of power.
The Christian right wing continued to be largely supportive of one person and one party.
SCENE: At the behest (behest?) of Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University (great political name for a christian university), a tribe of pro Judge Kavanaugh protesters were sent to the above mentioned Supreme Court hearings because, well, Yale University was sending protesters to support the person making the allegations.
SCENE: Franklin Graham in a tweet: ‘It just makes you wonder, doesn’t it—what will @SenFeinstein & the liberal progressives in the Democratic Party come up with next to stop @POTUS@realDonaldTrump’s Supreme Court nomination?’
SCENE: ‘One of the political costs of failing to confirm Brett Kavanaugh is likely the loss of the United States Senate,” said Ralph Reed, the founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition who is in frequent contact with the White House. ‘If Republicans were to fail to defend and confirm such an obviously and eminently qualified and decent nominee,” Mr. Reed added, “then it will be very difficult to motivate and energize faith-based and conservative voters in November. (NY Times)
SCENE: Speaking of the Faith and Freedom Coalition their homepage today features a half-screen picture of a Trump administration advisor and the title Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy. I’m sure it will look different when you see it but I’m confident the material will be similar. This is just one of many highly politicized religious organizations.
SCENE: Robert Jeffress is pastor of First Baptist Dallas, a primary evangelical advisor to Trump, and has an opinion on most U.S. political events. Every year they celebrate Freedom Sunday (in addition to other similar promotions) which, according to their website is to ‘…celebrate our freedom as Americans and our freedom in Christ with patriotic worship.’ and as a ‘salute to our Armed Forces.’ Jeffress’ church even sings a worship song written to the theme of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan, pairing it ironically with a traditional hymn of fealty to Jesus.
Canadians are predictably more nuanced and not as connected when it comes to faith and politics. About 10% of Canadians are evangelical compared to more than 25% in the U.S. and the divides aren’t as deep in our more secular country. We do have our own bible-belts though, one in western Canada, the other in the greater Niagara area. Two of Canada’s most powerful politicians, Andrew Scheer and Jason Kenney, are conservative Catholics who are heavily supported by influential right wing christian organizations.
For the record, I’m not saying government participation doesn’t matter, I’m saying it’s not where we put our investment and hope. I’m saying God does not – gulp – show national favouritism.
When many of our churches display a christian flag on one side of the pulpit and a national flag on the other, I assume they are saying we are a christian nation. But we’re not and anyway, what does that even mean? Doesn’t it look and feel more like they are equal? Isn’t that how many sense it?
But back to patriotic worship. What is that anyway? Idol of patriotism?
And can the nationalistic interests of politics be mingled/confused with the kingdom interests of Jesus?
Throughout much of the time the Roman Empire dominated the then modern world, the Emperor was the final authority in everything. Of all the gods in that polytheistic culture, Caesar was considered to be the ‘top god’ and this was shared among good, patriotic (and sensible) citizens by generously sprinkling the words, ‘Caesar is Lord’ into daily life.
This common expression was used to demonstrate total loyalty to Caesar but was co-opted by Christians to express their same loyalty to Jesus. Jesus is Lord! they proclaimed – he’s the top God. They couldn’t say otherwise. Wouldn’t say otherwise. Shear conviction left them no choice.
Why? Because Jesus wasn’t just another angry, irrational, narcissistic god gathering power and jealously retaining it; this was a God who knew them, died for them, lived in them, called them to be family. And neither was this another empire with a political ruler proclaiming peace and prosperity while killing and taxing and controlling them.
For the early Christians there had unfolded a new reality in the streets and homes and fields of their lives. No longer was the emperor their God; no longer was the military their safety; no longer was the government their hope. Their experience of Jesus’ teachings, death and Resurrection, brought a new reality to the world around them.
The people of ‘the Way’ lived in a culture of poverty, abuse, slavery, classes, terrorism, militarism, abortions, and powerlessness yet their lives were not focused on those things. Their faith was in Jesus and not in self-absorbed worldly powers. Life on earth had hit restart and would last eternally even in the event of their physical death. This experience was so significant, and their belief that God loved them was so real, that Caesar’s position among the gods had to drop to number two in their loyalties. Their hope and their future wasn’t in politics or power, it was in the Jesus of God.
To a large extent, conservative Christians have come to define themselves by their political beliefs but Jesus says little or nothing about the common things that are their focus like the legal, sexual, political, military, moral judgements we see from the Christian Right today. On the other hand he speaks a lot about peace, social justice, caring for the poor and vulnerable, and provides warnings against the dangers of power and politics. (More on that in coming posts.)
‘Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom doesn’t belong to this world. If it did, my followers would have fought to keep me from being handed over to our leaders. No, my kingdom doesn’t belong to this world.” (John 8:36, CEV)
Jesus is Lord. Politics is not.