Thursday, June 29, 2006

politics and Christian responsibility

I was raised in a Mennonite denomination in the United States. We were not like the conservative Mennonites, many of whom, I do not believe, participated in the political process. Many of our number did on election days. But that's about where it ended. Of course another spectrum of Mennonites let their voices be heard for a pacifist stance that they believe should go beyond Christians to governments of this world. At least in influencing them towards peace.

What about us, of the Jesus community? What is our place and responsibility in the world of government and politics? Are we to participate, and if so, how?

I have to acknowledge that after years of separation from my anabaptist heritage, I find myself drawn back to it, Biblically and theologically when considering the kingdom that in Jesus, we are a part of. It is not rooted in this world. But from another place. (John 18) Yet it is to bear influence on this world. (Matthew 5-7) But as those whose citizenship is in heaven. (Philippians)

I believe that we Christians have largely fallen into a worldly way of thinking that is part of the old era that is passing away. Instead we should think and live in the new way, and in the new age, that, in Jesus, is already present. In doing so, we are to be a light to help others, even nations and governments. Even if in the end they have to answer for the rejection of the light they had through Christ followers. But hopefully, being influenced towards good seen in the society of this kingdom of God come, in Jesus. I am not saying we have to take a pacifist stance. Though I am inclined in that direction.

What does this mean? It means that by our lives of love to God and to our neighbor ("the Jesus creed") we are showing a better way. The way that does win out in the end. The way that Jesus brings in God's work of reconciliation in him. For us, in Jesus and in the Jesus community this means the way of the cross. But as we take this way, being obedient to Jesus' calling to us (Matthew 5-7), we serve as a light to the nations, not only to bring people to personal faith in Jesus, but to influence governments for good. We are engaged with reference to both personal and systemic evil.

This position is inherent with all kinds of issues and problems. For example, what about police action? What about military action when tyrants are running renegade engaged in genocide such as we see happening in Africa? Good Christians will continue to disagree here, as I see it. At this point I can't deny that the state has a certain function of carrying out God's wrath/judgment against such evil doers. At the same time I don't think we can get away from the influence that we're to bring, not only on individuals and families and those in the Jesus community. But even on governments. We, as the Jesus community, should be a microcosm of what the kingdom of God is.

This seems ambitious and impossible. And indeed, impractical, and to many Christians even unjustified in light of Jesus' predictions that there will be wars and rumors of wars, that an Armageddon is to come. That the world will never have real peace until the Prince of peace returns in person to reign.

But we are called to be nothing less than a light. Not a light of this world. But a light of another world. The light of the world in Jesus. This means a proclamation and full living out of the gospel of the kingdom of God. In that is certainly the grace of God in Christ, in his death and resurrection. And with that God's reconciliation of the world to himself in Christ. But it doesn't stop at just getting people saved. It goes on to call nations and governments to live and conduct their affairs in light of this new kingdom.

If this is really Scriptural, and if all Christians embraced and lived out this vision in a substantial way, could we expect the world to be largely converted (some kind of postmillennialism)? Would this hasten our Lord's return (2 Peter 3)? We don't know. But surely much good could be accomplished. Look at how one person, Mother Teresa, influenced not only Christians but even governments by her simple and profound following of Jesus. Charles Colson's prison ministry is having a profound effect, not only on many prisoners, but on how this institution is viewed by many of those in government.

Father, Let us be envisioned and live out what we are in Jesus in this world, a light. Let us not succumb to or participate in the darkness. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.


N8 said...

That is fascinating - the job I just accepted is in an Evangelical Mennonite community. I'm fascinated by their point of view, and humbled by their commitment to build their lives and community around Jesus, as we all should.

As far as being a light - that is the goal we should all strive for as Christians. Love everyone, and then be a light. Reminds me of the Max Lucado excerpt I included here:

RonMcK said...

This is a very good article, but I think you need to unpack your statement that "At this point I can't deny that the state has a certain function of carrying out God's wrath/judgment against such evil doers." Stalin thought he was punishing evil. I presume George Bush thinks he is executing God's wrath against Osama Ben Laden's taxi driver. I sense that a false syllogism is lurking under there somewher.

I like your second to last paragraph. I cannot understand why Christians assume that the Holy Sprit and the Gospel have to be a failure. They look like a winning team to me.

Ted Gossard said...

Thanks for your thoughts. I have a high regard for what I've seen of the Evangelical Mennonites. Thanks for the link. Seems like we can forget that calling from God in Christ to be a light. Though that is inherently what we are. We're to live out what we are, as Paul says in Ephesians. Thanks, and blessings on your move and new work.

Ted Gossard said...

Thanks and thanks for your thoughts.

Concerning the state carrying out God's wrath/judgment against evil doers, I take that from Romans 13 as well as from God using kingdoms/empires in the Old Testament to bring judgment on other nations. This does not sanction necessarily what they're doing, certainly not everything that is done, as you are pointing out in reference to questionable (doubtful, in my mind) activity by the Bush administration.

I'm not sure I could say that the state bearing the sword is inherently wrong, though much of that bearing of the sword can certainly be wrong. I do believe the vision of the kingdom of God come in Jesus calls nations towards the time when weapons of war will be made into instruments of peace and prosperity.

For me it's not so much a shame on the governments of this world. But it's much more a shame on us Christians who think and bless activities and ways of operation that are not of the kingdom we belong to.

At the same time, I'm going to respect Christians who disagree. And I believe in this discussion there is a consensus we can come to, even as we continue to disagree on precisely where Christians can serve (whether as a soldier, a chaplain or medic, or a conscientious objector).

Ted Gossard said...

...or disagree on other matters.

JP Anderson said...

Some further thoughts on the manner...

How does the average follower of Christ participate in the political process as a critical participant in a 21st century full of high technology, competing factions, and economic powerhouses? If complex problems require complex solutions and reflections it would beg us to either be a people of incredible global and governmental insight or people of standards (pro or con).


Ted Gossard said...

Good thoughts. And I couldn't agree more with your point. It takes a considerable study of the world we live in, as well as staying in Scripture and the community of faith, to understand the times and know what God's people (or what one) should do (Chronicles). Certainly takes a sense of the Spirit's leading in the way of Jesus, as one fulfills the diverse calling they are in, in this world.

Some may have incredible insight in govenrmental and global affairs, but for most of us it will be very well- what we need in what we're about- and doing.

I think too in terms of Christians thinking together on these issues, and learning from each other.