On Jesus, Politics, & Ministry: Part Two
Let’s just get this out of the way right now: if we believe what we say we believe about who God is, if we truly believe in the significance of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, if we truly believe that the Spirit of God dwells with us even today, then Christians should be about a lot more hope and a lot more kindness, especially in the face of things and people who we do not like.
This is most obvious in the way we talk about politics. It is hard to listen to the radio or watch any television news reporting because it is all basically vitriolic. And it doesn’t matter what network you watch; no one is happy about anything, no one is willing to concede anything to anyone else. We are all so resolutely sure of our own side’s corner of the truth, and rather than try and understand one another, we resort to mocking generalizations of the other side’s positions and adherents.
We revel in it, in fact. Many of you have probably heard of the concept of schadenfreude, which is basically the pleasure we have in watching someone fail or be humiliated. In 2016, there were people who were absolutely giddy to see Hillary Clinton lose the presidential election. Today, there are people who rejoice every single day in every single misstep of the Trump administration.
If video surfaced of Donald Trump single-handedly saving a flaming busload of nuns holding orphan children from careening over the edge of a cliff, some people would still find a reason to criticize him for it. If Hillary Clinton were found to have discovered the cure for cancer, then some people would still spin it against her.
And chances are, many of us would buy into it, depending on which side of the aisle we stand on.
Nevermind the fact that these are real people, with real hopes and real concerns, who have people in their lives who they love and who love them, who have entered a world in which their successes and failures are scrutinized by everyone. Yes, it was a choice that they all made. But then again, many of us have never made that choice, and so we have no idea the pressure that comes with it. I’m not lionizing anyone here, just pointing out that they are no more prone to failure and misstep than any of us, and they have no less worth as individuals just because their failures and missteps are made very, very public. Whether you like any given politician or not, and whether you believe they are sincere or just power-hungry, the fact is that they set goals, work hard, and they may or may not succeed in achieving them.
I know how hard it is to fall short. I cannot imagine having to do it in front of millions of people, many of whom actually hate me, say horrible things about me and my family, and who actually wish me failure.
In Matthew’s recollection of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his listeners to love their enemies, and to pray for those who persecuted them. That’s a tall order just on the surface. We all encounter people who are hard to love or whom, in our darkest thoughts, even wish some misfortune on. (Don’t be proud of it, but don’t try and deny it.)
So what’s the point in all of this? Well, for starters, to remind my friends in the faith that going on rants about how much you can’t stand a particular person, party, or position, or re-posting sarcastic memes and articles that reduce those same people, parties, and positions to one-line caricatures is not only unhelpful, but it also makes it easier for you to view others as less than yourself. You don’t need agree with anyone to refrain from viewing them in a reductive, diminished, inferior light.
We are all people, we all bear the image of God, and we all deserve the respect that we would demand for ourselves. Beyond treating people as you would want to be treated, it may also be helpful to think of others as you want to be thought.
So instead of adding to the noise, which at the point is just a giant feedback loop of cynicism and negativity, maybe we should pray more. Even something as simple as “Lord, help me to see them as I hope you see me,” might be a good start.
Jesus of Nazareth was pretty crafty. By urging his followers to pray for their enemies, he made it impossible to hate them. You cannot lift someone up to God and simultaneously wish them poorly. And over time, the more you lift others to God in prayer, the more and more you will begin to see them the way God sees them, and the way God sees you. And who knows what sort of chaos might break loose when people begin to prayerfully shift how they view others.
At the heart of Christ’s teachings on how we relate to one another is the refusal to be an enemy to anyone. We are not better or worse than anyone for the politics we hold, especially in the eyes of God. We do no one any favors by acting superior to anyone, least of all on the basis of how we vote; the more we diminish the image of God in others, the more it shrinks within ourselves. We who claim the name of Christ should be mindful that if we truly believe in who he was, then it should be evident not just in how we treat and minister to those in need, but also to those with whom we stand opposed. No matter how much easier it is to hate them than to understand them, or how unyielding they are in their insistence to hate us, Christ urged us all to start with love and prayer.
It might do us good to take that bit a little more seriously and see where that takes us.