Kingdom Politics and Taking a Side

A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article calling the church to greater holiness and unity in the next 500 years of the Reformation. I implored Christians not to fall prey to the partisanship that dominates our culture now and, perhaps, in years to come.

Such a call to unity can be easily misunderstood as advocating willful blindness to injustice and complacency in the face of sin. Some would argue, rightly, that refusing to take a side is taking the side of injustice. So I feel the need to clarify.

I contend that Christians should not take a side in the ongoing right vs. left, liberal vs. conservative turf war that consumes 24-hour news cycles and determines social discourse.

Rather, we are to take the side of the Kingdom of God.

Refusing to take a side in the “us vs. them” war of our current situation is not the same as political silence. Far from this, we are called to promote the ethic of the Kingdom in contradiction to all earthly political platforms. At times, the Kingdom will appear in line with one or more American political parties. This is incidental. Christians are called by God to advocate for the positions and values of the Kingdom based on different questions and goals than those of the American political machine.

The pursuit of Kingdom politics demands, as a prerequisite, the truth of the Scriptures as well as a dogged commitment to Christian unity, for unity requires a thorough understanding of biblical truth as applied to every sphere of life. As we apply the Scriptures and build our social voice around what God teaches us in His Word, we will be spurred to unified action. At every point the church must, in a unified manner, oppose sin and injustice wherever it may be found.

Kingdom Politics and Systemic Injustice

Unity and injustice are antithetical. We are called to a unity that is built around the truth of the Scriptures which call believers to pursue justice. We cannot pursue unity in a way that leaves sin unchecked, or worse, promotes sin through silence, whether that sin involves personal rebellion or systemic disobedience.

Paul, the very same person who wrote the charge to “eagerly maintain the unity of the Spirit,” opposed Peter to his face when he saw that Peter was partaking in the development and promotion of a sinful system. Peter sided with Jewish believers who refused table fellowship with their Gentile brothers and sisters.

The sin was not Peter’s alone, although he bore personal responsibility. A system was being built around this sinful practice of segregation. When Paul confronted Peter, then, he was not only opposing the sinful actions of the man standing in front of him, he was denouncing the entire system and calling Christians not to participate. Why? Because Christian participation in sinful systems will necessarily destroy the very unity that we are called to eagerly maintain.

Systems do not develop on their own but are the result of false teaching. This is why Jude shifted his focus from writing about the “common salvation” of believers and spent his entire letter warning the early church of false teachers who were infiltrating her ranks. In a similar manner, Paul went to extreme lengths (check out Galatians 5:12!) to contradict those who were preaching “another gospel.” And, ultimately, this concern was central to Jesus’ repeated conflict with the Pharisees.

Of course, unity can be maintained in the face of disagreement over secondary nonessential issues. However, any issue that threatens the integrity of the gospel itself cannot be allowed to remain if unity is to be accomplished. False teaching necessarily rips the church apart.

Now, let’s apply this to the current cultural situation. The reason that many of us have spent so much time and energy speaking out against racism, ethnocentrism, and classism is because these cultural distinctions fly directly in the face of the gospel. In Jesus Christ, dividing walls of hostility are broken down. The primary dividing wall of hostility, the wall that separated humankind from its creator, was torn down in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. By uniting us together and making us one in Christ, other cultural walls have also been torn down. To rebuild them in the name of ethnic superiority, white supremacy, or classism is a practical form of heresy.

Kingdom Politics and Dehumanization

We must also take care when it comes to the world of American politics. Most disagreements between self-identified “liberals” and “conservatives” are non-essential conflicts that should be worked out between like-minded believers that are equally committed to humility, loving one another, and bearing with one another. To build a dividing wall between people of different political persuasions blasphemes the Spirit which unites us together in Christ.

However, all political presuppositions must be examined and challenged. If someone discovers that their political ideology is driven more by pragmatism or worldly political theory than by the gospel of Jesus Christ and by love for God and others, then that ideology must be surrendered to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

Let’s look at two examples, beginning with political answers for the plight of the poor. Faithful believers can have a difference of opinion regarding how the suffering of the poor should be alienated. However, any political ideology that has no regard for the poor and heaps more suffering onto the back of the poor is anti-Christian. The question is not one of “liberal” or “conservative”, but of Christian or non-Christian. The Christian is repeatedly called to serve the poor. To ignore this command is to ignore God himself and to hold to a foreign, non-Kingdom political ideology.

Another example. Christians can have fundamental differences of opinion about immigration. Questions of law and security must be weighed and considered. So must questions of compassion and proper welcoming of immigrants. However, dehumanizing language and posture is antithetical to the life of the Christian. To dismiss women, children, and men fleeing the violence of Central America for the relative safety of the United States as nothing more than a mob or invasion or is to deny the dignity and worth they possess as human beings made in the image of God.

More than this, many Latin American immigrants claim a place within the household of faith. To use dehumanizing language is a direct threat upon the unity of the church, for these are our brothers and sisters in Christ. We must not participate in, approve of, or tacitly endorse the use of dehumanizing language. It has no place in the life of gospel people.

These considerations must be weighed for every single position. Any political stance and any politician’s rhetoric that dehumanizes, threatens, or refuses to consider the poor, the marginalized, or the oppressed must be opposed by the church of Jesus Christ. At times this will look like opposing specific politicians and their campaigns, even though the heart behind such opposition is not one of political animus but Kingdom ethics. So be it.

I conclude with only this. We must eagerly maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We must not do so at the expense of holiness and right teaching. And the realm of politics is not immune to such a call for unity. There is a right and a wrong way to think about the issues. Our political positions must be interrogated by the gospel.

While disagreement within the household of faith is to be expected, every political position must be weighed in light of the two great commandments: love God and love others. Any political position or posture or rhetoric that runs afoul these two commandments must not be ignored or endorsed in the name of unity.

Unity in the face of non-essential disagreement is not only possible but demanded.

But that same unified Church, when faced with injustice and dehumanization, speaks with one clear voice: this is not OK.

Marcos Ortega

Marcos Ortega (MDiv, Westminster Theological Seminary) is an Assistant Pastor at Goodwill Church (Evangelical Presbyterian Church) and lives in the Hudson River Valley in New York with his wife and two daughters.

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