11 Apr (#19) WHILE EVERYONE LOOKS LEFT OR RIGHT, WE SHOULD LOOK UP
Every election cycle we feel a collective ache for Christ’s Kingdom to come. Our world has gone terribly wrong, and everything needs changing. So political candidates step forward to vie for the role of savior, each casting a vision of the heavenly future they promise to bring. Like worshipers, supporters throng to fund campaigns, filled with hope that things will improve if only the right person wins.
THE REACTIONARY RIGHT
People on the political right who claim to be Christians are gravely concerned about the direction culture is trending. Conservative Christians talk a lot about “taking back America,” with older voices appealing for a return to traditional values they claim led to a more sane and safe world. Their confusion of Christendom and Christianity means they interpret the decline of Christendom as a decline in Christianity, which may not in fact be the case. The reign of Christendom simply meant that on special occasions you were to show up at some sacred building to get blessed by some religious leader so you would live some sort of good life.
Social benefits came with professing a faith you infrequently practiced and unlikely possessed, and the system produced cultural Christians like me. I was born Catholic, baptized as a baby, believed in God, showed up for worship on Christmas and Easter, endeavored to live a decent life, called myself a Christian because I was born into it just like I was born Irish—but I was not born again through faith in Jesus.
Now that Christendom is dead, younger generations are less likely to fake faith. That phenomenon explains the quantifiable rise in the numbers of Dechurched Dones and Unchurched Nones with no religious affiliation, as well as the “spiritual but not religious” who have little interest in organized religion. It also illuminates why a lot of devout grandparents not only worry about the direction of our culture as a whole but also more specifically for their gay and pot-smoking grandkids who no longer go to church.
Among this group’s favorite Bible verses is 2 Chronicles 7:14 (ESV), where God says, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” Religious leaders of this team frequently appeal to this verse, particularly at prayer meetings. The problem? This is not an ironclad promise to any modern nation. God spoke those words not to America but to ancient Israel, and the “land” in question is not the White House but the Promised Land. There is a great difference between a nation and a faith.
THE TRIUMPHANT LEFT
Those on the political Left celebrate the demise of Christendom. They gladly spotlight its failures. They rightly remind us of the rampant unkindness of Christendom toward gays, women, ethnic minorities, and the poor, with whole groups marginalized, ostracized, and demonized in the name of a greater social good. They note the astounding hypocrisy bred by social demands to put up a good public appearance, even if privately you are a politician committing adultery on your way home from church. They are quick to protest the injustice, oppression, and evil that results when the powerful forces of government and religion line up together like two barrels on a gun. For the powerless, the end of Christendom brings an exodus from cruel bondage into a freedom they have never known.
According to data gained from the research for this project, nearly everyone outside the church—regardless of their previous church commitment—falls into this category of post-Christendom. For the Right, the death of Christendom feels like a funeral. For the Left, it gives reason to break out the party favors. They celebrate with good reason, given their fears of the religious Right, a movement that still makes many focus group participants feel downright unsafe. While their fears might not be justified, you would feel the same way if the only Christians you knew had veins popping out of their neck as they rail about a culture war onscreen or over the backyard fence. It must be how the average quiet-living, hardworking Muslim feels when all we notice about their religion are the people who make bombs and riot over cartoons.
THE CONFOUNDED CENTER
In the middle on a continuum between the Right and the Left you’ll find many an average Christian person or pastor. They’re weary of both sides, spending endless hours berating each other on television and talk radio. They agree with many of the criticisms leveled at Christendom from the Left and many—especially younger Christians—consider the culture wars of the Right a total waste of time and energy. They reject a vision of Christianity that imitates radical Islam, where one religion rules all people and there is little distinction between the sacred text and laws of the land. Many agree with Lee in Boston who said, “I don’t see why 16 people on the same block can’t be and do whatever the hell they want. I don’t see what the problem is with that.” While we might not use those exact words, there’s a good chance we give a nod to the essence of what he says.
Whether you locate yourself on the political Right, Left, or in the middle, Jesus calls you to something more. If He were retelling His ancient parable of a couple lost sons today, the rebellious brother would lean politically Left. The religious brother would lean politically Right. The younger brother would march in a pride parade or a protest. The older brother would picket those parades and protest the protests.
But notice this: Jesus doesn’t join either brother on the Right or the Left. He also doesn’t join the masses trying to duck the issues in the middle.
Jesus is greater than politics. When the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate asked if He had revolutionary aspirations, Jesus replied, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36 NIV). Jesus the King rules over all kings, and His Kingdom reigns over all kingdoms. But the Kingdom of King Jesus has not yet come in its fullness, and until we see it we are to pray as He taught us: “Your kingdom come” (Matt. 6:10). When the Kingdom of Jesus arrives, sin will be replaced with salvation, death with resurrection, sickness with healing, war with peace, poverty with prosperity, and tears with laughter. From the first day we meet Jesus, our citizenship in His Kingdom is secure, but until we arrive in heaven we are stuck here. But that doesn’t mean you’re not meant to be here.
Now, some kings are better than others. That’s just common sense. But no king is the King of kings, because no human king rules with Christ’s perfection, justice, truth, and grace. Some kingdoms are better than others, but no kingdom is His Kingdom. No kingdom overcomes sin and the curse fully and forever. Only the Kingdom of King Jesus accomplishes what we— and every person we disagree with—ultimately longs for and needs.