The Religion of Politics

In Philip Yancey’s book What’s So Amazing About Grace? the author writes of the personal grace that should resound in the lives of Christians. Over and over again, Yancey demonstrates that grace is the only option when one recognizes that we all suffer from the same condition – sinners, who apart from Christ have no recourse for heaven.

Later in the book, Yancey turns from the personal to the global. And when I write global, I mean quite literally. The author contends that many of today’s international issues have become politically associated with the “religious right”. And that in fighting for the political positions that concern them, many have seasoned the debates not with the personal grace that they’ve experienced, but with the ungrace of differences.

This discussion did not resound with me until I was listening to a sermon by a dear family friend, Ronnie Stevens. In his sermon on John 12:30-41, Pastor Ronnie reminded me that in Christ’s day, many of His contemporaries were expecting a political leader. One of the reasons that many struggled to believe that Jesus could be the Messiah was because He did not establish a political kingdom. The expectation was that God’s Chosen One would establish an unconquerable reign on Earth and Jesus, while He lived here, did not fulfill these worldly expectations.

Today many Christians once again try to make Jesus a political leader. Now, please recognize that as I write this brief treatise there are many things that can not be fully explicated. Many issues that Christians rally against have moral consequences and are misaligned with the Christian faith. But many political issues do not. And by engaging on these debates and attempting to align them with Christian precepts, we do a disservice to both our faith and its Founder. Separately, many issues are not political and yet Christians should be on the front-line of service. Before it was the Hollywood vogue to visit Africa, scores of Christian missionaries were taking care of the sick and dying there. Not yet on the political radar screen, they did it because that’s what their Savior called them to.

During His time Christ resisted all attempts to become a political leader. In our time, let us not try to foist upon Him the same earthly aspirations.

UPDATE – After posting the above, I read the following from Henri Nouwen’s In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. It summarizes nicely what I’ve tried to convey:

Words like ‘right-wing’, ‘reactionary’, ‘conservative,’ ‘liberal,’ and ‘left-wing’ are used to describe people’s opinions, and many discussions then seem more like political battles for power than spiritual searches for truth . . . Dealing with burning issues without being rooted in a deep personal relationship with God easily leads to divisiveness because, before we know it , our sense of self is caught up in our opinion of a subject. But when we are securely rooted in personal intimacy with the source of life, it will be possible to remain flexible without being relativistic, convinced without being rigid, willing to confront without being offensive, gentle and forgiving without being soft, and true witnesses without being manipulative (44, 45-47).

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Ode to Joy

A little over a year ago Joy Carney passed away. My friend Gini is her daughter and at the time of her mother’s passing there was little that I could say to comfort or encourage her. Joy’s death was unexpected and unexplained and one could not contend with it without questioning “why?”. Over a year has passed and the answers are still unknown. And though they say time heals all pain, the passage of time has not made the incomprehensible any easier to understand.

Despite a decade-long friendship with Gini, I can’t say I really knew her mom. Joy was a constant figure in my friend’s life but my interactions with her were brief and inconsistent. I heard stories about her and had created a caricature of who she was as a wife, mother and woman. However, all children tend to be selective as they recount their parents’ deeds and I’m sure Gini was no exception. Yet even with this lack of firsthand knowledge of who Joy was, I feel well equipped to write of her legacy. I experience it every day in the lives of those she raised.

Joy’s death was the first in a long string of events that besought circumstances in her family’s life that humanity was not meant to deal with. In the midst of these circumstances they cling to their faith and seek to thwart all attempts to weaken the spiritual foundation which she imparted to them. Not only do they hold tightly to their spiritual heritage, they cling fiercely to the bonds of family – practically daring outside forces to tear them apart. Lastly, they strive to recognize the goodness that exists in little things knowing that circumstances are temporal, but joy is everlasting.

I think those of us who are Christians have the same opportunity to leave a legacy of joy. I believe that after love, joy should be the condition by which others define us. This joy comes from possessing the peace that passes understanding and by recognizing that God is, and all else is insignificant. This is a legacy that not only has an immediate impact but lasts for generations to come.

In her kitchen, Gini has a sign that features the exhortation – “Scatter Joy”. It serves as a reminder to her of who her mom is and how she wants to live. May each of us do the same.

“Of one hundred men, one will read the Bible; the ninety-nine will read the Christian.” – Dwight L. Moody quoted by Philip Yancey in What’s So Amazing About Grace?

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