Progressive Christian Channel
The Problem with Partisan Religion: A Review of "Hijacked"
But the political issues dividing the nation—and the nation's Christians—are all, in the language of the phrase we hear in Hijacked, inessential. Chuck Gutenson boils down the historic creeds to suggest nine elements that might represent the essentials of Christian faith, although not all of them are accepted by all Christians. But his point—and mine: political ideology and political commitments, even those arrived at by interrogating one's faith, are not essentials of the faith (40-42).
Christians can—and do—disagree on abortion policies, on birth control, on the death penalty. To make one or more of these issues a litmus test for true Christian belief, Hijacked argues, is to do damage to the Body of Christ, and to ignore the commandment Christ left us to love each other. It also simplifies human beings and their beliefs too radically. A person can be theologically conservative, socially liberal, fiscally moderate, or any variation of these things. Nothing in the Bible suggests an absolute position on most of today's political issues (44-45). And in any case, Prof. Gutenson notes that
Jesus said Christians would be known, not by their ability to draw lines between themselves and those with whom they disagree, not by their ability to hold only true opinions on all matters, but rather by their love for one another quite apart from whether or not they agree on all the issues. . . . We are to love one another in spite of our divergent opinions—a love that bridges the ideological differences and allows us to join hands with one another and with God in his great work of reconciling the world to himself (50).
I have spent much of the last year and a half arguing just that in this space, and in my forthcoming book, Faithful Citizenship.
We are called to be uniters. The apostle Paul notes in his second letter to the Church in Corinth, that Christians are to die to the world's way so that they may be reborn into the way of Christ, which is about communion and reconciliation:
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.
So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:17-21, NRSV)
Hijacked offers facts about our current life as a church that doesn't reconcile, but divides over partisan issues. It offers useful advice on how we might become the reconcilers Paul speaks of. And most importantly, it presents that Pauline call, reminding us that we are to be in the world but not of it, a light to the nations, the voice of love and justice in a world that desperately needs hope and healing from its divisions.
Greg Garrett is (according to BBC Radio) one of America's leading voices on religion and culture. He is the author or co-author of over twenty books of fiction, theology, cultural criticism, and spiritual autobiography. His most recent books are The Prodigal, written with the legendary Brennan Manning, Entertaining Judgment: The Afterlife in Popular Imagination, and My Church Is Not Dying: Episcopalians in the 21st Century. A contributor to Patheos since 2010, Greg also writes for the Huffington Post, Salon.com, OnFaith, The Tablet, Reform, and other web and print publications in the US and UK.