It’s been nearly two years since the full intensity of the last presidential campaign, but I’m still stewing over the uneasiness it created in me. I’m not making any political comments here, only ecclesiological ones. The campaign may or may not have been more vitriolic than most, though it does seem like civility is giving way to unrestrained derision. “Grown-up” behavior is looking and sounding more and more like seventh-grade spite.
But it’s the Church I’m worried about.
In 2008, I listened to conservative friends, who really seemed to believe that if the Right did not win, the hope of moral life, of Christian values, and of religious freedom was lost. Forever. That the only way the works of God could be achieved was with a Republican in the White House.
In 2008, I listened to liberal friends, who were delirious about the Left and genuinely seemed to act as though finally, with this Democrat in the White House, authentic justice and compassion would descend like dew. That all the nasty political machinations of previous administrations, Republican or flawed Democrat, would be overcome.
It’s the Church I’m worried about. I’m befuddled by this confidence in secular political mechanisms to achieve the purposes of Christ. Obviously, we should be responsible citizens and bring our Christian values into the public sphere. I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t run for office, choose between candidates, advocate for social justice, vote, protest, or pursue any other legal avenue of bending the course of government to the common good.
But I do believe we have vested the government with the job of the Church. We are still working under the Constantinian conversion, and it’s time we shed that outdated model. This is not your ancestors’ Christendom. It didn’t work as well then as we’d like to think, and it certainly isn’t going to work today. The Church has Kingdom goals, and Kingdom goals only come about through Kingdom methods.
We have traded in Kingdom objectives for political accomplishments. In some cases, those accomplishments are good and significant, but they fall far short of the Kingdom. Have we lost sight of the Kingdom?
We will not be better able to love our neighbor just because we have passed health care reform. We will not be more attuned to God’s creation because they’ve initiated investigations into the BP oil spill. We will not accomplish the peace of Christ in the Middle East because we have our troops there. We will not fulfill real justice for the immigrant or the citizen by passing new laws, no matter how necessary those laws are nor how good those laws may be.
The government – Left or Right, now or in the future – is not aiming at Kingdom justice, Kingdom love, or Kingdom stewardship. It does what it has to do to maintain, to appease, to rectify, and to achieve – worthy goals insofar as the government is concerned, but far short of any Kingdom vision. The government is constrained by human ambitions, human limitations, human definitions of rights, human concepts of justice. The Kingdom, as Jesus initiated it, is meant to transcend and transform these constraints. We, however, seem very happy conflating our ideals with Christ’s.
In all our politicking, have we settled for affairs of state rather than the spiritual work of the Church? Are we satisfied with so little?