The Paralysis of Polarity

After spending a glorious Sunday afternoon watching the best Ice Hockey game ever (and I’ve seen many), I posted a tongue and cheek comment on my facebook page, indicating that Canada had both the gold medal and health care.  The comments that ensued were a reminder that Christians are as deeply divided and entrenched on this issue as everyone else.  We’re red Christians and blue Christians – big government Christians, and small government Christians, and we’re good at pushing each other’s buttons.  I’m pretty certain though, when the comments were done being posted, nobody had changed their minds, or changed anyone else’s mind either.  Perhaps the only thing that happened was a little bit of grace and charity was lost.  All this leaves me wondering if there’s value in the dialogues between blue and red Christians.  I think there can be, but only to the extent we hold these truths to be self-evident:

1. No party or system has all the answers.  I’m well beyond suspicious that our systems won’t save us:  I know our systems won’t save us, because Salvation, in the fullest sense of the word, is found only in Christ.  He alone will restore justice, and the environment, and heal bodies, and bring peace, at least if the words of Isaiah are true, as Jesus himself indicated they were.  Because of this, our conversations about political matters need to be kept in perspective, and when Jim Wallace or Glenn Beck tell me that their party is God’s party, it makes me want to stop listening to them.

2. We have a 2nd, and truer, passport: I don’t lose sleep over who’s in power, or whether my political convictions are being adequately represented, because when the day is done, my calling isn’t to change American government; it’s to embody the reign of Christ in my life, my home, and my faith community, offering an alternative to the ways of this world.  And I’m called to do this no matter who’s in power.

Throughout history, that posture has taken countless different forms; Jews sheltered in WWII by Christians, those dying of the plague taken in by Christians in the 2nd century both come to mind.  Today, Jesus is on the front lines in Haiti through World Vision, and He’s healing the uninsured through clinics in many major cities in America.  I have my convictions on health care, and health, and food, and energy, but my calling is ultimately to live those convictions out in how I use my time and money.

3. We should vote our convictions.  William Wilberforce wanted to expand the influence of government by ending slavery in England.  MLK Jr wanted to expand the influence of government by granting equal rights to African Americans.  Evangelicals have long wanted to expand the influence of government by defining marriage and protecting life in the womb.  And, at various times, we’ve wanted to shrink the role of government too, either to balance the budget or for other reasons.  So we vote.  Yet our 2nd passport is the one that counts, and we’re ultimately called to live out our convictions regardless of who’s in power and where things are headed.  I hope this as liberating for you as it is for me.  If not, perhaps Psalm 62:5-8 will be helpful here.  I read it this morning and could feel the peace of Christ wash over me.

4. We need to give each other grace.  There are things that seem pretty obvious to me as a result of my faith in Christ:  life in the womb is sacred; both families and governments shouldn’t spend more than they have; and war should, at the very least, be seen as a last resort, along the lines of ‘just war theory’.  Beyond this though, there are big questions about the role of government in regulating business, and the definition of ‘basics’ that constitute government responsibility.  This is where we who share the same faith will divide, and why I am independent.

As one who has travelled the world and been in places lacking a public health department to regulate rural areas, I’ve seen people eating undercooked food on plates washed out back in cold and dirty tap water.  I’ve had friends eat off such plates and get violently ill.  This makes me think that it’s a good thing for the government to get involved in regulating the quality of food service in a country.  I’ve also seen Europeans, in a highly regulated and taxed culture, follow their hearts and become aerobics instructors, farmers, baristas without worrying about what will happen to their family if one of them gets sick, and this makes me think their system has some merit.  These people love Jesus just like we do, pray and serve in the communities, and favor a larger government.   I also have friends, both in my church and across the country who strongly disagree with that vision, feeling that it puts too much power in the hands of the government and, at the very least, runs the risk of eroding one’s sense of personal responsibility.  They also pray, love Jesus, and read their Bibles.

Who is more spiritual?   I don’t think we should even ask the question, let alone hazard an answer.

I hope we who disagree on such matters can give each other grace because, when the day is done, we love the same Jesus, hold the same passport, and place our hope in the same King.

About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • http://www.ultranurd.net Nicolas Ward

    This is something I think about a lot, with the awareness that traditionally liberal political issues are a regular topic at my home congregation (as chair of the Stewardship Committee, environmental stewardship/”Caring for Creation” has been a big part of our spring activity). It’s interesting to see what a particular community within the greater body will choose to focus on, but then it seems like it’s also an unfortunate but natural extension to start putting judgements on that when comparing to other congregations/denominations/etc.

    Sure, there are plenty of times where these differences can be ignored for a more general Christian service effort, such as relief work in Haiti or more general aid around the world not related to a specific disaster (although speaking of, I hope that Haiti’s more long-term needs will be kept in everyone’s awareness well after the initial quake recovery), but I think that there’s a tendency to say something like “Sure, they’re pretty good Christians too, but they ____”. We’re selective in our emphases, and so wonder why our brothers and sisters “miss the point” on a particular issue such as biblical interpretation or homelessness or what have you.

  • Jeremy Stevens

    I just want to say that Glenn Beck does not claim either party, let alone claim one is God’s party. Other than that, a wonderful read. Thank you.

  • http://Www.petersburgproperties.com Leif Stenfjord

    Wow! Right on Richard!
    No political party has a monopoly on Christ and never will. “They will know we are Christians by our love” not by arguing our political view is the right one. We have all fallen short of the glory of God, not one of us is perfect…not one! Perhaps if we put our efforts into loving humanity instead of insisting on being right, the world could be a better place……feed the hungry, visit the sick, go to those imprisoned and enslaved…
    ….take my own advice.

  • Krista

    Thanks for opening up this discussion. I agree, it’s important to not get caught up in this stuff too much (having opinions is important to a degree) but for this to work, we have to be willing to listen to the other side, really listen and not just form our defense. I have a few people I can do that with and am very thankful those discussions can be had to help move our thinking, and more importantly, actions forward.

  • http://www.americanclarity.com Jeremy

    You already know where I stand on politics, Richard. Just wanted to say that I’ve got much love for ya… and I’m praying for God to empower you daily, and help you lead others to Him.

    What you say is true: Christ is bigger than political parties, and His love alone what makes life worth living. I can’t tell you how much I fall short of His standards, and yet for some strange reason He keeps calling me back. I know the same goes for you, and that makes me pretty darn happy.

    Hope all’s well, brother!

    -J


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