If Politics Undermines Theology, Why Is Your Theological Affirmation So Political?

If Politics Undermines Theology, Why Is Your Theological Affirmation So Political? May 15, 2018

Yet another evangelical statement is seeking signatures. Reclaiming Jesus is a “Confession in a Time of Crisis.” I suppose that means this affirmation is neither a declaration (like Manhattan) nor a statement (like Nashville). Reclaiming Jesus has no attachment to place, but the fingerprints of the United States are not hard to detect.

In the introduction, the authors make this admission:

When politics undermines our theology, we must examine that politics. The church’s role is to change the world through the life and love of Jesus Christ. The government’s role is to serve the common good by protecting justice and peace, rewarding good behavior while restraining bad behavior (Romans 13). When that role is undermined by political leadership, faith leaders must stand up and speak out. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state.”

For those who would like to keep politics and theology separate, that’s not a bad way of doing it. The church has one purpose, the state another. And if you mix the two, politics could well undermine theology.

But then it starts to go wrong. When “political leadership” undermines the government, then the church must intervene and become the state’s conscience. There goes separation of church and government. And to avoid the call to keep politics and theology distinct, the authors invoke not the Bible but Martin Luther King, Jr. (That appeal should resonate with the New Calvinists who recently held a conference to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. But so far Charlie Dates, Matt Chandler, Jackie Hill Perry, Eric Mason, Russell Moore, Trip Lee, John Piper, and Benjamin Watson — all speakers at the Gospel Coalition Conference — have not added their signatures to Reclaiming Jesus.)

The reason could be that the new statement is very political (and it would be hard to imagine anyone using it after Donald Trump leaves office). For example:

I. WE BELIEVE each human being is made in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:26). That image and likeness confers a divinely decreed dignity, worth, and God-given equality to all of us as children of the one God who is the Creator of all things. Racial bigotry is a brutal denial of the image of God. . .

The application is political:

THEREFORE, WE REJECT the resurgence of white nationalism and racism in our nation on many fronts, including the highest levels of political leadership.

Why not use the affirmation of God’s image and likeness in humans to urge honoring all people no matter what their political party affiliation, church membership, or region?

Here’s another:

III. WE BELIEVE how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick, and the prisoner is how we treat Christ himself. (Matthew 25: 31-46) “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” God calls us to protect and seek justice for those who are poor and vulnerable. . .

Again, a political application:

THEREFORE, WE REJECT the language and policies of political leaders who would debase and abandon the most vulnerable children of God. We strongly deplore the growing attacks on immigrants and refugees, who are being made into cultural and political targets, and we need to remind our churches that God makes the treatment of the “strangers” among us a test of faith (Leviticus 19:33-34).

On the basis of the call to care for the vulnerable, why not recommend contributions to the Salvation Army and World Vision as ways beyond a local congregation or denomination by which Christians can help those in need?

Here’s one more:

VI. WE BELIEVE Jesus when he tells us to go into all nations making disciples (Matthew 28:18). Our churches and our nations are part of an international community whose interests always surpass national boundaries.

This becomes the basis not for missions but for denouncing the idea of America First:

THEREFORE, WE REJECT “America first” as a theological heresy for followers of Christ. While we share a patriotic love for our country, we reject xenophobic or ethnic nationalism that places one nation over others as a political goal. We reject domination rather than stewardship of the earth’s resources, toward genuine global development that brings human flourishing for all of God’s children. Serving our own communities is essential, but the global connections between us are undeniable. Global poverty, environmental damage, violent conflict, weapons of mass destruction, and deadly diseases in some places ultimately affect all places, and we need wise political leadership to deal with each of these.

And there you have it. The Social Gospel for the twenty-first century. You take the Great Commission which calls for discipling the nations through Word and Sacrament and turn it into a rationale for policies that address poverty, the environment, and war.

If only Reclaiming Jesus had avoided letting politics undermine theology.


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