Jesus is not a conservative

…or a liberal. Or a capitalist or a socialist.

He is not a card-carrying member of the Republican Party or the Democratic Party – or of the Conservative Party of Canada, the Liberal Party of Canada, the Bloc Québécois, or the New Democratic Party.

The One who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and staggered out of the city carrying a cross is the King whose reign transcends any political affiliations or associations we may hold. The One who rose on Easter Sunday defeated sin and can destroy the barriers that strain the unity of believers who hold to different perspectives.

Believers – people with whom you and I will live for eternity face to face with Jesus in the new heaven and new earth – hold to different political, economic, and social opinions just like I can hold the February 2019 issue of Maclean’s in my hand. That month the editors of Canada’s current Maclean's February 2019 issue with its two coversevents magazine did an ingenious thing: They created two covers – a “tumble edition,” as they called it. One cover boldly asks, “What’s wrong with the Left?” But then you flip the magazine over and the other cover asks with equal audacity, “What’s wrong with the Right?” As Canada’s federal election looms, the editors’ objective was to “to raise the alarm. Both sides of the spectrum are spoiling for a fight to such an extent that nuance, irony, and reasoned debate are at risk.” Reading forward from both sides allowed me to respectfully listen to cogent arguments from the Right and the Left without flippantly or angrily dismissing them or attacking those “on the other side” with my words or actions. Is this not how Christ would have me behave?

But this goes beyond behavior.

While Christians will likely always identify as Right or Left (or perhaps Centrist), I believe this identification should not be my primary way of identifying or labeling myself. I am a follower of Jesus before I am a conservative or a liberal, before I am Canadian, Romanian, Cambodian, Mexican, Dutch, Liberian, or American. If by the way I think or act I make being a Canadian or anything else more central than being a Christian, I am committing idolatry.

I appreciate how my former teacher at Abbotsford Christian School, Trent De Jong, puts it in an article he wrote for Christian Courier earlier this year:

“…Many Christians believe that being Christian goes hand in hand with being conservative or being liberal. This is plain wrong. If we follow the Jesus of the Bible, we will find ourselves uncomfortable on either end of the spectrum.”

We’re uncomfortable at either pole because we realize that neither are sufficient to completely express who we are in Christ.

Frankly, sometimes my loyalty to Jesus puts me in the Right camp when, for example, it comes to recognizing the intrinsic value of individuals from the womb to the tomb (Psalm 139 and 1 Timothy 5 support this). But sometimes my loyalty to Jesus finds me walking alongside those on the Left who, for example, are often the ones advocating for the foreigner, widow, and orphan (Exodus 22 and Matthew 25 quickly come to mind). Similarly, I personally feel those with a more liberal outlook tend to have a better track record at being good stewards of creation and the environment (texts connecting with this include Genesis 1 as well as Mark 16 with its command for the Gospel to impact all creation) while those on the conservative side often seem to be better stewards of my tax dollar (I haven’t tried connecting specific Bible texts to this before but some suggest Leviticus 25 and 2 Thessalonians 3 imply small government and conservative fiscal policies). Overall, Jesus doesn’t let me pin Him down to any one particular political label; perhaps I should be cautious with such labels for myself and others, too.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t be conservative or liberal. I’m not saying you should switch sides or just sit in the middle. What I am humbly asking is that Christians remember that our primary identity is in Christ. Through Christ, God the Father adopts us into His family, makes us citizens of His eternal Kingdom, and fills us with His Holy Spirit. Christ is King ahead of any president or prime minister, ahead of any political, economic, or social philosophy.

I see White Memorial Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, White Memorial Presbyterian Church, Raleigh NCmodeling how to live into this. With a membership of around 4,000 in a city and a state that alternates between voting red and blue, White Memorial Church calls itself a “purple church.” Instead of taking the easy path of finding a church where they can worship only with people just like them, the members take the harder route of seeking community (and civility) within their diversity. And the media noticed.

This Spirit-enabled willingness to listen to and love those who are “other” than you and me demonstrates and strengthens our identity and unity in the crucified and risen Christ. This transcends political, economic, and social labels. It’s how Jesus calls you and me to live. And it’s appealing both for Jesus’ disciples and for people watching us from outside the church.

This piece from NPR gives practical tips about talking politics
with civility: “Keeping It Civil: How To Talk Politics
Without Letting Things Turn Ugly”

Praying after the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage

Supreme Court picture from Christianity Today

In Trinity CRC’s morning prayers yesterday, I prayed about the decision made by the Supreme Court of the United States that makes same-sex marriages legal in all 50 states. This is how it went…

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Lord, you know how we believe that same-sex marriage “is incompatible with obedience to [Your] will … as revealed in Scripture.” It seems we have failed at convincing our culture that your design for marriage is best. In light of the Supreme Court’s decision this week, some of us are tempted to go off and sulk in our holy corner. Or to dig in our heels and fight harder. Or to lash out in anger. Or to despair. Help us do better.

Help us focus on You, convinced that Your Kingdom will come in fullness and that there remains much vital work for Your church to do in society until that day.

Help us repent for refusing to give “loving support and encouragement” to persons with same‑sex attraction. Forgive us for when our homophobia repelled people away from the Gospel. Forgive us for our hypocrisy – when we passionately try to root out sexual sins while remaining relatively indifferent to racism, gluttony, selfishness, and other sins.

Help us reach out to the gay community. Maybe now that they see the church as having lost on the issue of same-sex marriage, they won’t consider us as much of a threat and might be willing to build relationships with us. Give us the grace to welcome and even initiate those moments as opportunities to share the good and beautiful news of the Gospel like never before.

This prayer is adapted from Mark Galli’s article at Christianity Today. Parts in “quotations marks” are from the Christian Reformed Church in North America’s position statement on homosexuality. I also found Steven Koster’s post at ThinkChristian helpful in reflecting on all this.

Putin is not a moral hero

Decision magazine, March 2014Decision magazine’s choice to feature Russian President Vladimir Putin as March’s cover story for the “high moral standard” he takes on homosexuality does not sit well with me. I continue to have tremendous respect for Billy Graham and the organization that bears his name, but I think holding Mr. Putin up as a moral hero is a serious misstep.
I wrote this letter to the Decision editors expressing my concern…

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11 March 2014

Dear friends at Decision,

I was disappointed and saddened by your current cover story on Russian President Putin. Even though I also value protecting children from “propaganda of homosexuality and pedophilia” (not that those two things are the same), as a Christian, I cannot condone the homophobic culture Mr. Putin is creating in Russia. As Christians, we are called to love people who identify themselves as LGBT – they are imagebearers of God in whom the Holy Spirit is capable of working. Would a gay person reading this article be drawn to Christ or pushed away from Him? I suggest the latter is more likely, which makes it counterproductive for an evangelistic magazine to so prominently feature it.

Moreover, I am disturbed that a man you admittedly describe as “ruthless” and prone to “controversies” is held up as a moral example: It’s as though you are saying that he might be a murderer with a sordid personal life, but as long as he has an anti-homosexual agenda, he’s on our side. Why do you focus on a single issue at the near exclusion of profoundly non-Christian behavior?

The article cites that Mr. Putin has “vowed to protect persecuted Christians.” That’s good news, but the article sidebar perhaps sheds light on the reason – namely that more and more Russians identify themselves as Christians. Has Mr. Putin experienced a spiritual awakening, or is he simply appealing to Russian voters? Because he does not publicly quote the Bible or claim to follow Jesus, I remain skeptical of his motives.

Finally, the current events in Ukraine and the denouncement from global leaders of Russian military activity in that region create within me even greater disappointment that you portray Mr. Putin so positively.

Your cover claims that Decision is “the evangelical voice of today.” I consider myself to be an evangelical Christian, but your attempt to make a Mr. Putin a role model most certainly does not represent my perspective. Certainly there are more winsome and Godly global leaders on whom you can shine the spotlight next time.

Stanley J. Groothof
Rock Valley, IA

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To the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s credit, Amy T. Pitt, Vice President for Donor Ministries, mailed me this reply (click to enlarge)…

Letter from Decision magazine