Here’s something I’ve heard a lot:
The Jews thought that the Kingdom Jesus established was suppose to be a physical kingdom. But they completely missed the point; Jesus’s Kingdom was a spiritual kingdom.
Of course, the idea here is that the Jews expected a Messiah who would help them become a political power and, specifically, overthrow their Roman oppressors. Rather, what they got in Jesus was someone who wasn’t concerned about politics but with “spiritual” matters—developing healthy relationships and aiming one’s sights towards heaven.
But what if that version isn’t the Jesus of the Gospels? What if Jesus was concerned with the spiritual and the physical?
For a lot of Americans, their faith and their politics are two sides of the same coin. When they think about politics, they think faith, and when they think about faith, they think politics. The two are inseparable. As much should be obvious from the language of our politicians, with constant reference to prayer and to God, as well as some of our churches—planting a flag at the front of the auditorium or reminding congregants to pray for our nation’s leaders.
This coupling of religion and politics is a measurable phenomenon. PewResearch, in their religious typology study, labels over 10% of citizens as “God-and-Country Believers”—a testament to how much they join the two. Broader than that demographic, a concern over political issues for religious purposes can be seen in the news this last week and even a casual scroll through Facebook, as countless news-stories and posts deal with the Kavanaugh hearings, taking one side or the other, based on religious grounds.
For every Facebook post about the Kavanaugh hearings, though, you’ve probably seen another about how annoying all this political talk is. You probably have a friend, coming from a place of wisdom, who has suggested that Christians are above this tribalism. I hear this all the time, not just on Facebook, but in sermons and classes and podcasts and conversations. I saw it in a New York Times article that was being shared a lot this week by the acclaimed Timothy Keller.
The idea at work here is that Christianity transcends all this worldly stuff—that our sights are set on heaven. And that idea sounds really cool. It means we’re better than all that. We get to stay above all the Facebook drama. We don’t have to worry about politics and bureaucracy—because what could be less Christian than bureaucracy. Christianity has higher priorities than all this political stuff. That sounds pretty great.
Except, I’m not so sure that’s true.
In fact, I think Christianity is very political, with very political concerns. Christianity is the Kingdom inaugurated by Christ, a kingdom not connected with political power but nonetheless concerned with the physical world. And in our day, that means politics too.
Because as long as politics affect government and government affects each of our lives, then the Kingdom of heaven is concerned. As long as bureaucracy feeds those who couldn’t feed themselves; as long as bureaucracy takes care of the elderly; as long as it is involved in the bringing up of our children; as long as it instills the virtues of sharing and patience and kindness in them; as long as it promotes the preservation of nature and the environment; as long as bureaucracy enforces laws and decides with whom my brothers and sisters go to war; as long as it decides who lives and who dies—for that time, bureaucracy and politics will be a concern of those who follow Christ.
Now, I get it. I get that we don’t want to consume ourselves with specific parties. Keller’s article above makes this point clearly—no political party has a monopoly on truth as the Christian Church understands it. But when we announce from the pulpit that our kingdom is not of this world and that we’re just passing through—without speaking to the moral obligation to care for our country and the people therein—then we forget the mission of the Church.
Christ’s Kingdom was a spiritual Kingdom, but it was more than that. It was greater than that. It reached into the here and now, into immanent reality. It had something not only to say to our congregations and to our families, but to our businesses, our arts, and certainly to our politics.