Pastor’s Column: Transcending the Political Chaos
Transcending the Political Chaos
This past year, my family hosted an exchange student from the Netherlands. Like most of you, early on I was surprised when Donald Trump began his rise to the top of the Republican ticket even as he voiced some radical ideas about immigration among other things. Feeling the need to explain the chaos to our guest, I confidently predicted that eventually people will come to their senses and Trump would fade from the political scene.
But as time passed, I found myself at a loss for words to describe the chaos. My confident predictions eventually gave way to stuttering embarrassment that at times bordered on cynicism. As I talk with friends and overhear conversations, I learn I’m not alone. From evangelical Christians, I hear emotions that range from fear to anger to ambivalence to despair.
In a sense, I understand this. Along the way, I’ve found myself scouring various websites and articles posted on social media, experiencing all of the aforementioned emotions and venting them to my wife. Again, I suspect I’m not the only one.
As much as we evangelicals consider ourselves counter-cultural, if we’re honest we have to admit that we have a history of following cultural trends rather than shaping them. Like any good citizen of a particular society, we’ve often had a hard time thinking about our world in categories significantly different than the broader culture.
The election is the foremost on our minds, but we’re also navigating many political and cultural issues the American Church has yet to experience. Issues of immigration, sexuality, and race continually pop up in our newsfeeds, making them impossible to ignore.
As I’ve thought about how to lead my people through this political season, I’ve come to two conclusions. First, we cannot ignore it. And second, we cannot simply rehash the same conversations (liberal vs. conservative, Republican vs. Democrat, LGBT vs. evangelical, etc.) that have kept us stuck in the same patterns we’ve been in recent history.
In Matthew 22, the Pharisees were stuck in politics as usual (Jews vs. Rome). They tried to trap Jesus by asking him to take sides in the contentious issue of paying the imperial tax imposed on non-Roman citizens residing in the Empire. The Jews resented Roman rule and would have loved to have warrant for civil disobedience. But Jesus refuses to engage the political conversation on the same tired terms when he voices his famous response, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” His response wasn’t simply a clever way to evade the question.
Jesus’ answer communicated that the answer to their question went beyond the answers of the politics of the day. His answer dismissed the claim that Caesar owned what was most important. His answer reflected his teaching that there is a Kingdom without geographical borders, whose concerns far surpassed those of Caesar’s ambition. His answer called the Pharisees to transcend the petty arguments of the day to take an eternal, divine perspective.
As followers of Jesus, I believe we have unique resources to help our culture transcend the cultural and political chaos, but it means we can’t get sucked into the black hole of politics as usual. It means we have to learn to think differently. It means rising above three temptations we all have.
Rise Above Fear
First, I will tell them to rise above being motivated by fear. Isaiah, chapter 40 is a great chapter to read when fear of our immediate circumstances threaten to undo us because it’s a glorious glimpse of the world from God’s perspective. God is speaking through Isaiah to the exiles in Babylon in order to comfort them at a time when God seems to have left them.
“All people are like grass and their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field…but the Word of God endures forever.” “Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket…” “He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing…” Isaiah 40 challenges us by asking where we put our trust. The issues and events that dominate our vision are like a drop in the bucket to God. There’s nothing God hasn’t seen. God has seen every ruler in history come and go, he’s seen mighty empires rise and fall. God is the only constant.
In an age that tells everyone they are special, it can be a bit disconcerting that my individual will or happiness isn’t God’s greatest concern. But God’s pastoral heart comes out in the end: “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.” (vs. 31) When we put our hope in the eternal God rather than a flawed political candidate, we can let go of fear and live in a relationship of trust with the God of the universe.
When we operate out of fear, we do crazy things. However, when we operate out of a deep trust in God, we maintain our center and can address the problems of our society in a clear-headed and Biblical way.
Rise Above Division
The second thing I will tell my people is to rise above division. Ephesians 6:12 says, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” What this means is that people are not our enemy.
It seems as though our society is not becoming more united, but more divided. Racial division seems to be getting more pronounced. Relationship between conservatives and progressives (even within the church), evangelicals and the LGBT community, citizen and immigrant are as contentious as they’ve ever been, each side bent on “winning.” Each side seeks to forward its agenda with seemingly little concern for the people caught in the gears of the machine.
While Jesus wasn’t unaware of issues and policies, he never lost sight of the fact that policies and rules existed for the good of the people. As believers, we have to resist the urge to live in such a way that we are known for what we are against more than who we are for. It’s easy to point and blame from a distance, but much harder when we build relationships. Regardless of our differences, we have a responsibility to seek peace rather than allow division.
Rise Above Cynicism
There have been times during the election season when I’ve been tempted to become cynical about the whole thing. But in the middle of this temptation, I hear God saying from Romans 12:9, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” Cynicism and sincerity cannot co-exist. Cynicism embodies the attitude that I’m too good to deal with this mess. It’s beneath me even to care anymore.
But sincere love uses every opportunity to serve, to teach, to encourage and even to correct when necessary. Cynicism does not value people, but projects an image of superiority.
In Matthew 10:16, Jesus sent out his disciples with these instructions, “…be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Shrewd means “strategic.” It means living intentionally, keeping our eyes open. Innocent can also be translated as harmless. Can we honestly say that Christians have been harmless in our society? It seems to me that if we heed Jesus’ command, we might seem on the outside to be incredibly naïve and idealistic.
To work to understand the issue yet maintain a calm, loving presence in the face of cultural chaos, best represents the call of Christ on His Church. Such a posture requires an undying trust in God’s sovereignty, but transcends the limited perspective of politics as usual.
Pastor Kory Kleinsasser has been the lead pastor at Waite Park Church in Northeast Minneapolis since 2010. He graduated from the University of Sioux Falls and went to Asbury Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky.