Monday, January 18, 2021

A Theology of Opposition

As we watch the ways in which American politics and American Christianity have become far too entangled, there are those who seem to be ready and willing to call out Christians for their deeply political affiliations. The problem is, this isn't happening out of a concern for Christian theology (though it is often masked as such), but rather, out of a concern for American politics. 

And that is, well, concerning.

There are a number of Christians right now claiming the moral high ground for calling out - and condemning - other Christians for their Christian support of a particular political figure. They throw out commentary on things like personal character and public demeanor, and they declare, self-righteously, how can you claim to be a Christian and support someone like this, no matter what his policies are? 

They claim some kind of righteousness in this, as though they are 'more' Christian or 'better' Christians for hating this man and condemning everything about him. As if the Christian thing to do is to denounce our duly elected leader and throw all of his supporters (everyone who voted for him, no matter how active or inactive their ongoing support) into one caricaturized category and dismiss - and denigrate - all of them. They claim they are standing up for the church and for her witness in the world, wanting to show the world that this man, this support, this politic isn't what Christianity is all about and begging the world not to do the very thing that they're doing - not to lump all of Christianity into a conservative politic that leans toward this particular candidate. 

Where do we even begin?

Let's start with the fact that these Christians are using hate as a justification for righteousness. Hey, we hate him, too. Hey, we hate everything he stands for and everyone who stands with him. Look at us, the church, calling someone out because we can't stand him. Uhm, I'm not sure what Bible these folks are reading, but the defense of Christianity can never be hate and condemnation. It can't. For too many years, the church was known for what it objected to, and here we are with a bunch of Christians claiming a new righteousness for political objections, which is a double error - the error that we are what we object to and the error that Christianity is somehow deeply entertwined with politics. 

They ask how you could have voted for and supported a man with such poor character, even when the policies of the other candidate were clearly antithetical to the Christian morality, and they can't believe you haven't condemned him yourself yet. They can't believe you continue to see him as anything but complete and total evil. 

And yet, we have a theology that believes in brokenness and redemption. Do we not? We have a theology that sees all of us as flawed human beings, doing our best to navigate through a broken world. We all have our things that make us distasteful, at times, to others. Should we all be written off? Or should we look for something redemption-worthy in everyone? Are some sins so great that we should never forgive them, especially when the Bible tells us there is only one unforgivable sin (and spoiler alert: this isn't it)? 

We've got this whole sect of Christianity that is ready to stand with culture and try to put the church on the 'right' side of politics (or rather, the 'correct' side, since their trouble seems to be that American Christianity has too firmly associated itself with the political right), and to them, this is a correction to the error of politics and theology becoming too enmeshed. 

But here's the truth: this is the enmeshing of politics and theology, too. Those who are voicing this movement are guilty of exactly the same things that they are decrying and condemning. Exactly the same things. They are claiming that there is a real "Christian" politic and that what it seems to be isn't it. They aren't telling the church that they've got politics wrong; they're telling the church they've got the wrong politics. Yet still, we have to come back to a Bible that tells us how politics and faith truly live together - and neither side is getting it right. 

There's no righteousness in being on 'correct' side of culture. There's no righteousness in being on the side of popular opinion (which, by the way, is a misnomer, since our information channels are skewed by the ways that we filter them). You don't get to claim that "Christians" are getting it wrong and misrepresenting the faith by doing exactly the same thing you're condemning them for, and you don't get to claim that 'real' Christianity would do two of the things that Christ Himself was never known for - hate and condemn a man that you're currently scapegoating for all of the problems of a broken system. 

And listen, because I know this is going to come up: this is not a defense of that man. This is not one of 'his' people blindly following and blah blah blah and all the stuff you hear thrown out at someone who tries to take a middle road and who doesn't wholeheartedly condemn him as thoroughly wicked. Humans are complicated. We're complex. We're broken in ways that others sometimes don't understand, and we do things that seem...inconceivable. All of us. Some of us have bigger platforms than others, so the lights shine brighter, but we're all guilty of this kind of stuff. And you think, yeah, but I'm not a racist, bigoted, arrogant son-of-a, and yet, the minute you think become one. The minute you put a label on someone else and make an 'us' and a 'them,' you're just as guilty of the very thing you claim to hate. You've caricaturized someone else and lost the essence of what it means to be human. 

I get that that's not a popular view, but it doesn't make it any less true. And we can condemn acts and attitudes without condemning persons. No one is saying we should let racism, where it truly exists, get a pass. No one is saying we condone the things that are antithetical to the kind of righteousness that God calls us to. But there's a big difference between condemning a behavior and condemning a human being, who, by the way, is made in the image of God. See, grace is a complex thing, too. It's complicated. It's hard. But it's beautiful. And if you find yourself in a position where you're feeling defensive about all of the things that others assume of you because of the way that certain others act, then you, of all persons, ought to be in a position of grace. For you stand begging for it yourself, do you not? 

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