Church & State is a column about the intersection of faith and politics.
I don’t know about you, but in my experience at church and around church people there are a few issues that have come to all but define that intersection for Christians in America.
You could probably add healthcare reform to that list too, but let’s be honest. My title is ridiculous enough as it is without adding more to it.
But this post isn’t about those issues in particular. It’s about what they have created for the church.
I’m not talking about the divisions they cause, though that is certainly there.
I’m talking about the identity they have collectively created for the church.
For many on the outside of the Body, and for many within, these issues have come to define the church and Christians in particular as people defined by what they are against or what they don’t do. Now, to be fair. there are plenty of Christians who actively support many of these issues. But if your experience is anything like mine, and if you attend an evangelical church I’m guessing it is, then the vast majority of the rhetoric in the church surrounding these issues is firmly in the against column.
But even if you find yourself in a different situation than what I’m describing I think most of us would agree that in the eyes of outsiders we Christians have become a people defined by what we are against and what we don’t do.
And that’s a problem.
But not just because of the bad PR.
The bigger problem with being a people defined by what we’re against is that the Christ who is supposed to define our identity as Christians was a man whose life was largely defined by what he was for and what he actually did, not what he was against and what (or who) he avoided.
Sure, there were the confrontations with the Pharisee and the Sadducees and Jesus certainly didn’t shy away from denouncing them and their practices from time to time. But even many (if not most) of those confrontations arose not because of what Jesus was against, but what he was for, or more specifically who he was for, and what he was actually doing with his life to bring about the kingdom of God.
Ironically, many of us in the church have taken the complete opposite approach to bringing the kingdom of God to earth just as it is in heaven. Instead of going out of our way to incarnate the radical love and grace of God to our neighbors and enemies alike, more often than not we seem to go out of our way to avoid doing just that. Rather than extend grace, we vote it down at every chance we get. Rather than loving our enemies and serving our neighbors, we treat them as subhumans, not worthy of the dignity and respect we demand for ourselves.
Rather than being and doing, we denounce and abstain.
But if the name Christian is going to have any credibility, then we have to actually live our lives like Christ did.
Which means we have to live lives defined by what we’re for and what we actually do.
We can still vote how our conscience leads us and campaign for causes we believe in, but if we are not a people whose identity is defined first and foremost by how we offer support, encouragement, love, fellowship, peace, and hope to those in need, then we have no claim to the name “Christians.”
“Democrats” and “Republicans,” sure.
But not “Christians.”
That identity has to be earned through incarnation.
Grace and peace,