Well, church people, we’re wrestling. Where is grace and humility in a time when the mixing of politics and religion has become, quite frankly, toxic?
I used to stand comfortably on the political scaffolding on the right.
Now I find that I’m testing my weight on the scaffolding of the other side.
And I’ve come face to face with a new stranger – myself.
After the Executive Order two weeks ago, I descended into full-on pain mode.
I felt frustrated alongside my Christian Sudanese friend who is asking, “What can I do?” to stand for justice for her Muslim friends.
I felt compassionate toward my Syrian friend who proclaimed, “I’m glad to be in America, because in this country they know we are humans. We have human rights.”
I felt helpless with my friends at World Relief who plan to cut a third of their staff locally in the wake of the order, crippling their efforts to care for the vulnerable already in our community.
Because my refugee friends don’t have a voice, I’ve wondered how to speak up.
In my sorrow, I’ve been tempted toward ugliness.
In my passion, I’ve been tempted toward self-righteousness.
In my fear, I’ve become obsessed with validating my views.
And in wonder I’ve realized that I have lost my firm political footing. I’ve become a pilgrim in a middle place.
I see my fellow church friends wrestling too. “How do we filter? What is truth? How does my faith inform my politics, and vice versa?”
A particular scripture has grounded me– a warning that carves out a Jesus-space inside where humility and grace can bubble up.
His timely warning is powerful whether we are politically right, left, or in-between. When we heed it I think we, the Church, have an opportunity in this tumultuous season to be different.
So here we go. Here’s where I’ve been smacked with grace and had to bow in humility in the last two weeks.
In Mark 8:15, Jesus says, “Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”*
It hit me right between the eyes.
“Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod.”
Leaven causes dough to rise. It makes small things big. It puffs up. It makes me full of hot air.
The leaven of religion and the leaven of politics leave me bloated. Their leaven makes me self-righteous. (I start to think more of me and less of other people.) Their leaven leaves me fearful. (I begin to assume that that “other side” is malicious in their intent.)
Jesus warns me not to be taken with the leaven of the right or the left.
It’s no secret that the evangelical church is in a strange season. I can’t click twice without seeing another take on how Christians should respond to politics, President Trump, refugees, social justice, national security, abortion, religious liberty, etc., etc. Good that we are trying to “figure it out” and be informed, but I’ve got to ask myself whether I’m just in search of a stronger scaffolding on which to stand. Do I want leaven to rise up in me so that my inflated self-righteousness can silence the very real tensions that exist?
Am I aligning right or left, conservative or liberal, on the moral side of culture wars or on the justice side of the progressive agenda and then puffing my chest out and assigning my stance to God?
Have I elevated one teaching of scripture over another in search of a place to stand and look down on others who don’t see it my way?
Have I looked for clarity in earthly constructs when the paradox of the Kingdom is mysterious and out-of-the-box?
What does it look like for me to live in the tension – to stay off of the scaffolding of pride but still move in the direction of humility, mercy and justice?
For me, there have been two helpful actions.
First, conversations. I’ve had four or five really helpful, intentional conversations with folks who interpret the world differently than I do over the last two weeks. We’ve shared coffee, wine, or a meal and talked, face-to-face. Each time I’ve been encouraged by the power of listening. I’ve been transformed by the humility of recognizing that relationships trump being “right.” (pun intended)
Second, repenting over for rather than against. (Let me explain.)
Humility and grace aren’t natural by-products of taking stands against. When I check my behavior or beliefs against a list of “people shouldn’t’s” it leads to self-righteousness.
However, when I take James 4:17 to heart and examine what I’m for, something changes. The verse says, “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.”
What flesh and blood neighbor or enemy is God inviting me to be for today – with a good word or deed?
In asking, “What good am I called to be for today?” I am humbled by the magnitude of my own self-absorption. I see the need for the grace of Christ – it must cover my failure to love my enemy or my negligence to even to stop long enough to love a very delightful neighbor.
Today I still feel the pain of my community. I still want to speak loudly on behalf of my refugee neighbors. I still feel sad, angry, confused and compassionate. I am looking at both sets of scaffolding and pondering my place.
But I want to beware of the leaven. I want to seek conversation even when it’s scary. I want to examine my own heart and life in light of what the Man who is Refugee-Carpenter-Miracle Worker-Savior asks me to be for.
I want to hold the tension of my faith, even when this makes my political and religious discourse far more nuanced and even confusing.
These are strange times. May we who claim to be Jesus-followers recognize when we are filled with the leaven of religion and of the Pharisees. May we choose to occupy the spaces of humility and grace as we seek to love the strangers – new and old – in our midst.
Blessings to you today.
* Context: Jesus speaks this caution to His disciples as they are grappling with the fame, controversy, and power swirling around them during the height of His ministry. They have just fed five thousand and then four thousand. Jesus was being pursued by the masses as a political leader and being vetted by the Pharisees as a religious leader. I’m sure it was intoxicating for them to be friends with the Man who might just save Israel from an oppressive government. I’m sure it was mind blowing for fishermen to realize that the Pharisees – the religious power center – were seeking out Jesus, wondering what He would say. The disciples were taken with it, perhaps deeply distracted by it, and He called a time out to warn them about being puffed up with either religion or politics
This article is very helpful in continuing to understand more about the refugee issue as it relates to church and politics: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2017/february-web-only/why-tim-keller-max-lucado-evangelicals-trump-refugee-ban.html