Imagine Jesus in Washington. Picture him interacting with Senators and Representatives in the chambers of the Capital rather than walking with a group of fishermen on the shores of Galilee. Who would doubt that his conversations with Republican, Democratic, and Independent leaders would sound more like timeless wisdom than political spin? Who could imagine him giving any political party reason to feel morally superior?
Jesus and Washington represent different approaches to change. Washington, like Moses, represents the use of laws to externally regulate social behavior from the outside in. There’s a place for that. But the role of government needs to be the lesser part of our convictions. The Apostle John wrote, “The law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17). By contrast to moral legislation and enforcement, Jesus represents change– one person at a time– as individuals, like us, voluntarily invite him to change us from the inside out– by his Spirit.
It’s just as true that Jesus might surprise us by the people he would spend time with–on the other side of the “aisle.” He did in the first century. Why would it be different now?
These are some of the reasons I think we need to try to make sure that our influence in society is based more on our individual and collective example, social advocacy, and appeal to reason–than on efforts to use our political power to collectively capture and control public policy. See if you agree that:
1. A political voice often mobilizes support by concealing its own faults while calling attention to the weaknesses and limitations of the opposition. A prophetic voice is first brought to its knees by its own wrongs and failures.
2. A political voice tends to speak for the special-interest groups it represents. As a result, it is likely to confront the sins of the right but not the sins of the left-or the sins of the left and not the sins of the right. A prophetic voice, in the best sense, represents the interests of all. The messenger of God, therefore, can lovingly affirm “a good Samaritan”, and confront wrongs, wherever they exist– regardless of where they show up in the political spectrum.
3. A political voice calls for external regulation and legislation that often focuses on curbing the freedom of its opponents. A prophetic voice calls on all to submit themselves to God for a personal change of heart, resulting in voluntary self-limitation.
4. A political voice often represents the special interests of supporters who expect material benefits or social influence in exchange for their donations and votes. A prophetic voice represents the interests of God in a manner that rises above hidden agendas or conflicts of interest.
5. A political voice may have to settle for strategies of compromise to maintain an adequate base of support. A faithful prophetic voice does not waver from timeless values and perspectives, and is willing to be “one crying in the wilderness” with accountability to God alone.
6. A political voice works for change through the strength of opinion polls, ballots, and governmental appointments. A prophetic voice calls for change through loving confrontation and persuasion-relying on whatever voluntary change the Spirit of God and His Word will make in the hearts of hearers.
7. A political voice rises and falls on the changing tides of public sentiment. A prophetic voice rests on the ultimate and eternal authority of God.
I’m sure there’s a lot that I’m not seeing and getting right, but I’m trying to find a way of expressing that Jesus did not come to build the kind of kingdom that his followers expected. The apostles who represented him after he left seemed far more interested urging people to let Christ change them from the inside out, than in appealing to Caesar for better laws.
So let me ask you now, do you think such distinctions reflect a way of expressing our dual citizenship? Would you agree that a worst case for followers of Christ would be for our spiritual mission to make us no social and political good– or for our political efforts to detract from our spiritual mission?