I’m convinced that the great idolatry for many of us is our deep commitment to our political ideology.
The past few months have been difficult for all of us. I’ve taken to saying things like, “We’re all playing hurt,” and “Be gracious to one another,” because I truly believe that no one is at her best right now. And I continue to affirm that with all the pastoral care in my heart. I believe the last few months have been difficult for everyone.
But the constant politicization of EVERYTHING in this country has undoubtably made these past few months even more difficult. Of course, we’ve seen this sort of thing happen for years in a fairly predictable cycle. When an active shooter claims the lives of innocent civilians, the whole discussion is quickly co-opted by both the left and the right with the same old tired talking points about gun control and the Second Amendment, often before the victims have even been properly memorialized. The whole thing would be appalling if we weren’t so accustomed to such grandstanding.
And so these past few months, as the call for racial equality has reached a fever pitch and as we continue to manage the realities of daily life amid a pandemic, I suppose it was inevitable that these — like everything else — would eventually be reduced down to red or blue, conservative or liberal.
For a long time, I’ve said that I’m too conservative for my liberal friends and too liberal for my conservative friends. (Which, over time, means my pool of friends has continued to dry up!) And this has been made even more evident as our political polarization increases and becomes ever more bloodthirsty.
Take racial justice, for instance. I happen to believe that black lives matter. I believe people of color have long been burdened with a the kind of plight that is foreign to me. As a white, straight, middle class male, I’ve rarely (if ever) been marginalized in the way that is all too common for many other US citizens. My heart hurts for people of color who have long been speaking out about the racial injustices and daily indignities that are a part of their experience. It is incumbent upon me to listen in this moment, to really listen with generosity and compassion. And while my heart hurts over the circumstances that have perpetuated this discussion over the past few months (Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, etc.), I’m at least grateful that this has seemingly catalyzed us toward more empathetic discussions and, hopefully, meaningful change. I believe peaceful demonstrations and protests can be a part of perpetuating those kinds of conversations. So that’s one side of the ledger for me.
However, I also believe in the sacred dignity afforded to every human life by the Creator God and thus I affirm the ideology that “all lives matter” — despite the objections that this statement typically engenders. I also believe that the Black Lives Matter organization is pretty firmly aligned with the political left and, therefore, I understand the objections of many of my conservative friends who simply cannot baptize BLM’s political ideology even as they seek equitable treatment for people of color. And I also believe that the violent and destructive protests we’ve witnessed over the last few months have eroded any moral high ground in these kinds of discussions. I believe that the non-violence advocated by King a generation ago has been replaced — at least by some — with senseless violence in our streets that only adds to the clamor of the moment.
So I believe that black lives matter but I also affirm the biblical truth that all lives matter. I believe peaceful, non-violent demonstrations can be powerful in times such as this, but I can’t get behind the sort of violent, destructive anarchy that we’ve seen in the streets lately.
Like I said, I’m too conservative for my liberal friends and too liberal for my conservative friends. And I’m 100% sure there’s a sentence or two in those last few paragraphs that you found offensive. And I think that proves my point: I believe the essence of that offense is that we have been convinced that we must hold to our political commitment most tightly.
You can see the same thing with the conversation these last few months regarding masks. The whole discussion has been thoroughly politicized by both sides to the point that I’ve seen the fallout in the local church. In my ministry circles, every church leader I know has adopted a policy asking that all attendees wear masks for all church events until further notice. And in their churches, as well as my own, many members have been dutifully complying with this request — despite the fact that many of them undoubtedly would rather not. (I’ll admit: I’m in this camp. I don’t like wearing a mask any more than anyone else.) But in every church, there is also the vocal opposition of those who are proudly defiant, those who understand all of this masking up as an infringement upon their “rights.” In every church, there are those who say, “Well, as long as you have that mask policy, we won’t be there.” And from there, accusations are easily made on either side of the discussion.
I know of a church in another state where one elder made the statement regarding masks, “I’m so sick and tired of hearing about how wearing a mask is an act of love for others.”
Is this attitude formed by a reading of Romans 14? Or by political ideology? Is this attitude born out of a desire to demonstrate love for neighbor? Or by a fixation of self — MY rights, etc.?
What is the point of this article?
Well, I don’t hold out much hope that this post will move the needle for too many people. I’m sure you’ve already made up your mind about a great deal of this and I respect that. I don’t pretend to be a political scientist so I have no real interest in critiquing your political views, whether they be conservative or liberal. And knowing what I know about human nature, I’m convinced that you’ve probably already written me off anyway because of that offensive thing I said a few paragraphs earlier. We tend to disregard anything someone says whenever we disagree with the slightest iota of their argument. We’ve completely lost the ability to disagree anymore.
So again, what’s the angle? What’s the point?
Here it is: I just wish we understood the Kingdom of God as a viable political ideology. I wish we — I’m speaking to Christians — couldn’t so easily distinguish between what we consider to be “spiritual” and what we consider to be “physical” or “earthly” or however you want to parse it. I wish it wasn’t so easy for us to believe that “spiritual” just deals with some sort of internal reality — like your attitude. I wish we believed it was ALL spiritual, that God’s Word is holistic in scope, not simply reserved for pious platitudes to be recited in Sunday school but that God’s Word has the power to shape every facet of our lives — including our political ideologies.
And knowing that these feeble words are likely unconvincing to many, I suppose I simply write this for myself, as a way of repenting of my own idolatry of ideology when I’ve settled too easily for the kingdoms of man rather than waiting in anticipation of the Kingdom of God to be revealed in its fullness.
And so I amend my earlier statement: I’m convinced that my great idolatry is my deep commitment to my political ideology over the Kingdom of God. I guess that’s really the point of this article.
Lord, have mercy.