The Shallow Identity of Party Affiliation

 

Micah 6_8v3

Last night we had dinner with some new friends. We have been connecting online for about two years, and finally had the opportunity to meet. The conversation turned toward politics. Jenn talked about reading a book where the author surmised that Jesus was more liberal than the liberals and more conservative then the conservatives. I woke up thinking about this. As one who lived in a political system during his time on earth, Jesus never confused politics on earth with the Kingdom of Heaven. Never. His mission was people and relationships, not politics.

It was several years ago that a Christian friend first said to me: “I’m sorry, I disagree with you! I vote and live my life on [insert political party] values.” The conversation was pleasant, but I remember looking at my friend in surprise. She said it with absolute surety and confidence. This was more than politics, this was her very identity.

Historically, confusing politics on earth with the Kingdom of Heaven is not new, but I still remember that I was shocked and troubled. I had not lived in the United States much, and this was my first direct encounter with the values of a political party being confused and entangled with the values of someone who followed Jesus. Since then, I have come to realize that almost every politician in the entire country has at some point uttered the words “I am a Christian” for political gain, and we buy into it with our souls. We sigh with relief and think “Okay then. Good! God in the White House! Or in the Governor’s mansion.” We turn a blind eye to characteristics that are the antithesis of the teachings of Jesus. We say “Who am I to judge…!” Even as we’ve perfected the art of judging others.

The United States is in an interesting season. In three months we will be electing the next president of the United States of America. Social media and media in general are the only entities profiting from the debacle that is playing out in this election. Everyone else is losing.

Think about it – why are we participating in a game we are losing? A game where we are losing integrity, losing friendships, losing arguments, losing sleep, and slowly losing sanity.

We have bought into politics that reduce our complex humanity into a political identity and with it, a political war.

Here’s the thing: as a Christian, using a political party to describe ourselves is shallow. Using a political party to judge or describe other people is also shallow.  

The idea that I, a complicated human being with all sorts of thoughts going through my head, would be limited to a political party is galling to me. The statement “you can’t be a Christian and a [insert the party]” is reductionist and puts people into unreasonable boxes — boxes that include complex issues affecting human beings.

How and when did Christians in America begin to confuse who they are, as people made in the image of God, with the identity and characteristics of a political party? How did Christians come to see political parties as the way to express their Christian faith? It’s mind boggling that we would think affiliation with a political party is the way to express the kindness of Jesus that leads us to repentance. It is head shaking to think that a political party is the way to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Republicans, Democrats, Green Party, Libertarians – they are created and designed by imperfect people who are all about politics on earth, not treasure in Heaven. They are not, and never were, designed to reflect Jesus or the Kingdom of God. And if you see any of these as more then systems designed by imperfect people, then I pray that God would heal your eyesight.

There will be a day when the Kingdom of Heaven will come, and on that day I know this- all the politics we fussed over, argued about, and condemned each other for will dissolve into nothing in the light of the Glory of God Himself.

Until that time, may we do justly, love mercy, vote wisely (and for some, that may mean not at all) and walk humbly with our God. 

16 thoughts on “The Shallow Identity of Party Affiliation

  1. I tell young people to ignore what is being said–folks on both sides have been dishonest with us–and focus on the track records of the candidates and the written party platforms. Major deviations from the platform can later skewer a candidate, so platforms do matter. Track records don’t show a flattering light on either major candidate, but I also say look for changes, look for maturing or for refusal to change, and weigh what that means to you. I still have not decided who I will vote for, but I will vote. I may possibly leave the President line empty, but I don’t feel comfortable about that option, either. In Australia, you are required by law to go cast a vote. I was shocked the first time I heard that, but I have come to think it is actually a pretty good idea, it forces you to deal with issues.

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  2. The liberal/conservative duality really bothers me. If, for example, a scientifically-minded person like myself questions a (decidedly modern!) 6000 year old earth interpretation of Genesis (while still fully believing in creation ex nihilo), suddenly people think you don’t take sin seriously (which I most definitely do), or that you can’t believe in the divinity of Jesus (really people, really??). The duality really, really bothers me. So yes, shallow labels indeed. Thank you for naming it as such.

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  3. I could have written this myself. I’ve just moved back home, to the southern US, after living in the Middle East for several years. The re-entry shock is tough but this political climate makes it even worse. I’m constantly faced with the dilemma of keeping my mouth shut or dealing with the repercussions of disagreeing. Isn’t there some peaceful inbetween??

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    1. Yes!! Reentry combined with political polarization is a lethal mix. I swore I would be out of the country during election time. I don’t know if that will work. Where were you in the Middle East? Would love to hear more of your story.

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      1. I’ll make a long story as short as possible. I was in Abu Dhabi for almost 8 years. I first went as a college student, but while there I became a teacher, got married (my husband is Egyptian/Lebanese/TCK) and had a baby. My husband just recently got his green card and so here we are…The South seems an odd place for us, but for some reason it feels like this is where we should be for now.

        How did you handle the shock of coming home to a country that isn’t home?

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      2. So sorry for the delay! It was so hard. So hard. It was partly the area, partly the circumstances, partly the complete lack of understanding, and partly me. I’ve grown a lot since that time but mostly realized I will always have a piece of me that doesn’t fit. And that’s okay.

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  4. Thank you, Marilyn. I agree wholeheartedly with you.

    As a pastor, I need to be careful not to let any party affiliation cloud my vocation and ministry. However, I also agree wholeheartedly with the verse you quote from Micah 6. I also talk about Jesus similar verses in the Gospel of Mark, 12:28-34.. Jesus gives us the greatest commandment (in two parts): love God, love neighbor. Any neighbor. Whoever. And then when asked “who is my neighbor?” Jesus responds with the brilliant parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 15. (That means, WHOEVER is in need.)

    That is my gut response, when it comes to politics. Is it difficult? Challenging? Even, sometimes, inconvenient? At times, dangerous? You bet! But, I consider following these words of Jesus to be what pleases God above all else. Yes, I fail. I fall down. I just can’t, some days. But, I usually strive to follow. God willing.

    @chaplaineliza

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    1. I would think that this is incredibly challenging – particularly when you are asked specifically, or when people want to be told what to do.
      Thank you for sharing this. I love your heart.

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  5. Thanks, Marilyn! Great thoughts, as always. I’ve often said I’d vote for any candidate who refused to throw mud at their opponent . . . so far, that statement hasn’t been tested.

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  6. I was with you completely until you said vote “not at all.” I think that in a democracy we do harm to the common good when we don’t participate. I respect those who vote their conscience for candidates I don’t support, but not voting at all just seems nihilistic to me.

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    1. I appreciate your comment – I have generally felt the same, but in this election, I do see why some would not vote at all as a statement of discontent over the candidates who have been selected. Perhaps in not voting, they are acting on their conscience? Although, people can always vote and write in a candidate. Thanks for reading and commenting. I took a look at your site – so interesting! Have you read the book When Breath Becomes Air? It’s a true story of a neurosurgeon confronting his own death. When I read your background in neuroscience, I immediately thought about the book. I found it profoundly moving.

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      1. I actually don’t think the candidates in this election are uniquely bad. Politicians have always been imperfect and more. I do think the media circus in this election is uniquely bad, though, at least in my lifetime (I’m 50). I see all the negativity as just feeding itself and creating a monster. And low voter turnout makes it more likely that extreme candidates are selected. I see voting, even in such a climate, even for a protest candidate, as a choice for hope over despair. Which is the real enemy. Anyway, thanks for the kind words. These days I’m working in teaching not research, but it’s fun teaching kids about the brain! Best to you :)

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  7. Once again, you’re spot-on,Marilyn. An acquaintance of mine reminded me that the Calvinists have it right. As long as the Messiah is not on the ticket, we always are choosing from the lesser of two (or three, or four) evils. The question for me is: which candidate, regardless of party affiliation, most closely espouses what I perceive to be Gospel values. Not easy to discern, I think. And then, once in office, are they going to (be able to) do whatever it is that swayed me?

    Then there are all the nuances. Does doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God mean you can’t tote a gun? Does it mean we do away with borders altogether? Does it mean we back Israel over and against the Palestinians – or should it be the other way around?

    Not so easy to interpret.

    Thank goodness I don’t reside in the United States. :-)

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