Too many Christians make the mistake of letting POLITICS define decisions of FAITH. Our political system (especially in these divisive times) drags us down, creating winners and losers on the ‘battlefield’ of society and culture. And, the results may not really be what we intend.
In the news over the past few years has been the ‘battle’ in which Christian bakery owners have refused to bake wedding cakes for gay and lesbian couples who are getting married. They cite the prohibition of same-sex relationships in the Bible and invoke their POLITICAL right of religious freedom to refuse to serve these couples.
This is a problem. Not all people (and certainly not all of our political laws and rights) are Christian. There is a diversity of faith perspectives in American culture and society and people are free to live as they choose so long as it is legal. And, while our deepest hope as Christians is that ALL people come to know Jesus, it just doesn’t seem right to use politics to ‘win’ this battle. This is because it creates ‘losing’: a couple who is free to live as they choose is intentionally excluded, and the witness of Christians as people of God’s love is tarnished.
The better way and higher ground for Christians is to let FAITH rise above issues of POLITICS. It may seem like a small, subtle difference… but, in fact, it is huge. This way, it’s not our political system creating winners and losers, it is our faith rising above the politics of the day to embrace greater, more unifying and transforming truths. Jesus faced this with a much different issue but with similar dynamics in Matthew 22:15-22:
15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” 21 “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.
If Jesus let conventional politics define this as a decision of faith (the mistake we have been talking about) it would have been a mess. On the one hand, he could have said “NO, it is not right to pay the tax”. After all, a faithful Jew (as he was) couldn’t condone the payment of taxes to an oppressive regime that prevented them from the full-expression of their religious life. On the other hand, he could have said “YES, it is right to pay the tax”. But then, the religious leaders would have him condemned for legitimizing an oppressive regime. All of this creating winners and losers in a divisive battlefield of society and culture.
In a move that impressed everyone present (and all of us through the ages), Jesus flips the question and lets FAITH rise above the issue of POLITICS. “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” 21 “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
The politics of Jesus calls us to remember that we are IN the world but not OF the world. Our first allegiance is to God and God’s Kingdom. This allegiance MUST govern all areas of our lives. However, because we are ‘in the world’ we are enmeshed in the kingdoms of this world and their politics. We shouldn’t let our faith get ‘dragged down’ into political battles, policies, and politics of this world… we should rise above the politics of the world by our timeless and tireless faith in God as the real center and authority of our lives.
By the way… what does it look like for our faith to rise above politics in this circumstance? Can a Christian bake a cake for a gay or lesbian wedding? Of course. The no-win scenario of politics is seeing the issue as either expressing religious freedom (that results in hurting and excluding others who are different), or being compelled to betray one’s religious convictions by the wider society. The politics of Jesus might suggest flipping the question: let’s give to people what is owed people: love, justice, fairness, equity and let’s give to God what is owed God: love, obedience, and ultimate allegiance.
Pastor Erik Hall