By Luke Hoselton
Faculty, College of Theology
I’d like to follow Jesus but struggle greatly with the behaviors and actions of many of those who claim to be Christians today. I am especially uncomfortable with the connection between evangelical Christians and the Republican Party as I feel that many of their actions are against the teachings of Jesus. What should someone in my position do?
I really appreciate your frank and timely question. There are two important issues that come to mind that need to be examined before we can begin thinking through an action plan.
First, your question rightly underscores the fact that there are going to be those within every faith tradition who do not represent their tradition faithfully or well. It is unfortunate but true. There is a saying (often attributed to the early Christian thinker Augustine) which states that one should never judge a philosophy by its abuses. Another thinker, Ravi Zacharias, has taken this idea further. He argues that we should never judge a philosophy or religion solely based on how we see it abused, but rather should judge it by the essential teaching and the life of its founder. I think he is right.
In this case, we are reminded that Jesus taught perhaps most centrally that his followers were to love God with all their heart, soul, strength and mind and to love their neighbor as themselves. When Jesus illustrates this with a parable (see Luke 10:25-37), what’s amazing is that he reveals the identity of the neighbor using a character that would be absolutely despised by all Jewish people in his day. His radical point is that our neighbor includes the deplorable, the despised, “the other” – whomever we want to use to fill that category – and if we are not loving them well, then we are not obediently and faithfully following the teaching of Jesus. What’s more is that he himself demonstrated this radical love in his own sacrificial act of dying for the deplorable, the despised, “the other.”
So while we should acknowledge that the fact that so many Christians do not live faithfully is a problem – a big one! – it should not be viewed as an insurmountable objection to following Jesus, because his own teaching and example are entirely consistent and righteous.
The second issue raised by your question points to the corruption of politics in general, and we must admit this is not something limited to one party or another. More fundamentally, however, your frustration may reveal something of the misplaced hope and expectations that so many have today when it comes to politics.
The truth is that the political dichotomies that exist simply do not and cannot bear the weight of the ultimate significance that is so often projected onto them. In other words, the political power struggle between Democratic and Republican ideologies (for example) should not be mistaken for the ultimate battle between Good versus Evil. We may notice reflections of this larger conflict in some of the tenets and priorities of these parties, but neither party represents the Kingdom of God.
This is when we need to look once again at Jesus. When the New Testament writers declare that Jesus has ascended to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father (e.g. Acts 2:29-36), they are depicting a crucial aspect of Jesus’ identity and authority. Put plainly, he is the reigning King. This means that the Christian’s commitment to Jesus is also inherently political, and King Jesus demands our allegiance above any other political loyalties we may have. What’s different is that he is completely just and has already secured victory in the ultimate battle against evil by his death and resurrection.
All of this leads to the following advice: Look to Jesus. Looking either left, at the failures of others who claim his name, or right, at the failures and limitations of politics, will leave you confused and disgruntled. Instead, look to him, to his teaching and his example. Make him your King and let his law guide you forward to walk in truth, justice and righteousness.
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