Editorial Note: Kingdom and Country: Following Jesus in the Land that You Love is the second book in the Kingdom Conversations series, a publishing initiative between Missio Alliance and NavPress. Angie Ward serves as the general editor for this series. Kingdom and Country is available September 6, 2022.
Kingdom and Country seems a relevant title given the news right now. Why this book, with this topic, now?
Many of us are exhausted, checked out, or filled with despair at the irretractable polarization, political gridlock, and general nastiness that encompasses most national dialogue in the United States in this cultural moment.
Kingdom and Country was written to help each of us have these needed conversations. The very first chapter explores why the intersection of faith and politics is so emotionally charged and how we can have conversations in the midst of our polarized climate. I’m tired and discouraged, too. But I am also convinced that as followers of Christ we must learn to dialogue graciously. This book is hopefully a tool to that end.I am convinced that as followers of Christ we must learn to dialogue graciously. Click To Tweet
In your introduction, you write:
“What can we do to stop this madness? Let’s start by calling out the elephant—wait, bad political metaphor—let’s name the things that are dividing us. Let’s look together at Scripture, theology, history, and Jesus’ example, and what they have to say to us today. And let’s get personal—as in, looking at ourselves, examining our temptations to participate in partisanship and to pursue power, and how these affect the trajectory of our hearts and the power of our witness.”
- What is the main thing that is dividing us?
- How does Jesus’ example speak to us uniquely today?
- Why are Christians so susceptible to the temptation of power?
I think we are currently divided by different understandings of the gospel, different versions of American history, and therefore by different perspectives on what the Christian response should be during our current political and cultural moment. These are significant—I would say dichotomous—differences:
- If you believe the gospel is about privilege and that America needs to recapture its divinely privileged status as a Christian nation, then you will think we are in the midst of a great battle and that power is needed to win the war.
- If, on the other hand, you believe that the gospel is about giving up power and status and that America does not hold an entitled position and instead has, at times, even been the cause of great suffering, then you will take a very different approach, recognizing our sins and our need for humility.
Jesus never discounted the authority of human governments, but he also made it clear that those who followed him were to operate from a different value system, one that did not first seek to cut off someone’s ear or to argue about who was right or who would be sitting in the privileged position.
Jesus never discounted the authority of human governments, but he also made it clear that those who followed him were to operate from a different value system, one that did not first seek to argue about who was right. Click To Tweet
Why is a clear-eyed critique of Christian nationalism and the nature of a Christ-follower’s allegiance to one’s country critically important for Christian leaders to consider as they seek to lead in these days?
I think the term “clear-eyed” is key. I read and hear a lot of critique (perhaps more accurately “criticism”) from all sides, but in my experience much of it is clouded by personal assumptions and biases that have never been subject to scrutiny, especially under the light of Scripture. We have been blinded by our limited perspective and our unwillingness to consider others. This deeply hurts our witness as Christians when we are disregarded as closed-minded.
In 2009, Gregory Boyd wrote the following in The Myth of a Christian Nation:
“I believe a significant segment of American evangelicalism is guilty of nationalistic and political idolatry. To a frightful degree, I think, evangelicals fuse the kingdom of God with a preferred version of the kingdom of the world . . . Rather than focusing our understanding of God’s kingdom on the person of Jesus . . . many of us American evangelicals have allowed our understanding of the kingdom of God to be polluted with political ideals, agendas, and issues.”
How does your work further the dialogue?
Thirteen years later, I think Boyd’s words ring truer than ever. If anything, we are more guilty, more frightful, more fused, and less inclined to civil dialogue. Kingdom and Country focuses on a discipleship perspective. Instead of starting from one political perspective or another, the contributors and I have tried to encourage readers to start with Christ as our center and our guide. I believe this will be the only way to find common ground and to appropriately frame the conversation. We must be identified as disciples of Christ, first and foremost, not as Democrats or Republicans, Americans, Canadians, Australians, or whatever country we’re from. I hope Kingdom and Country will help with that refocusing, if readers are willing to listen and learn.
How has the American church contributed to the widening division within our land in the past several years? And how can the American church help to heal our land?
I think the American church has contributed to the division by putting country before the cross, not just in our actual political views, but in how we interact with others about these issues. Many in our churches—not just congregants, but also clergy—seem more concerned with demonstrating against our perceived political enemies than with demonstrating the fruits of the Spirit, more interested in protecting our rights than protesting injustice.
When pastors and leaders do speak up, they are cancelled instead of trusted and respected for correction. I know of many churches in which congregants have withheld giving or just plain left the church because the pastor did not fully support their political views. I’ve personally been told that I was liberal because I was not a Trump supporter.
In some ways, I think this is a reflection of a postmodern cultural mindset in which each of us can determine what is true. However, I also think the church is reaping what it has sown. For decades, many churches have catered to attendees’ preferences instead of challenging them to a cruciform lifestyle. We have not called people to full discipleship. It’s no wonder this has spilled into the issues of politics and patriotism and is coming back to bite the church.
I think the church is reaping what it has sown. For decades, many churches have catered to attendees’ preferences instead of challenging them to a cruciform lifestyle. We have not called people to full discipleship. Click To Tweet
I commend the churches and pastors who are refusing to bow to the political idols of the day, even at great personal and organizational cost. Pastors and churches that are trying to heal our country don’t get the coverage or the clicks, but they are fostering conversations in their congregations and local communities, helping people to listen to one another and to take seriously the call to follow Jesus Christ in a polarized culture.
How can we listen to marginalized, ignored voices that addresses the complex divides in our country—particularly our brothers and sisters of color, women, global voices, and those in lower socioeconomic classes?
A colleague of mine once told me that the church of the future—which is now the church of today—will be led by the marginalized because they are resilient and know how to fight through adversity. These individuals don’t have access to the power positions or structures that so many Christians are obsessed with. Therefore, they have learned to lead on the ground, not from the top, leading from the margins, not the center. This to me feels a lot more like what Jesus taught about how the kingdom works. It’s a completely different perspective on power. We need to listen to the marginalized and ignored not only to know how to lead differently but to hear about and repent for the ways our methods have caused this marginalization in the first place.We need to listen to the marginalized and ignored not only to know how to lead differently but to hear about and repent for the ways our methods have caused this marginalization in the first place. Click To Tweet
What did you learn personally while editing this project?
It’s a privilege for me to serve as general editor of the Kingdom Conversations series. As I edited this book, I was challenged, in particular, to think about what allegiance means and where mine really lies, to embrace as normal the tension of living on earth as a citizen of God’s kingdom, and to examine which national narratives and origin stories I have accepted or perpetuated without critical examination.
What is bringing you hope in this cultural moment?
I am definitely not finding hope in the national news or in doomscrolling on my phone. The minute I do that, I can literally feel my anxiety grow. Instead, I’m finding hope in my local faith community, where I’m surrounded by brothers and sisters who take Jesus’s words seriously and are seeking to shape their lives around him as leader of their lives. We gather weekly around the Word and the table to remember that there is One who is much greater than we are. We go from there and seek to bring the love and grace of Jesus to the people we meet throughout the week. That’s an upside-down kingdom, and that’s what brings me hope.We gather around the Word and the table to remember that there is One who is much greater than we are. We go from there and seek to bring the love and grace of Jesus to the people we meet. That’s an upside-down kingdom. Click To Tweet