Witness

Setting Aside the World’s Categories: One Pastor’s Approach to Politics

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With interest I’m watching Christians arguing over which boxes they fit in. But it seems to me we’re arguing over boxes devised by a secular worldview.

A few weeks ago I was fascinated by this post by Episcopalian priest, Broderick Greer:

https://twitter.com/broderickgreer/status/1034858971826479105?lang=en

And more recently, we’ve read about John MacArthur’s statement on Social Justice and the various responses of evangelicals. It may be oversimplifying things, but it seems to me that we’re arguing over boxes which are not our boxes, using words which are not our words. According to scripture, the biggest distinction is between humans who have submitted to God and humans who haven’t. Our interest in that distinction not for the sake of judgement of those who don’t live in God’s ways, but so that we aren’t surprised if they choose their lifestyles and opinions without submission to a higher authority.

If we know we’re supposed to be one in Christ but then we notice that other Christians differ from us politically, it’s tempting to think, “Our Christian unity can only be possible if we all agree”—which leads us to argue them into our own political category so that we can finally get on with being the One Church.

Can Unity Face Disagreement?

But our unity is not based on agreement in all things. Our unity is based on our submission to Christ—a unity that is given, not attained. The problem is not that we don’t agree; the problem is that when we disagree, we behave in ways which don’t look like submission to one another, or to Christ, in our desperate efforts to make the Church “one” politically. Which only makes us more divided and anxious. And only makes us look less like Jesus. It only serves to reinforce the categories of the world.

Here’s an alternative: We can remember that regardless of whatever category the world puts us in, whatever candidates we vote for, whatever opinions we hold, if we are coming to those perspectives out of submission to God, we are able to remain in the same Christian category. We are in the “we shape our opinions and morals based on our submission to Scripture and the authority of God” category, and so we are one, even if our opinions differ. It stretches our imagination of what this Spirit is to consider that the same Spirit can fill us, different as we are. There is something we learn about Jesus, some way our own hearts are transformed when we choose to believe we are one with folks who are very different from us. In living with one another, in submission to Him and to one another, something happens in our hearts and we learn our identity is deeper than what box we check on a ballot.

There is something we learn about Jesus, some way our own hearts are transformed when we choose to believe we are one with folks who are very different from us. Click To Tweet

Let me tell you where I first learned this. As a woman feeling called into ministry and getting a lot of pushback, I was tempted to find more in common with non-Christians who affirmed me than with Christians who didn’t affirm me. For the sake of my call and my faith I had to choose to believe in my unity with those who could not affirm my call but did so out of their submission to their reading of the Bible. I submit to the same bible and even if our readings of that bible bring us to different places, we have to trust that God is One and we, in our limited understanding, don’t yet understand how our worldviews, shaped by the same scripture can be one. The break is in our limited understanding, not in the inherent nature of God or the Church. When we are willing to live in the discomfort of that difference, being with folks so different from us out of belief that the Spirit makes us one, we begin to imagine ourselves and one another and the Spirit in new, more expansive ways. We begin to step outside of the small boxes the world wants to press us into.

In every issue we confront, there’s the categories the world creates: Party A or Party B, Position A or Position B.

But here’s how I’m choosing to see it: according to the way Scripture distinguishes—those who submit to God’s authority (green box) and those who don’t (orange boxes).

This way, there are folks at either end of the spectrum who seem like opposites. But to us, they’re surprisingly similar because they’re choosing their opinions based on what seems right according to their own education, experience, intellect or emotions. If I’m honest, in some ways that way of choosing appeals to me, to determine my worldview based on what seems right to me. But we have chosen to submit ourselves to a higher power. And so we have chosen to set aside our personal preferences. But personal preferences are strong and it may take the rest of our lives to learn how to set them aside. So we don’t submit perfectly—to God or to one another—but we daily choose it, trusting that He’s slowly remaking us in his self-giving image.

Whose Categories?

To return to the tweet from Broderick Greer, it struck me as funny because he’s operating according to the world’s categories. In the world’s view, hipsters, Instagram, skinny jeans, theater, urban context, drum set = progressive worldview. As the female lead pastor of an urban church with our fair share of drum sets and skinny jeans, I often find people feel there was a bait and switch when they find that in some ways our congregation is pretty traditional. But that only reveals the categories they’re bringing to their experience of my church. It’s not an opportunity to get defensive but a discipleship opportunity, to remember that as we try to follow scripture it will mess with the world’s categories. I like that disruption!

And as we, in broader conversations and before the eyes of the world, choose to be one in spite of the categories the world shapes, it will disrupt those categories. As we figure out what it means to be with each other, even if we’re very different from each other, the world will say, “If those folks who are rich and poor, young and old, liberal and conservative, black and white can work out a way to be together, there must be something powerful they hold in common!” And maybe, as we live like this, we’ll start to see the power of it too.

If those folks who are rich and poor, young and old, liberal and conservative, black and white can work out a way to be together, there must be something powerful they hold in common! Click To Tweet
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