The Politics of Christ

The Canadian House of Commons, Ottawa, ON.

The Canadian House of Commons, Ottawa, ON.

It must have been a regular day, just like today but about 2000 years ago, when ordinary Jews heard of someone named Jesus. Perhaps His name made its way into the daily gossip, as people gathered around tables and wells, talking about this carpenter from Nazareth. As rumours spread, people’s curiosity may have peaked, wondering if they would catch a glimpse of Him. As He travelled, crowds gathered, wanting to hear His teachings or witness signs and miraculous healing.

One day, as the crowds drew close around Jesus, He went with His disciples up on the mountainside and began to preach. He talked about how the poor are blessed. He talked about salt and light, relationships, oaths, revenge, giving, love, and much more (Matthew 5-7).

Jesus got onto the topic of prayer, talking about its importance and how God knows what we ask even before we ask it. Then, there on the mount, He taught the gathered how to pray.

“Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven…”

Wait a minute. Thy kingdom come? What kingdom? What does it look like? Who can be in it? Did Jesus mean the Roman kingdom was coming to an end and another was to take its place? Was Jesus the long awaited king they had been waiting for?

Billions of Christians have prayed the Lord’s prayer. When we do so, we are actually praying for something amazing to happen. We are inviting the kingdom of God to come and make its home here on earth! That has significant implications for followers of Jesus. This kingdom is already present but still to come in full when Jesus returns. It looks very different from the world of Jesus’ day and ours. It’s distinctly counter-cultural.

As we live in this kingdom, we will soon find that the stipulations are blatantly political, and that’s where some of us put on the brakes. For many Christians in the West, we are hesitant to be political in our faith. We live in countries where many of us believe that our states are Christian, whatever that means, and we sometimes forget that our governments build their own kingdoms, not God’s kingdom. 

In order to keep their charitable status, charitable organizations in Canada are limited to using 10% of their time and resources on political advocacy. This may refer to openly supported or denouncing certain political parties or candidates, or overtly organizing around certain bills or laws. But the more I think about the revolutionary message of Jesus and the kingdom He established, I can’t help but think that all faith is political. 

In his new book, (re)union, Bruxy Cavey outlines the gospel (good news) in one word, three words, and thirty words. His gospel in three words is “Jesus is Lord.”

This statement is one of the earliest creeds of the first-century church. It may sound cliché, and I’m sure many of us have said or heard it, but in the context of earthly power, this is a deeply political statement.

First century Jews and Christian were not only living under Roman occupation, they were living in an empire that saw their nation-state and emperor as divine. Emperor worship along with the worship of many other gods was regular practice for Romans, enforced for all people. Christians, following Jesus under Roman power, were faced with a tough decision.

To say “Jesus is Lord” when Caesar claimed to be, was a political statement. As Cavey notes:

“…When we say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ we say a lot by what we are not saying at all. If Jesus is Lord, then Caesar is not, politics are not, power is not, economics are not, religion is not, fame is not, fashion is not, appearance is not, food is not, fitness is not, friends are not, and family is not.” - (re)union, p. 53

“Jesus is Lord” was not only a political statement, it was a dangerous one. If you didn’t worship Caesar, you were seen as a threat to the Roman empire. But these Christians believed that you can’t share allegiance. They believed it so much that they would rather die than take their allegiance away from Jesus alone. 

There’s so much in our culture that calls for our allegiance today. Every election, political candidates advertise themselves as the new saviour of our nation. Many times the church has become confused and has chosen to align itself with political powers. In these situations, Christians are asked to bow to both earthy power and Jesus, and the results are never good. Take the crusades, colonialism, the doctrine of discovery, residential schools, and American militarism as some of the examples.

We are called to stand up against injustice and fight against evil in loving, non-violent and self-sacrificing ways. As followers of Jesus, we can never forget that sometimes the evil and injustice lives in us, our communities, our economy, our culture, and our country. All of these things call for our allegiance. When we pledge it to them above or alongside our allegiance to Jesus, we can become blind to the ways in which we become perpetrators of oppression.

Does that mean that Christians are above the law? No. But when the places where we live force us to blindly follow policies of hate and injustice, we have historically chosen imprisonment and death over denouncing our allegiance to Jesus. Does this mean we should not be patriotic? No. But there is a difference between being proud of the country you live in and laying your love for Jesus aside when your country does things clearly out of line with God’s plan for life.

The nature of God’s kingdom is that there can only be one Lord - Jesus. When we gather for worship on a Sunday morning, not only do we worship God, but by worshiping God, we are declaring Him as Lord over everyone and everything else. To follow and worship Jesus is to be political.

The Lord’s prayer ends, “Thine be the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever, amen.” May these not only be words we say, but the actions that come out of our invitation to live into God’s kingdom.