If your preferred version of Christianity isn’t political, then you have likely misunderstood the religion.
Willimon on Politics and Christianity
Popular author and long-time United Methodist Bishop William H. Willimon delivered the T. B. Maston Lectures in Christian Ethics last year at Hardin-Simmons University. One address – “Say Something Polictical: A Christian Vision of Engaging the World” – appeared in print in the Winter 2016-2017 edition of the Window (a publication of the Logsdon Seminary & School of Theology at Hardin-Simmons University).
He began by declaring his thesis for the address:
. . . Christians do politics. And yet, following Jesus Christ, we don’t do politics the way the world does politics (p.4).
Then Willimon noted the tension between doing politics as a Christian and doing them more generally:
. . . Christians are sometimes tempted to substitute the world’s socially acceptable , governmentally subsidized, nine-out-of-ten-Americans-agree solutions for the solutions that are peculiarly related to Jesus Christ (p.7).
Both remarks, however, belong in the context of the world Jesus entered when he walked the earth around 2,000 years ago. Given the specific time and place Jesus found Jesus-self, it is clear that that Jesus’ teachings were explicitly political.
Willimon touches on this by introducing the talk with a commentary on Jesus’ temptation at the outset of his public ministry showing that it “all begins with Jesus rejecting the lordship of the kingdoms of this world” (p.4).
And both remarks were transformed from theory to practice through the stories of some of the many ways people enact Christian politics beginning with very personal actions of loving God by loving neighbor.
Reflecting on Willimon’s address, Meredith Stone – Director of Ministry Guidance at Logsdon – writes
By placing the true Lord, God, in opposition with the Roman Lord, Caesar, Jesus didn’t refuse politics. He faced it head-on. While his methods were, no doubt, varied and complex, Jesus did not shy away from engaging the political world.
. . . When Jesus faced crowds of people, Jesus was claiming to be the true benefactor who actually provided food for Roman people rather than taking away their economic resources. When Jesus announced the coming of the kingdom of God, He was saying that the world belonged to God and not to Rome. Jesus showed people the best version of politics, kingdom-of-God-politics, in which those who are blessed are peacemakers (Matt 5:9) instead of war-makers, and those who give their resources to others (Luke 18:18-22) instead of taking others’ resources to build up their own kingdoms. (p.10).
Now is not the time to withdraw from the world; now is the time for people who follow the Way of Jesus to engage the world in personal and political ways ensuring that both are grounded firmly in their faith.
- What was your initial reaction to the remark “Christianity is always political?” How have you experienced this to be true in your own life?
- How do you differentiate American party politics from the politics of those who follow the Way of Jesus? How should the politics of the Way of Jesus inform or infuse party politics (Republican, Democratic, Green, etc.)?