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Jesus Was Conservative (but not in the ways you’d think)

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This is part two to last week’s post: Jesus was a liberal.

This is a more difficult post to write because it’s so on the nose. Many people instantaneously associate Christianity with CONSERVATIVE values and traditional morals.

Conservative is rarely used as an insult in the church. Evangelicals and fundamentalists often wear it as a badge of honor. When liberals want to be demeaning, they tend to use more offensive words like fascist, implying that conservatives are imperialistic and controlling dictators. Heartless and archaic can be used as synonyms for conservative as well, implying that conservatives lack compassion for others and are stuck in the past.

So, was Jesus conservative? Let’s define terms and see exactly what fits and what doesn’t.

Did Jesus hold traditional values?

conservative | kənˈsərvədiv | adjective 1. holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics or religion.

As we established in the previous post, in terms of religious reform, Jesus was the opposite of conservative. He was literally “the progression” creation had been waiting for—for generations.

But that doesn’t mean that Jesus started a NEW religion. He was actually quite ancient in his teachings. He was very clear to say that he didn’t come to abandon the law, but to fulfill it.

When asked what the greatest commandments are, he didn’t throw everyone for a loop by inventing some new fangled phrasing. He quoted the shema, the traditional Hebrew phrase:

Love God with all your heart soul, mind, and strength.

There was almost nothing traditional about the methods Jesus used for ministry or his support for the existing religious institution, but there was something incredibly traditional, time-tested, and foundational about his purpose. He wasn’t around to teach something new, he was around to remind his followers of something very very old, to fulfill promises that were very very old. He fought for something that had gotten lost along the way. In this way, I’m proud to be conservative like Jesus.

For heaven’s sake, let us “love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength,” and let’s “love our neighbors as ourselves.”

Was Jesus Conventional in his Dress?
conservative | kənˈsərvədiv | adjective: (of dress or taste) 2. sober and conventional: a conservative suit.

Was Jesus conservative in dress? Who knows. This one is stupid. John the Baptist certainly wasn’t, he was just a few locusts away from homeless.

Was Jesus Financially Conservative?
conservative | kənˈsərvədiv |adjective: (of an estimate) 3. purposely low for the sake of caution: “the film was not cheap—$30,000 is a conservative estimate.

No. He wasn’t.

Remember the parable of the talents? Jesus strongly cautions against burying our money for fear of loosing it. He wants a healthy return. Now to be fair, Jesus is using a fiscal parable to illustrate a spiritual reality, but the concept is the same. Jesus doesn’t tend to be cautious when it comes to the use of our material resources, our talents, or our time. He’s looking for investments that multiply, which inherently requires risk.

When specifically talking about money, he challenges his followers not to build bigger and bigger barns to store up wealth on earth. By contrast, storing up wealth is sort of the mantra of a conservative.

On top of this, he has the “sell all” and “leave behind” clauses in the gospels. Those are not cautious approaches. So my take here: Jesus was not fiscally conservative. He would be an FPU drop out.

Was Jesus politically conservative?
conservative | kənˈsərvədiv | adjective: 4. (Conservative) relating to the Conservative Party of Great Britain or a similar party in another country.

No. In the last post we discussed that Jesus did not seem interested in political debate. If Jesus was going to engage in politics in our time, I’m nearly certain he wouldn’t just choose to be a republican or democrat. His citizenship is in heaven. His kingship is over all.

Remember, Jesus isn’t a US citizen, he couldn’t vote. When he does return, he’s coming illegally anyway, ain’t no immigration lines guarding the heavenlies.

Words Don’t Mean, People Do

Look, the reality is that nobody is going to the dictionary before they use these terms. When somebody is accusing someone of being too liberal or too conservative, they have something specific in their mind they are addressing. But in our fight for dignity, understanding, and unity, wherever it can be preserved, it might be good to be a little more nuanced in our speech.

“Maybe we shouldn’t be asking: Are you liberal or conservative? The better question is: In what ways does the gospel demand me to be liberal? What does the gospel demand I conserve?”

Maybe it could be healthy for us to realize that, like Jesus, we are all a little liberal and all a little conservative. It simply depends what is being discussed and who we are comparing ourselves to.

Maybe we shouldn’t be asking: Are you liberal or conservative?

The better question is: In what ways does the gospel demand me to be liberal? What does the gospel demand I conserve?

Your Politics Are Destroying Your Soul

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Your politics are destroying you, but that doesn’t make politics bad. In the last post, I argued that politics are about working towards the best for our common life together. So arguing against polarized or venomous politics is different than saying we shouldn’t care about politics. Following James K.A. Smith, I want to continue arguing that politics matter way more than we imagine, but in a completely different way than we imagine.

So much of our political engagement seems to be focused on gaining power and then using that power to accomplish our goals. I think we take it for granted that this is simply the way things work. I also think we need to pay attention to the ways our political processes shape us. We imagine that politics, religion, family life, etc. all occupy separate spaces, separate regions. So I can be a Christian or Buddhist in one space, a Republican or Democrat in another, and single or married in another. But Smith alerts us to the dangers of trying to spatialize our view of politics (amongst other things). He says simply: “Theological wisdom about the political begins when we stop asking where and start asking how” (Awaiting the King, 19).

“Politics matter way more than we imagine, but in a completely different way than we imagine. Beyond asking who we’re trying to get into power, we need to ask how our political approach itself shapes us.”

Obviously the Republican and Democratic platforms are different and members of those groups are reaching for different goals. But take a break from that type of thinking for a moment. Think less about what you’d like to see happen in terms of platform goals in some separate political sphere. Think instead about the current political process, and ask how that is shaping you.

When you take a group of people who want to see different political goals accomplished and set them apart as “the other political party” or “those crazy Conservatives/Liberals” or some worse label, what is that doing to the way you engage with the people around you? If you’re a Republican, do you have many Democrat friends with whom you can gracious talk politics? If you’re a Democrat, do you have many Republican friends like this? If not, shouldn’t that concern us? If so, you’re already subverting the hyper-partisanship that we’ve come to equate with “politics.”

We need gracious and nuanced conversations about specific, important issues. I have these kinds of conversations with my family, neighbors, and my church family fairly often. They can be awkward, and they’re not passionless conversations, but I feel genuinely uplifted during and after. Contrast that with our dug in polarization where we lump half of our neighbors into a camp that we simply dismiss or attack as though they’re idiots? Every time we allow ourselves to speak or post in these ways, we’re forfeiting a part of our souls.

“Our political engagement seems to be focused on gaining power and then using that power to accomplish our goals. But take a minute to ask how that type of political process is shaping you. It has a bigger impact than you think.”

The how of our political engagement matters. The problem is not that we’re polarized. That’s more a symptom. The problem is that we’re so willing to lump people together and discard all of their views. We’re committed to a small “us,” which makes it helpful to rally against a “them.” From my vantage point in California, it’s hard to imagine anything Governor Newsom could do that my Republican friends would applaud. It’s hard to imagine anything President Trump could do that my Democratic friends would applaud. I’m not saying there aren’t principled reasons why we oppose certain actions, I’m just saying we’ve created a system in which half of our country doesn’t seem willing or even able to root for and work alongside the other half of the country.

It’s hard to build something with people you’ve spent months or years demonizing.

“You can have right theology but be a jackass about it. And that makes you wrong. In the same way, you can have great political goals and beliefs and be a jackass about it. And that makes you wrong.”

To be clear, here are some things I haven’t said. I haven’t said you shouldn’t hold firm opinions or convictions. I haven’t said you shouldn’t align with a political party. I haven’t denied the possibility that a person could look at a single political party and believe deeply that it aligns more with biblical truth than another party.

What I am saying is this: the way we engage in politics matters. If you are pro-vitriol, then by all means spread vitriol in the way you post and talk about politics. But if you’re anti-vitriol, rethink the way you’re promoting your good cause or the candidate you admire. If you believe nuance and decency are genuine goods for society, then don’t ignore them when you talk about politics and hope that these traits will magically characterize the rest of society.

From the beginning, we’ve argued that you can have right theology but be a jackass about it. And that makes you wrong. In the same way, you can have great political goals and beliefs and be a jackass about it. And that makes you wrong.

I’m tempted to say that all of our politics right now are wrong in this way. But I know that isn’t true. The loudest, least sensitive, least nuanced, most jackassy voices get the most press. Don’t let that draw you in as though that’s just what we’ve got to do in 2020. Let’s subvert that. Let’s bring back human dignity. Let’s bring the fruit of the Spirit back to our politics, and every other part of life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22–23).

Memorial Day’s Lesson for Our Polarized World

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I’m not the best one to write about Memorial Day. But as I grow increasingly disappointed with the polarization of seemingly every aspect of our world right now, Memorial Day seems almost shocking by comparison.

I’m not pro-war by any stretch. I have major questions and concerns regarding my country’s spending on and general approach to war. Honestly, I don’t know anything about this, so I’ll refrain from saying anything ignorant. But with Memorial Day, we remember military personnel who died while serving in our Armed Forces. In other words, we’re celebrating people who laid aside their own self-interests. I don’t believe I need full confidence in the righteousness of every military campaign to recognize the goodness of a person sacrificing themselves. (Isn’t this how a whole generation felt about the Vietnam wars?)

By contrast, it seems to me that our division stems from each individual’s unwillingness to concede a point. It seems that each person is demanding that everyone else agree with their perspective. Anyone who disagrees with me is an idiot. Anyone who doesn’t belong to the party is an idiot or a nazi or an enemy of humanity. Everyone is demanding their own rights. No one acquiesces. No one is willing to live with tension or conflicting beliefs. When a person’s actions don’t fit our approach to life or politics, we mock them.

“When each demands his or her own way, everyone thinks they’re getting what they deserve, but what we’re actually doing is building our own hell.”

It should be shocking to us. In the early days of the pandemic, it seemed all humanity was united in a common experience. Now people are being mocked for wearing masks in public, even as people are being mocked for refusing to wear masks in public. We have lost the ability to see things from another’s perspective. To concede that they might have a legitimate concern or—even if we can’t understand where they’re coming from—to grant that it’s okay for them to do things differently. You’re a fool and an agent of evil if you believe and follow what the government says. Or you’re a fool and an agent of evil if you don’t believe and follow what the government says. And when the government changes policies, the shoe is suddenly on the other foot, and we make the same accusations that were just hurled against us.

When each demands his or her own way, everyone thinks they’re getting what they deserve, but what we’re actually doing is building our own hell.

Meanwhile, walk through a military cemetery. The gravestones are uniform, and unless you take the time to look at individual names, it’s a nearly-endless repetition of the same theme. And that theme is startling in contrast to our current political-social-theological moment. The theme is willingness to sacrifice oneself. Again, I’m not trying to make every fallen vet into a saint. I’m not trying to paint war as noble. There are plenty of others who will do all of those things for you. What I’m saying is that giving your life for something that does not serve your best interests feels like something from a distant past or another planet. It seems to me that most of those soldiers probably retained their will to live. But they weren’t demanding their right to live on their terms or at all cost.

“A military cemetery carries a theme: giving your life for something that does not serve your best interests. In this climate, that feels like a lesson from the distant past or another planet.”

There’s a lesson in that for all of us. We pour contempt on congress every time they vote entirely along partisan lines, refusing to work together for the greater good. But what indication is there that American society is any better in any way? Are we not repeating the party lines as delivered by the news outlets to which we pledge our allegiance?

I’m not saying I’m above any of this, by the way. Only that I’m convicted. And that I’d like to improve. I’d like to see an America where people can yield their rights for the sake of others. Where people are willing to serve rather than insist. Where we listen more than we protest. Where relationships matter more than party platforms (or at least are not chosen solely on the basis of party affiliation).

And as I’m typing this, I’m realizing that I’m also describing the many people who have been going to work in hospitals and first responder jobs every day and setting aside their best interests for the many people who desperately need their care. And the law enforcement officers in my own church who lay aside their political beliefs to provide crowd control for protestors demanding their political beliefs win the day.

I’m honestly not trying to paint anyone as evil here. We have a political process that allows us all to hold firm beliefs and express them. You have the right to do that, you don’t have to listen to me. But let’s also consider our opportunities to honor and serve someone else by giving up our rights here and there. We have cemeteries full of people who have shown that this is possible. Perhaps Memorial Day this year could be a reminder of a nobler element of society than we typically see in an election year.

Why Can’t We Have Rational Dialogue?

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Have you ever made the mistake of trying to change someone’s opinion on Twitter, Facebook, or a blog comment? It’s a crazy trap that so many of us have fallen into. We lay out our best arguments only to be attacked, yelled down, and misunderstood. If we’re not careful, it’s easy to get sucked into responding, which only makes matters worse.

Why is this? Why is it so impossible to dialogue and persuade?

Jonathan Haidt gives a compelling piece of the answer in his book The Righteous Mind. If you have the time, this book is worth reading. Haidt is a great writer. His concepts are convincing and the studies he interacts with are fascinating.

Here’s Haidt’s overall contention: Judgment and justification are separate processes. It’s that simple. That’s a profound statement, but I know it’s confusing. Read the book, but I’ll unpack that a little bit.

We all think we make moral judgments (what’s good, what’s bad) on the basis of carefully considered arguments. In other words, we THINK that we begin with reason and end by making a judgment. But Haidt contends that the exact opposite is true. What happens in reality, he says, is that we make a moral judgment almost instantly, and then we employ our reasoning skills to justify the judgment we’ve already made.

Perhaps that sounds exactly right to you. It explains the “confirmation bias” we all have trouble escaping. I find it extremely helpful in explaining my own actions and those I observe in others. But if you need more convincing or explaining, keep reading.

Haidt describes a study done by Alexander Todorov in which he flashed the images of two faces on a screen in front of subjects who were unfamiliar with those faces. The subjects were then asked which person seemed more competent. What Todorov did not tell the subjects is that the two faces were opponents in senatorial and gubernatorial races. 70% of the time, the candidate that subjects deemed more competent (a judgment they made in seconds) also went on to win the election.

“We think we begin with reason and end by making a judgment. But Haidt contends that the opposite is true: We make an instant moral judgment, then we employ reason to justify the judgment we’ve already made.”

What’s going on here? The participants in this study couldn’t determine anything about the person’s positions, character, beliefs, etc. But they did what people do: they made a snap judgment that determined whether or not they thought that person was competent. And their choice was America’s choice most of the time! The implication is that as much as we believe we’re weighing a candidate’s positions and character, we’re usually just voting for the person we’re predisposed to like (a decision we make instantly).

But once we’ve made a snap judgment, we instantly begin employing our reasoning to explain why we made that choice.

Haidt refers to this process as “the intuitive dog and its irrational tale.” We decide intuitively, then our mental faculties kick in to provide that rationality (which Haidt says is so unlike “rationality” as we think of it that it’s more like irrationality). He puts it more plainly by saying, “intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second.”

Our reasoning is less like a philosopher that employs wisdom to decide where we should go and more like a press secretary who has to stand before the world and explain the President’s policy decisions—decisions which she had no role in developing.

Is there any hope, then? Are we all just locked into our own intuitions, completely unable to dialogue or help each other act in wisdom rather than pure intuition?

Haidst sees hope in other studies which show that when a subject is given time to reflect, their rational faculties play a larger role in shaping their judgments. Do you see the implication there?

When we allow ourselves to respond quickly, we’re basing it all on unreasoned intuition. When we slow down enough to reflect, weigh, and consider, we give our rationality a seat at the table in deciding what we should do.

Unfortunately, most of our decisions are made quickly. Our opinions of people are formed in seconds. Our consideration of candidates and character and theological positions are more knee-jerk reactions than carefully weighed conclusions. So we rarely give ourselves a chance to slow down and form a healthy opinion. We just listen to the news station our tribe has taught us to tune into.

The truth is, you’ve already written this entire blog off, or you’ve immediately accepted it. You knew what you thought about it pretty early on. And that’s okay. But it helps to understand the process. And when we recognize the (ir)rational tale being wagged by the intuitive dog, we can choose to slow down. To engage in dialogue. To do some research or ask some questions or—what’s best—get to know some real people. Maybe then we can all have some constructive dialogue about the things that matter.

How Will You React to the Completed Election?

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The election is on November 3: decide now how you’ll respond. On one level, it doesn’t seem like any of us knows what to expect when the election is over. On another level, we all know exactly what to expect. There’s going to be division, gloating, outrage, cries of injustice and rigging, anger, joy, mourning, celebration, and so much more. That’ll be the case if we find out on November 3 who wins. It’ll only be intensified and mixed with more accusations and angst if the election is undecided for days, weeks, or months after election day.

So how are you going to respond to all of this?

If you’ve been the Political Jackass, you’ll either find your hopes dashed or realized. You’ll either fall into anger, lashing out and explaining how ignorant and idiotic the Winner and his supporters are, or you’ll launch into a triumphant euphoria, realizing that everything is going to be okay now that your political goals are likely to be achieved.

I’m sorry to state it so bluntly, but both responses are stupid. Both stem from a jackassery wherein our hope is not most fundamentally in Jesus but in a this-worldly system of gain and triumph that is transparently an alternative religion. We use religious terminology for our political jackassery, which reveals the idolatry at the root of our political polarizations. It’s not that we can’t be principled voters who stand in conviction. I’m arguing that if we’re pledging allegiance to a political party or a candidate, then our allegiance is not ultimately in Jesus. If we’re pledging allegiance to one nation over another, our faith is somewhat shallow. Does that sound harsh? Consider this:

Matthew Bates frames faith as allegiance in his book Gospel Allegiance, and I think he’s right to do so. So pledging allegiance elsewhere is at least close to putting our faith in something or someone other than Jesus.

“How will you respond to the completed election? Decide now. There’s no reason to be surprised by the fallout of this thing.”

If your allegiance/faith is in a candidate that wins, you’ll be over the moon thrilled to the point that it will either manifest in relief, gloating, or some other form of euphoria. If your allegiance/faith is in a candidate that loses, you’ll be devastated to the point that it will either manifest in anger, depression, or some other form of dysphoria. But if your allegiance/faith is in Jesus, then the results of an election couldn’t possibly rock you very deeply.

If your faith/allegiance is primarily in Jesus, then your response to the completed election will have more to do with your feelings of compassion for other people than about your political goals being achieved or dashed. Win or lose, you’ll see people’s laid-bare hopes and disappointments as an opportunity to disciple them toward Jesus and all of the healing and hope that he offers.

So how will you respond to the completed election? Decide now. There’s no reason to be surprised by the fallout of this thing. If we renounce Jackass Politics now, we can be perfectly poised to help other people counterbalance in the wake of the coming train wreck and find ways to move forward together in a beautiful hope.

Political Healing Before the Votes Are Cast or Counted

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I don’t care who you vote for. I have no intention of trying to persuade you regarding party affiliation, ideal candidates, or which issues are worth a single-issue approach to voting. But I’m going to begin posting about politics for a bit here because I think we need it desperately. I need it. We are prone to be political jackasses. This coming election has already been ugly, and it’s going to get worse. If we’re going to survive this election and its aftermath with our souls intact, we’re going to have to start NOW to work toward political healing. We’re going to have to de-escalate the partisanship and the spiritual-political bullying. We’ll need to set our hearts on something other than party politics. Because politics matters way less and way more than we currently think.

“If we’re going to survive this election and its aftermath with our souls intact, we’re going to have to start NOW to work toward political healing.”

We’ve got to go deeper than misguided questions like “How would Jesus vote?” That’s too myopic, it carries too many previous assumptions. I think a better question would be “How would Jesus have us engage with the project of our common life together?”

In this and the following posts, I want to interact with James K. A. Smith’s book Awaiting the King. Here’s how he frames the importance of a nuanced Christian engagement in politics:

“The church is not a soul-rescue depot that leaves us to muddle through the regrettable earthly burden of ‘politics’ in the meantime; the church is a body politic that invites us to imagine how politics could be otherwise. And we are sent from worship to be Christ’s image-bearers to and for our neighbors, which includes the ongoing creaturely stewardship and responsibility to order the social world in ways that are conducive to flourishing but particularly attentive to the vulnerable—the widows, orphans, and strangers in our midst” (16).

Our Christian engagement in politics is not about aligning with a party we consider to be more Christian, or a candidate that we consider to be more Christian, or a policy or platform that we consider most important. It’s bigger and more important than any of that.

We have a Christian responsibility to engage politics because it’s a facet of our common life together. Politics is one aspect of our needed realization that we do not live isolated lives. It’s easy for us to acknowledge that the concept of Church is important because it binds us to other people, it keeps us from unhealthy individualism. The same is true of society as a whole. We share a common life. It’s not just about an “I” and the preferences that accompany that “I.” It’s a “we,” so we must work toward the flourishing of that “we.”

This makes politics difficult in precisely the same way that public schooling is difficult. Public schools are often criticized for having lower test scores compared to private schools. But what we often miss in this assessment is that private schools choose which students they’ll accept; public schools take every student. So their test scores reflect honor students and English language learners who are taking standardized tests presented in a language they don’t yet know well. Public school, by definition, must work for the good of everyone. Which is a blessing and a curse. In many ways it’s better to make education individualized in the way a homeschool parent is able to do. In other ways, there’s an inherent good in making sure that every student has access to education.

This is how politics works also. Which is why our partisanship becomes so ugly. We want our interests represented and we want that to be good enough for everyone. But thinking of our common life together must push us to acknowledge that I’m not the only stake holder here. My opinions and needs matter, but so do those of the people around me. This is also why government can’t be run just like a business, or simply like a business. It has to care for all citizens, not just the ones that can be profitably catered to.

Our country is worse off if we all demand our special interests. We need to recover a sense of the common good. Of rooting for each other to flourish. Of being able to acknowledge the good that’s worth fighting for in the other person’s camp. Is it hard to imagine that our camp, that the people who think exactly like we do, might be overlooking some things that another camp sees more clearly and fights for more aggressively?

I’m not saying you shouldn’t vote with passion. I’m not saying you shouldn’t back a candidate. But I am calling all of us to zoom out a bit. How can we, as followers of the true King, work toward human flourishing in our common life together? Perhaps you’ve asked and answered that question already, and that’s why you’re set on voting as you intend to, why you post the things you post on social media, why you engage in the battles you engage in. But I ask you not to assume that your politics are in order, or that any political party is worthy of your allegiance. Let’s take a cue from Jamie Smith and see ourselves as “sent from worship to be Christ’s image-bearers to and for our neighbors.” If that sounds worthwhile, join me in the weeks ahead while I muse on some of the ways politics shape us, and the ways we can express our allegiance to Jesus by engaging in the political side of our common life together. I promise not to tell you how to vote, I just want us all to fight the inner political jackass.

Lame Duck Politics & the Kingdom of God

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Now that the election is over, we can get back to the real work of politics. I don’t say that to disparage what happens with presidential elections, it’s obviously hugely important. But as I’ve been arguing, we must keep politics in proper perspective.

With the election of Joe Biden, Donald Trump has become what’s known as a lame duck president, meaning that he’s still technically “in power” but is limited in what he can accomplish because his administration is coming to a close.

That’s actually a perfect illustration of what our human politics are actually like.

James K. A. Smith argues that we should view politics with greater nuance than siding with either Republicans or Democrats. We should not think that politics are unimportant, nor should we imagine that all of our problems have political solutions. Instead, he calls us to view our political engagement in terms of an overlap of kingdoms. Yes, we have human governments and authorities. And yes, God’s kingdom rules over all. While we’re sometimes taught to separate these powers (a separation of church and state kind of argument) and keep politics out of religion and vice versa, Smith calls us to acknowledge that Christianity has political ramifications and makes political claims, and also that political leaders make religious claims and carry religious implications.

Here’s how it works:

“It’s not that ‘secular’ authorities have full authority over a limited jurisdiction; they have only delegated authority for a time” (James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Reforming Public Theology, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017, 159).

So how do we get to work politically now that the election is over? Not by moving back into a siloed world of religion while we let politics take its course. Nor by getting caught up in party politics. Instead, the call now—as always—is to be drawn so closely into the words, works, and ways of Jesus that he shapes every area of our life, including our public life together (which is what politics are ultimately about).

Smith quotes the Anglican ethicist Oliver O’Donovan on the way the first Christian stood up to the insanely harmful Roman political leaders of the first few centuries: “The church addressed society and it addressed rulers. Its success with the first was the basis of its great confidence in confronting the second… Christ conquered the rulers from below, by drawing their subjects out from under their authority.”

This means that those early Christians didn’t base everything on who gained or lost power in the empire. It mattered, of course, whether the ruler was actively killing people for their faith or whether they were allowed to live in peace. But the early church got busy showing regular people who Jesus was and helping them discover all of the implications of his life and death on their behalf. O’Donovan is saying that this effort was so effective that eventually the Roman leaders had to face that their political power was being undermined by the faith commitments of individual people.

I’m not saying that we need to only worry about individual souls and not politics. What I’m suggesting is that we take a deep breath now that the election is over and get back to the real work of (1) introducing people to Jesus’ revolutionary love and (2) doing whatever is in our own limited spheres of power to help the principles of the Kingdom of Christ become reality in the here and now (read Matthew 5–7 for what those principles entail).

“The governing authorities matter, but all of their power is delegated from the only one who has true authority. And their authority is a temporary, relativized, lame-duck authority.”

Smith, a Canadian, gives the example of taking international flights from Toronto to the U.S. When he goes to the international gate, there is an overlap of jurisdiction. He waits for his flight on Canadian soil, but he’s gone through American security protocols and uses American dollars in the terminal. He’s sort of in American jurisdiction, but if there were an emergency, Canadian authorities would respond. These are the strange overlapping dynamics we experience in terms of the kingdom of God and governmental authority. There’s ambiguity, there’s overlap. The governing authorities matter, but all of their power is delegated from the only one who has true authority. And their authority is a temporary, relativized, lame-duck authority. How that authority gets used matters, but we ultimately owe our allegiance to a God who exceeds their authority and who is working in this world in ways that are far more powerful than anything a government can come up with.

So let’s continue following Jesus and his kingdom. As O’Donovan says, God has no spies. Instead, he sends prophets to speak truth to power and to call every person and every area of society to bow the knee to Jesus’ kingship. That work matters whether our candidate is in power or not. It matters whether it’s an election year or not. And that’s work we can stay busy pursuing even during a human transition of “power.”

The Church’s Tone & Emphasis Problem

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The Church has a tone and emphasis problem, which ties in to our PR problem. We are often speaking the truth, but we seem to have forgotten what it means to do this in love. Though I hear many evangelicals explain that they are “speaking the truth in love” they seem to be taking it to mean “I will say whatever I need to say to you in whatever tone I need to say it and that in itself is a loving act.” In other words, it’s loving to make sure people know what’s right; I don’t have to worry about being loving as I dispense that truth.

This is our tone problem. And actually, many times we are spouting our opinions—in many cases our unearned opinions–and calling those God’s truth. When we do this, we’re neither speaking the truth, nor doing so in love.

I’m old enough to have seen Christians get really worked up and focused on whether or not Christians are allowed to drink and whether or not Christians are allowed to listen to “secular” music. I’ve seen Christians advocate at full volume and with all of the self-righteous piety of a Puritan preacher that courtship and homeschooling are the only non-sinful options (I’m exaggerating, but only slightly). I’ve lived through periods when the Church’s biggest battles were over partisan politics—with many instances of churches bringing literal political candidates to “preach” in their pulpits. Lately we’re caught up in wokism and anti-wokism. We’re losing our minds over the prospect of women preaching. This list will never stop growing.

Let’s step back and take a breath for a minute. What does God call us to do in this world? Is it possible we’ve raised up as primary some issues that were never meant to be?

“We seem to be taking ‘speaking the truth in love’ to mean ‘I will say whatever I need to say to you in whatever tone I need to say it and that in itself is a loving act.'”

In Miguel de Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote, the eponymous hero fights boldly and bravely. No one can hold him back from what he knows is right. He disregards the protests of enemies and friends alike when they tried to dissuade him from his mission because he knows what’s right and he will boldly stand and defend truth and justice. The problem, of course, is the very thing that makes Don Quixote a comedy. Don Quixote is utterly misguided throughout the entire novel. In the book’s most famous episode, when Don Quixote attacks the ferocious giants terrorizing the country peasants, he’s actually attacking a row of windmills. With deep conviction. With full self-righteousness. But he’s utterly deluded.

I fear that this is a decent parable for the modern evangelical church. We’ve been brave. We’ve been bold. We’ve applauded for each other when we’ve fought the culture wars and said the things that are really difficult but important to say, such as correcting a minimum wage retailer who dares to utter “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Few could accuse the evangelical church of lacking passion or not standing up for what we believe in.

The problem is that we’ve often been fighting like Don Quixote. Under the banner of being biblical we’ve often been jackasses. Under the pretext of being Christlike, we’ve often failed in the very things that Jesus said were the most important: loving God and loving our neighbors.

“Here’s a helpful rule of thumb: If you find your theological convictions making you less like Jesus, then something is off.”

I’m not suggesting that we grow soft on biblical truth. I want to stand firm on everything Jesus stood firm on. But I want to be careful to say the things that Jesus said in the way that Jesus said them. I want to hold those truths in such a way that I actually look and act and feel to other people like Jesus!

Here’s a helpful rule of thumb: If you find your theological convictions making you less like Jesus, then something is off. If you can’t live consistently with your beliefs in such a way that your life looks like Jesus’ life, then you’re missing something.

I am a conservative American Christian. There are very few areas where I have come to disagree with the Christianity I was taught growing up or even with my very conservative seminary training. But I have come to see numerous areas in which some aspects of that theology were wrongly emphasized, or held with a sinful level of certainty, or wielded like a weapon rather than borne in love and grace. And I have also seen many of my brothers and sisters (and also myself) turn to other battles that we have never been called to.

So I am continuing to try to live in that journey of pursuing the words, works, and ways of Jesus. It’s not enough to quote chapter and verse. We have to quote chapter and verse while also living in love and embodying the grace that God so readily extends to everyone around us. That is the journey of Jackass Theology. And I’m deeply thankful for a growing group of people that are on that same journey with me.