Opinion: Remembering how to be Jesus’ people


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(ABP) — This morning I was reading in 1 Peter 2, "Rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk."

Think of every political ad you have watched in the last month. Think of the nature of some of the exchanges between John McCain and Barack Obama in last night's debate. Think of the hateful scenes emerging from the political rallies as the speakers whip up the anger of the true believers in the crowd. Think of the fierce and hateful shouting on talk radio. Consider the malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander you have witnessed. Try to find a trace of Jesus in any of it.

David Gushee

Or consider these words from Romans 12: "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Live in harmony with one another. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone."

Consider the vengeful, unharmonious, political knife fights that happen each day during this election season. Consider the escalating negativity and viciousness. Try to find a trace of Jesus in any of it.

Truthful speech

The Bible places very high value on truthful speech. When Jesus taught us to "let your yes be yes and your no be no" (Mt. 5:37), he meant it. He was calling for his followers to speak the truth without manipulation, distortion or deceit. Political campaigns, especially this one in its late stages, attempt to gain some slight advantage by constant resort to manipulation, distortion and deceit, whether in the form of guilt-by-association, exaggeration of some small kernel of truth or character-defaming innuendo. Try to find a trace of Jesus in any of it.

Consider the claims of all four of our major candidates that they are Christians. That means they are all part of the Christian family, all brothers and sisters in Christ. Then consider these words from Philippians 2: "If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others."

Tenderness and compassion

Secular politics has no tenderness and compassion. The rivals demonstrate no like-mindedness, no common love, no unity of spirit and purpose. Precisely because of selfish ambition and perhaps even vain conceit every effort is made to portray the self as better than the other, and to advance the interest of my party over the interests of the other party. Secular politics is most often the antithesis of the self-emptying love of a Savior who would leave heaven, assume the form of a servant and die a cruel death for his enemies. Just try to find a trace of Jesus in it.

Jesus said: "You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."

Political campaigns at least in these waning days of the American Empire are most often about learning more and more reasons to hate our political enemies. We learn not just to disagree with our opponents' policies but to degrade their character and hate them. Just try to find a trace of Jesus in that.

The Christian Right organized itself a generation ago to "take back America for Christ," and eventually settled on a political strategy for winning its battle. Electing the right kind of Republicans would do it. Today one can find a smaller but parallel Christian Left organized to take back America from the (Republican) Christian Right, with a political strategy for winning its battle. Soldiers of Christ in truth arrayed, for God, Country and Party. And Jesus is nowhere to be seen.

Sliming the Bride of Christ

This politicized strategy has swallowed up the mission of the church. It has repeatedly defamed the name of Christ. Its ugliness has obscured the beauty of Christ — and slimed the Bride of Christ, his Church.

In attempting to use worldly means to achieve Christian goals the church has adopted the spirit and tactics of the world and lost its mission and identity. In the end, we did not make America more godly; we made the church more ungodly, thus hurting both the church and America. Just try to find a trace of Jesus in that.  

The early church "turned the world upside down" (Acts 17:6) not by playing the world's game better than the world but by forming faithful communities that obeyed and imitated Jesus Christ. They embodied a better way to live (Jesus' way) and thus transformed their culture.

Insofar as "Christians" are just another political tribe playing the world's game in the world's way, we are the most wretched of people, and will face the sternest of judgments. We must leave this path behind and rediscover our original calling and identity as followers of Jesus.

David Gushee is Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University.

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