Nuanced Politics

My friend Mike is fond of saying: "Christians make bad political allies."

Our allegiance, as Christians, is ultimately to Christ. If we hold fast to our faith, we'll side with him in every battle. We see the world through his lenses, not through the distorted political either-or's that populate political discourse today. And this means that when followers of Christ participate in political discourse, they present an extremely nuanced politics ... or should.

Sadly, this is not always the case. Today, one set of conservative, evangelical Christian leaders published a piece in a conservative newspaper saying that anti-immigrant politicians would lose the "evangelical vote." And another evangelical Christian with a huge media platform called for restricting immigration from the Middle East, coming right up to the point of calling for WWII-style internment camps. Both of these groups have lots of people who look to them for leadership, wisdom and guidance when engaging with political discourse. And both of these groups seem so confident that their political views represent faithful Christian thinking. What both of these groups lack in much of their political discourse is nuance. And they're not alone.

Why is nuance so often lacking in Christian political discourse?

1) Nuance gets missed. People read quickly, listen distractedly and jump to conclusions. This has always been the case, but it's heightened by the amount of noise in our modern lives and the number of demands on our attention. Communicate with nuance in the Wall Street Journal or on Facebook and the vast majority of your audience will miss your most important, subtle points. They'll quickly lump you into one category or another. This is - and has always been - the human way. (Remember the debates over Jesus? "Is he a prophet or the Messiah or Elijah or a demon or a good teacher?")
2) Nuance gets ignored. CS Lewis once famously said that "God whispers to us in our pleasures and shouts in our pain." Sometimes I think that only the pain of a no-nuance politics can make itself heard in our noisy national political discourse. Nuanced pieces don't get shared, boosted and retweeted. They're too long, too confusing. There is a perceived weakness that comes from a nuanced point of view. And we want our political and religious leaders to be strong, not weak. "I wish you were stronger on ________," the people say as they voice frustration with the political communication of their Christian leaders who are grappling honestly with the divide-breaking, spin-destroying, bad-ally-making politics that follow on following Jesus. Faithfulness is weakness, for we who follow Jesus follow one who climbed on the cross to become king.

The Lost Value of Orthodoxy

There is - in every corner of our society - an assault on the old value of orthodoxy. Disagreements get people thrown out of their tribes with snarky "farewells." And the tossed-out dust themselves off and form new tribes. The walls of the echo chambers get taller and the chambers themselves grow smaller and smaller. The air grows stale. And we become afraid.

Orthodoxy allows us to have relationship on the basis of common agreement about fixed principles, to have relationship across boundaries and barriers and political lines, to have relationship that values nuance. Every tension isn't resolved. Every circle isn't collapsed into a point.

Jesus pulled together revolutionary Zealots and Iscarii with a tax collector and some folks who probably paid their taxes. What's more, he pulled together men and women in an era when women would not commonly have been invited to sit at a rabbi's feet. His followers disagreed and fought. What held them together was Jesus. Take Jesus out of the picture and the coalition would break. And it almost did when he died.

I struggle to maintain that sense of clarity and focus, to keep my allegiance to Jesus at the forefront ... before all of my political allegiances. In Christ, I'm called to love and embrace even my brothers and sisters in Christ whose political comments I find offensive, cruel and stupid. I'm called to love even when everything in me seems to want to shout them down into the ground with all the force and strength I can muster. In the arena of politics I consistently discover areas where my love lacks maturity.

In his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," Dr. King said this: "In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action." I wonder if this season for me and for many who are trying to follow Christ faithfully in thinking about politics isn't a season of purification. Perhaps God must do something in us in order to do something through us. I think that will look like rediscovering the lost value of orthodoxy. If we're honest, it's just humble love by another name.

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