He said to them, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Luke 20:25)
I had an unsettling conversation the other day. It wasn’t because the person did or said anything particularly wrong, but because the story they told made me realize that not only are the divisive politics of the day affecting us as a nation, they are also affecting us as a church. You see, this person (let’s call them Bill) was in an office waiting room where they ran into another person (let’s call them Ted) that goes to our church. Ted began commenting quite emphatically on the current political situation and leadership that we have in the United States. Bill felt completely opposite from Ted, and stated so. At that point Ted said something along the lines of, “oh, I thought you were one of us!”
Now I would like to believe that Ted was being tongue-in-cheek, and was also referring only to political affiliation and not to our church community. Nevertheless, it caused Bill to begin to worry that they were not really a part of our church community if everyone else in our church community felt the way Ted did. You see, whether it was intended or not, Ted made Bill feel as if they were not welcome in our church. However, as I talked to Bill they also expressed that they found it difficult to know that on Sunday there were people sitting in the seats around them that held a political view so diametrically opposed to their own. That was because they felt that the opposing political view was not just an opposing political view, but was actually evil and wrong. That’s a belief that I am pretty sure is shared by Ted as well, only regarding Bill’s political view.
If you think I am being overly careful (as well as a little confusing!) by not being clear about which side of the political spectrum Bill and Ted are on, I will tell you it is because IT DOESN’T MATTER! You can read Bill as a trump loving conservative and Ted as a Trump hating liberal, or vice versa. In fact, we have both types of people in our church community. And while people are free to hold whatever political opinion they may or may not have, this should never become something that divides us as a church.
I could talk about how we need to be able to have political disagreement and discourse without believing the people on the other side are actually evil. Certainly that is true. Regardless, opposing political viewpoints are never something that should divide us as a church. Politics are not what the church is about. And despite what many people believe, on both sides of the aisle, being Christian does not necessitate a certain political view (especially when strictly divided into only two camps).
The number one thing we are called to do as Christians is to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ and nurture disciples. Jesus said, “Therefor go and make disciples of all nations” which includes both evangelism (making) and nurturing believers in their faith (which is inherent in the understanding of a disciple as one who follows the teachings of Christ). The methods that he gives us to do this are by “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Baptizing deals with our relationship with God, and Teaching is mostly about commands to love and serve one another. Neither of those has anything to do with espousing a particular political ideology.
I will digress for a moment to make something clear. Christians are free to participate in the political process. Government is God ordained (Romans 13) and we are free to participate in it. I actually have rather deeply held political views, myself. You probably just don’t know what they are, however, because I set aside my desire to talk about them for the sake of leading people to Christ. But all these politics have nothing to do with the Kingdom of God.
“But aren’t we as Christians supposed to stand up for what’s right, oppose injustice, and oppose evil?” Ironically, I have had this question asked by people advocating for completely opposing political ideologies. The short answer is, “yes,” but the longer answer is, “no, not in the way that you think.” Let me be absolutely blunt. Nowhere in Scripture (nowhere!) does Jesus call us to confront and change the world through politics, laws or government.
Jesus lived and taught in his earthly ministry during a time in which governments were truly oppressive. They quite literally enslaved people, and would frequently torture and murder them. And yet, not once did Jesus rail against foreign government and political leaders. Not once did he call for political action. Not once did he call for rebellion, even though his followers desperately wanted him to do so! In fact, His opposition to doing those things is one of the reasons so many people turned against Him. They wanted Him to condemn the Romans, raise an army and lead a rebellion. But His response was always a variation of, “my kingdom is not of this earth,” or “render unto Caesar.” Instead of calling for political action, He called for personal change. He constantly pointed people to basic morality which consists of serving one another in love on the one hand, and to a restored relationship with God the father through Himself on the other. You know, the things that happen through baptizing and teaching. And this focus is something that the community of the church can be united in regardless of political affiliation.
When we come together as a church, we come together as the people of God who have been redeemed and restored by Jesus Christ. Our primary identity is not our politics or political affiliation, but is who we are in Christ Jesus. To be honest, someone’s political affiliation is not something that should ever even come up in the context of the community of the church. It is divisive, and it is a distraction from our true mission, which is to go into the world and make disciples, serving each other in love. We can do far more to better our community by serving than we can by vilifying opposing political views.
So the next time you find out that someone in the church has a different political view from you, even one that you find reprehensible, remember that they are a saved and redeemed child of God just like you are. Remember that they have the same mission as you. Leave the politics at home, and focus on the Kingdom of God.
I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. Romans 16:17