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The Politics of Politics

God, Jesus, Race, Politics, and You - Sermon #05 - The Politics of Politics

Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • October 9, 2016 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Senior Pastor

 

Preamble

We are finishing up our sermon series: “God, Jesus, Race, Politics, and You.” We are engaging in this series because we are kingdom people, we are image bearers of the One True God and we have a mandate to be the people of God in every facet of our lives, whether at church, in the marketplace, on the job, on the street, or at home.

 

Regardless of what politics might mean today and regardless of how it’s practiced today, politics’ most basic concern is about the ordering of relationships. It’s about the way we live together and how we get along. It’s about people. And relationship, love, and getting along are also central to the practice of Christianity. As the people of God, we believe that God has something to say us about how we live and the way we relate to one another.

 

The Politics of Politics

Unless you have disconnected the Internet or given away your TV, canceled your phone service, you are aware that we are in the midst of a presidential election. Just as the social-political construct of race is used to divide people, the same can be said of the politics of politics. One of the goals of politics is take complex policy issues and simplify them into bit sized morsels so that they can be digested. This is why we are now regularly greeted with one of those country maps that attempts divide over 300 million people into one of two colors either red or blue. As we consider each side of this divide we realize that what’s at stake are the things that we hold most dear: our convictions, matters of conscience, the ways in which we see, experience, and explain the world. At the core, our political leanings are deeply personal responses to our own circumstances, the world we inherited, and the way we have decided to make our way forward.

 

Regardless of where you land on the “red” or “blue” map (and we have red, blue, and green are present in our community) it’s still a mixed bag. We may all have agreement on the sanctity of life, but we may want to express that agreement in different ways. For some it may take the form of protesting access to abortions, while others may see the need for universal health care as the way to affirm the sanctity of life. The problem isn’t that we don’t care for human life and dignity, it’s that the politics of politics says there is only one way of doing it. When we engage as citizens of a republic as voters we may have to make complex judgement calls and compromises when we enter the ballot box. Some of us are activists or unabashed partisans on either side, others reluctant travelers longing for better choices. Many of us are conflicted, confused, or just plain uncertain. That doesn’t work well for politics. I heard someone say recently, “If you can package certainty people will buy it.” I’m really bad at selling certainty, I can be confident in a lot of things, but certain, I’m not so sure! Each political party wants us to think that in their augments is the certainty that their approach is the only right one. Instead of trying to determine who’s side God may be on, I think a different set of questions are worth considering, “How do we love each other across our differences?” And it’s companion question, “How do we become a reconciled community of faith?”

 

This is where love comes in.

 

34“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34–35

 

A book that has been extremely helping as I navigate this issues of politics has been, “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion” by Jonathon Haidt. This book has been helpful to me in my conversations and discussions with others, especially as it relates to crossing the political divide that so easily separates and divides us.

 

Haidt says, "We are emotional actors! We are highly intuitive beings who act first, and justify later. Our beliefs, convictions, and values are far less “rational” than we imagine."

 

It was at this observation that the Holy Spirit used the book to convict me on some of my approaches to difficult and controversial conversations. Prior to reading the book, I would regularly and largely make rational arguments when discussing tough and sensitive subjects, which I now realize isn't very helpful. It isn’t helpful because it doesn’t actually address the nature of the disagreement. The book helped me realize that most of what we argue and disagree about is experienced at an emotional, not rational, level, which has been largely shaped by our culture, family of origin, or significant life experiences.

 

Another helpful tool from his book is the realization that most of us manage and understand our morality through six moral receptors:

  1. Care/Harm
  2. Fairness/Cheating
  3. Loyalty/Betrayal
  4. Authority/Subversion
  5. Sanctity/Degradation
  6. Liberty/Oppression

The insight for me was that according to Haidt, those of us who identify with a left-leaning liberal understanding don’t actually use all six, at best we use three, most likely only the first two:

  1. Care/Harm
  2. Fairness/Cheating

And those of us who with a right-leaning conservative understanding use all six receptors. This was a powerful insight that has allowed me to reduce the acrimony that I created in most of my disagreements with others. The invitation here is to realize that our political leanings are biased, prejudiced, and favors our default leanings. At this realization, we have to be willing to accept and believe that Jesus transcends all of this. He is at work with his own political, social, and economic agenda that requires that we surrender ours to his.

 

Our failure to do this harms earnestly seeking people. Conservatives and Liberals agree that the Care/Harm receptor is one of the most important receptors we have. We both agree that failing to care for and protect for those who need it is a miscarriage and should be avoided. Remember, friends, the Gospel is an announcement that our exile is over – our exile from ourselves, each other, and God. It’s an announcement of good news that the King of Glory had entered the human condition and become one of us through his son Jesus to reconcile, redeem, and transform us by his incarnation, living, dying, and bodily rising. When we let political agenda hijack the Gospel, we allow their hijack to exclude those who are desperately seeking Jesus. We misuse the truth and create impossible situations for those who are trying to find freedom and reconciliation in their lives.

 

But now, let me place myself on this continuum. I grew up in a conservative, fundamentalist, spirit-filled church. It’s where I came to faith. It’s where I matured in faith. It’s where I learned about the Bible, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and it was in this nurturing, loving community that I came to understand more clearly God’s call on my life. I’m eternally grateful to this witnessing community. Then I went to college and had a crisis of faith. I was exposed to truth outside of the Bible that contradicted or challenged Biblical truth. I had to confront this reality, which wasn’t easily dismissed. Frankly, I wasn’t prepared for it and how to deal with it. What I needed during my crisis was a reconciled (read multi-ethnic) community willing to love me by making space for me, my wrestlings, and my questions. I need a reconciled, loving community willing to come alongside of me to help me get my bearings and make my way forward. What I need needed was a reconciled, cross-shaped community willing to stand in the gap by praying for and with me. What I needed was a community so in love with Jesus that they would trust him with me.

 

Are you interested in being that kind of community? Because we have a city full of people who like Jesus, they just don’t like his church. I think we can reverse this trend without distorting, reducing or cheapening the Gospel, and it’s proclamation. We could stand in the gap and announce good news for those need to hear it.

 

Practical tips:

For our practical tips, I want to turn to Paul, the New Testament author and church planter for wisdom and insight. Just like we considered the Greek widows in Acts 6:1-7 last week, Paul is dealing with difficult issues within his community, essentially, how can you be the people of God while living within the Empire. The community in Rome was facing both moral and cultural issues which had the potential to threatened the unity of community. The moral question was related to food, “Is it morally okay to eat meat that’s been sacrificed to an idol and false god?” The cultural question was “Whether sacred days needed to be keep?” As modern readers, the issues of food and sacred days don’t map perfectly to the issues of politics we’re considering–issues of decency & propriety, abortion, war & peace, terrorism, gay marriage, tax policy, environment stewardship, and health care just to name a few. It doesn’t map perfectly because some of the issues that our politics cover are things that aren’t disputable, but even if the map isn’t perfect, I believe that Paul still has wisdom for how we can love each other across our differences.

 

No judgment across the divide!

“Accept him whose faith is weak without passing judgment on disputable matters” (Romans 14:1)  “You, then, why do you judge your brother?” (Romans 14: 10)  “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another” (Romans 14:13)

 

This is not, you can’t have your opinions or your deep convictions. Paul has his own, he’s just saying have your opinion and conviction without judgment. The problem with judgment is it really means, there’s only one way to understand the issue, it doesn’t allow the possibility of differing opinions. Here’s a quick observation, it’s easier to know when you are being judged than it is to know when you are judging someone else. A good indication is paying attention to the facial expression, emotions, reactions of the person you interacting with. Remember that Jesus prohibits us from judging the essence of a person, we are welcome to judge their actions, their essences and being is off limit.

 

No contempt across the divide!

Couple with the “no judgment” statements is a slight variation:

 

“The one who eats everything must not look down on him who does not” (14:3)

“Or why do you look down on your brother or sister?” (14:10)

 

This is contempt.

 

I remember this gift from our pre-martial counseling, it was “pay attention to your anger because if it is left unattended, it can transform into contempt.” And contempt is a relationship killer. Defining contempt can be hard, but I bet you know it when you experience and feel it. Contempt is like an upper lip raised on side of your mouth. It includes a sarcastic tone of voice, eye-rolling suggests contempt. Contempt is the sign that someone is not listening or listening only to deprecate you, not to gain understanding.

 

Respect for another’s conscience across the divide!

“As one who is in the Lord Jesus I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards it as unclean, then for him it is unclean.” (Romans 14:14)

 

This is a subtle but powerful point Paul’s making. He’s saying, “Even though I have a conviction on this matter, I’m not willing to pull my sister-brother into my way of doing things, if it means stretching him beyond his conscience.”

 

Believe me, it is possible to persuade people to do things that violate their conscience. Evolutionary biologist tell us that we are herd animals. You know an effective tool herds? Intimidation. At the same time, love can also be used manipulatively to herd. A call to group, family, or loyalty bonds can pressure as well.

 

But when someone is stretched beyond their conscience to do something, even when that something is right, it can damage them inside. Paul invites us to offer respect for the other’s conscience. Paul invites us to refrain from using pressure tactics, what I will call, manipulation.

 

Love and accept each other across the divide!

 

“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (14:19)

 

So easy to tell ourselves: “I love the other person! I accept them” I’ve only been married for 14 years, but one of the sustaining lessons I’ve learned is love and acceptance are made up of one loving gesture after another. In addition to be herd animals, we are also “insecurity generation units.”

 

I realized this clearly when Maria shared with me that she was insecure in my love for her. I was befuddled, I couldn’t understand what she meant. For me, I was like, I made a vow to you when we got married, I told you then that I loved you, nothing’s change, so there’s no need to say it again. Boy was I wrong, love is faucet it has to run continuously loving gesture after loving gesture.

 

One of the most loving and accepting things we can offer is space. Especially to disagree, just think of the power that someone experiencing when they are free to freely express themselves, it’s such a gift. This is the hard work we do recognize that the other is an other that they have another point of view. When we create space to listen, it’s transformative. As you listen, I would encourage to listen not to respond to be hear, search for the places of agreement, not disagreement. So what are these gestures of love and acceptance?

 

Verbal restraint across the divide.

 

“So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God” (Romans 14: 22)

 

If we are being honest, this is Paul’s way of saying, “just learn to shut up!”

 

Of course, Paul isn’t suggesting that we never discuss our disagreements or never talk about the issues that divide us, but he is saying, learn how to talk about these core issues with great care and concern. Not just for yourself, but for the person you’re talking to. Learn to exercise great caution, great care.

 

 

We are able to do this because of Jesus command to love:

 

34“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34–35

 
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