Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. 17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.
In my recent blog post, “Slavery and the Bible,” I had a few things to say about the inability of political solutions to effectively deal with the problems of society that are rooted in sin, and that includes the sin of racism. My reasoning was that while politics may well produce legislation, it cannot produce love (often quite the contrary). Hate cannot be outlawed, although acts of hate can. Nor can love be demanded by law. Further, since our most basic human emotional needs are all about love, respect and acceptance, politics will always come up short in providing what the human soul most desires.
In spite of that truism (a very obvious one, it seems to me), what I read on Facebook demonstrates that many people who identify as Christians are still very involved in politics and have very strong feelings about their involvement. The more I read, the more convinced I am that we are looking for answers in the wrong places (just like human nature looks for love in all the wrong places, as the lyrics of an old song put it).
More of Michael Burns
In that recent article, I used some material written by Michael Burns, adopted and adapted from an email. As I prepared for a trip to the East Coast to teach about racial issues, I spent much time re-reading his book, “Crossing the Line: Culture, Race and Kingdom.” To be honest, my human nature would like to legislate the reading of this book by all disciples of all colors! Of course, that urge is not realistic and not particularly spiritual either. I think it does illustrate the fact that our very strong feelings to make something happen often go in the wrong direction and are not very effective in bringing about the desired results at the heart level.
As I finished reading chapter 4 of Michael’s amazing book, a chapter entitled, “Dual Wisdom.” I highlighted much of it and will include some of it in this article (with Michael’s permission). This one chapter would be worth the price of the book. I think our brother’s conclusions are (or should be) virtually incontrovertible and unassailable. Read his quotes and see if you can disagree. I can’t. Before and after reading his material, please take the time to read the James 1 passage above with which my post is introduced.
The War on Poverty
In 1964, the President of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, declared a war on poverty… Since Johnson’s plan was rolled out, America has spent $22 trillion on the war on poverty. When adjusted for inflation, economists argue that this is more money than the United States has spent on the combined cost of all its military conflicts and wars since the American Revolution… Virtually the same number of Americans are listed as poor today as in 1964. (pages 67-68)
The War on Drugs
In 1971, President Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs. Since that time, the United Nations decided to join in and declare a worldwide offensive against drug proliferation… Drugs are actually cheaper now than twenty years ago and are of higher quality. Drug activity, drug cartels, and drug usage are all bigger problems now than they were when the war on drugs began. It seemed like the answer, but it has proven to be another dismal failure. (page 68)
The Eradication of Violence
No country, society, or government in the world has been able to eradicate violence among their people. It just has never happened. Some societies are more violent than others or have higher crime rates; some have done a better job than others in curbing crime and violence; but the world simply does not have the answer. According the United Nations, nearly 500,000 people are victims of violent homicide each year, and that does not include deaths caused by wars between nations. (page 68)
Worldly Governments Cannot Solve the Sin Problem
It almost doesn’t matter what major societal problem we look at, the kingdoms and systems of the world do not seem to have an answer, whether it is poverty, substance abuse, violence, or any other large issue. This is especially true when it comes to the problem of division among humans. Look into any epoch of history and any corner of the globe, and you will find no answers to the division caused by sin. (page 69)
One political party gains power and puts their solutions into place that may have some effect on the problems they are focusing on, but they create a new set of problems. Then the other party comes into power and they go after fixing what the previous group did, but create a whole new series of failings. It’s a never-ending cycle. (page 70)
One of the main complications of earthly wisdom, however, is that it comes in many shapes and sizes because it comes from more sources than we could count. Thus, one person accepts one source of worldly wisdom and becomes convinced that all others are wrong, stupid, ignorant, and misinformed, while at the same time, someone else embraces a different source and becomes equally convinced that the problem is the other people and their ignorant beliefs. Because there are many sources of worldly wisdom, by its very nature it divides humanity. (page 72)
The Bottom Line Conclusion
Here is the conclusion of the matter: When worldly wisdom is applied, it very often produces conflict somewhere else or creates new problems. When God’s wisdom is applied, it may come into conflict with the evil of earthly wisdom, but if followed, it will produce peace and righteousness. Here is what this means for us when it comes to topics like culture and race: We are the people of God. We cannot be swayed by worldly wisdom. We cannot become so convinced of one ideology or political mindset that we can no longer distinguish between earthly and heavenly wisdom. (page 74)
Quite frankly, when it comes to the big problems in life, I am uninterested in political solutions, community activism, and the like. If the solutions don’t emanate from God’s rule and his kingdom, they are doomed to failure. I wholeheartedly believe that. My hope is that you do too. (page 74)
I Agree, I Agree!
Well, Michael, I certainly wholeheartedly believe what you wrote. Man’s wisdom has failed for centuries and will always be doomed to failure on the issues that matter most. (I will mention here that chapter 6 of Michael’s book, “The Beautiful Revolution,” lays the deeper spiritual foundation for what is said in this article. It is a vital read, if you want to truly grasp what the Kingdom of God really should look like in our day.) God’s wisdom and man’s wisdom are diametrically opposed as are the results produced by each. However, the real answers for which we search are not hidden. They are found in the imitation of Christ – his attitudes, his heart, his outward focus, and his eternal perspective. You can have a life of peace and joy by seeing life as he saw it and living it as he lived it. Nothing else will work.
It Is a Question of Love
Within the spiritual body of Christ, the ultimate consideration is love for one another and the willingness to sacrifice for one another. Jesus is clearly the model for us to follow in this vital endeavor. In Romans 14 and in 1 Corinthians 8-10, Paul applied the principles of love and sacrifice to very sensitive issues within those two congregations. Their issues were not our issues, but they were huge issues in the first century churches. The same principles apply to our huge issues today, and it is imperative that we study and understand these principles and their application. Michael’s fabulous biblical explanations and applications in chapter 12 of his book, entitled “For the Glory of God: Sacrifice” can help you greatly. Here are some of his astute observations from that chapter.
While admitting that we have certain rights, Paul argued that these rights must not have the final say in how we treat one another. Love had to trump personal rights – then and now. Here are some quotes from Michael’s very excellent exegetical work in these passages.
Paul gets directly to the point as he says, “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak” (8:9). The family of God and loving others are far more important than the rights that we suppose we have. Allegiance must be to Jesus, not our opinions or preferences. The main thing was that they needed to build each other up in serving Christ. Cultural, ethnic, and political issues must always take a back seat to that. (page 191)
There is inherent responsibility involved in this, of course. One brother must be sensitive and aware of what could truly be damaging to others. But the others must not abuse that and claim injury on every little thing that they don’t like or prefer… In contemporary society, we believe that we have the right to be heard, to speak our mind, to espouse our political beliefs, to see the world how we want to see it, and to declare what we think is true. Do we have those rights as Christians? I suppose. But what if our beliefs genuinely hurt other brothers and sisters? (pages 191-192)
What if I am a Democrat and I discover that some brothers and sisters are genuinely hurt by this. They do not see how I can be a Democrat and support some of the things that Democratic politicians espouse. It becomes a stumbling block to them to the point that they consider leaving the church or are holding private grudges against me in their hearts. Or, what if I am a Republican and I discover that some brothers and sisters struggle with all those same things regarding my beliefs and actions?
Would I be willing to lay that down? Would I be willing, like Paul, to say, I’ll never have another political thought in my life if it is going to hurt a brother or sister or impede someone from coming to the gospel? But wait, you might, say. We have a right to have political opinions and engage in politics. No doubt. And the Corinthians had a right to eat meat if they were hungry. Should they be more loyal to the gospel or to their stomach? Should we be more loyal to the gospel or to our opinions and ideologies? Are we willing to approach our rights with the same sacrificial heart that Paul had toward his? (page 192)
Why Am I Apolitical?
Michael’s line of reasoning from the biblical principles in these four chapters of the Bible explain pretty well why I describe myself as apolitical. I do not vote any longer, although I once did. My wife exercises her right to vote and I exercise my right not to vote. Neither of us is going to get involved in discussions regarding political party issues or political figures, because such discussions are based on personal opinions and not absolute facts, and they thus often produce disunity. Further, I refuse to cut the following passages out of my Bible and as a disciple of Jesus, and I will not dismiss them via rationalization. I see many who identify as Christians on Facebook going in quite the opposite direction.
1 Timothy 2:1-3
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior.
Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, 2 to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.
Some have been disturbed by my apolitical position. They often argue that the right to vote is my right as an American citizen and that I should exercise that right. But as an American citizen, I also have the right to abstain from voting. Most of those who are disturbed by my choice of not voting assume that the political issues are so clear that any spiritual person with a reasonable amount of intelligence would vote as they do. If they thought that I would vote for a party other than theirs, probably 95% of them would be happy that I didn’t vote! Perhaps the other 5% would see the need to vote only as a matter of principle, a right to be exercised regardless of the party for which I would choose to vote.
This is Very Serious Business!
I have been told by more than one source that some have left our movement of churches because of the adamant political stances some members in our churches have expressed on Facebook. I don’t doubt it. For example, if I were to simply mention that I was aligned with one political party or the other, it would affect the respect many of my readers would have for me and what I write, and cause some to quit reading anything I wrote. That is how strongly too many among us feel about politics. You will put up with me when I claim to be a New England Patriots football fan, although you may be a “hater.” But many of you would not put up with me if I said I was a strong supporter of either the Democratic Party of the Republican Party.
Some of us are more American than Christian, to put it bluntly. Some of us are more political than Christian, to continue being both blunt and honest. What those I’m describing desperately need is to examine Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8-10 and apply those principles to areas like nationalism and politics.
I’ve already written a blog post comparing systemic nationalism to systemic racism. And right here and now, I am identifying a third systemic sin – that of systemic politicalism. Are you willing to examine your own heart and attitudes in this realm, or will you just dismiss the issue through emotionally based rationalism in the same way that others dismiss the existence of those other two systemic ills?
The Jesus Answer
We live in two worlds at once, but disciples of Jesus, while in the physical world with all of its elements, we cannot be of that world (John 17:16). We sing the stanza of an old hymn, which goes: “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through; my treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.” Is that true of you – really? Only you and God know the answer to that, and maybe only God at this point. Are we willing to learn about the nature of all systemic types of sins? If we are focused on Jesus, the example that he set and the life that he offers us, the answer will be yes.
Don’t you think it’s about time for us to put this passage fully into practice?
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
The Jesus Test
How can we know that our hearts are set on things above and not on earthly things? How can we know if our involvement in the things of this world have become too important and are interfering with our true priority? Many things of the world are overtly wrong; others become wrong because they capture too much of our hearts and attention. On that latter list could be things like career, education, entertainment, money, questionable relationships, accomplishments, recognition, and in our focus in this article, politics. Here is the acid test. Does your involvement in these potential priority problem areas leave you feeling and living in accordance with the following passages? If not, it is time to quit rationalizing and start repenting!
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails.