Guest Blog by Adam Gustine
Recently I was watching The West Wing, and in this particular episode, President Bartlet’s Chief of Staff, Leo McGarry, was caught in the middle of a governmental inquiry into the assumed illegal dealings of one of his lifelong friends. McGarry, devoted to his friend because of the time they had spent together in Vietnam, was enraged that this ‘model American’ would have his name dragged through the mud. He uses his considerable power to try and rescue his friend from trouble.
The only problem is that his friend was guilty. When Leo finally realized his friend was guilty, it devastated him. His devotion had blinded him to the reality that his friend was not above transgression. Leo lived in a world where his friend was always the courageous hero he once knew with impeccable character and integrity. All of Leo’s actions could be traced back to the allegiance he felt for his friend.
Allegiance is funny that way. When we give our allegiance to someone or something, it is no small matter, for when we do this, we are pledging that person our heart. When we give someone our allegiance we ensure that our way of seeing the world will forever be shaped to value them over all others.
I think this is the reason why Jesus said that if we were going to follow him, we would have to learn to ‘hate’ our mothers and fathers, or we weren’t fit to be his disciples. Did Jesus really mean we have to hate our parents to be a Christian? Of course not. What he is saying is, If you want to follow me, I need your full allegiance, and I can’t have that if your allegiances are divided.
Jesus is calling us to sever all allegiances in order to follow him. He is calling us to declare our devotion to him and, in so doing, ensure that our way of seeing the world will forever be shaped to value HIM over all others. Divided allegiances make this impossible. We cannot follow Jesus faithfully if we have given our hearts over to others.
It is in this way that a full-fledged dedication to a certain politician, party, or political philosophy works against our allegiance to Jesus. Partisan politics is in the allegiance business. Politicians are courting us, asking for our hearts, craving our devotion. Many of us have political alignments, which cause us to generally favor the proposals of one political party over another. In general, this is not the issue. All to often, however, Christians willingly give their allegiance to the values and ideals of either side of the political spectrum. This is another matter altogether, and it is one we should mourn because the fact is that neither side of the political spectrum has a corner on the values and ideals of the Kingdom of God.
Once we have given our allegiance to a particular political persuasion, however, we will see the world the way they want us to. We will be unable to see things from the perspective of the Kingdom because our lenses are tinted with shades of blue or red (depending on which party is in possession of our allegiance). We will process ideas and form opinions based upon deeply seated political values rather than the redemptive values of Jesus. In many cases, it might even be the political voices of our day that shape the way we follow Jesus, instead of Jesus himself.
In the end, our devotion will blind us to the reality that neither political party is above transgression and we will be unable to conceive of the notion that they, at their core, might be deeply flawed and not worthy of our allegiance.
This makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to ask the right questions regarding political issues. We accept false assumptions, and we pick and choose issues that we care about and ignore other issues that are close to God’s heart as well.
One example of this might be the false divide between moral issues (the realm of political ‘conservatives’) and justice issues (the realm of political ‘liberals’). The biblical narrative clearly rejects this distinction and yet too often we accept the political narratives offered to us. The more we do this the more we run the risk of engaging in the political arena in a way that is, at best, an uncritical collection of worldviews and, at worst, partisan politics masquerading as faithful discipleship.
However, I think there is a different way, but it is not easy or expedient.
It begins with a radical detachment of our hearts from the structures of power and political parties. This is an exercise of spiritual formation to be sure. In this process, we can expect God to confront our own sinfulness and idolatry. We should embrace this opportunity for repentance as it leads us to give our hearts Jesus alone.
Emerging from that, we must re-evaluate our current political practices. We should regularly engage in fearless examination of the Scriptures coupled with a charitable dialogue about how those shape our values and practices today. I say fearless because far too often our study of God’s word is influenced by our fears of where our study might take us. We end up circumventing truth in favor of reinforcing our comfortable notions of what Scripture is saying. Those fears often make dialogue impossible; often we resort to anger and bickering. But if we allow God to remove the fears in our hearts, we can engage in an alternate kind of political discussion.
Those two moves, detachment and re-evaluation, create a space for us to carve out a different way of being political as followers of Jesus: Christians who are radically un-attached to partisan politics because they recognize that their allegiance to Christ severs the ties all others have on their hearts.
Adam Gustine lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Ann, and their two sons. He is the Senior Pastor at First Evangelical Free Church of Brooklyn, NY, which is currently involved in the development of a new ministry project of the Evangelical Free Church of America called Immigrant Hope.
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