Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of America

I'm still thinking about the idea that the church will sometimes find itself in political controversies because it is faithfully following Jesus. I was asking how we know when we've reached a point that we have to jump into a political question and say, "Ok, here's the Christian position on this." But I wonder if that's the wrong way to think about it.

For starters, I think the passive language I used is important: the church may "find itself" in a political controversy not because it is going out looking for dragons to slay and people to impose its will on, but because as it tries to live under the kingdom of God its values come in conflict with the values of the earthly kingdom in which it resides. So, for example, the early Christians' refusal to acknowledge Caesar as a god was political as far as the Romans were concerned, but the church wasn't trying to be political.

Another way of looking at it is that if the church was more faithfully living out its responsibilities in the kingdom of God, all these contentious political questions in the "kingdom" of America would take on a very different hue. We would be discussing abortion, for example, in a context in which there are no American children waiting to be adopted because American churches, of which there are more than enough, would have taken it upon themselves to see to it that there is always a line of Christian families waiting to adopt the moment another child is abandoned. As it is, there are over 100,000 American kids waiting to be adopted. The only reason for this is that the church isn't very serious about following Jesus. Likewise we would be discussing racial controversies in an environment in which white evangelicals would be noticeably more likely to live in poor and diverse neighborhoods than other Americans and Sunday mornings would be the most diverse, integrated hour of the week. The only reason it's not already like this is that the church isn't very serious about following Jesus. And we would be discussing social programs and spending cuts in an environment where evangelicals would be giving 10 or 20% of their incomes away and churches would be spending much more of their money on outreach to their neighborhoods instead of improving their church buildings. It's not this way because the church isn't very serious about following Jesus.

Do these things and more, and it changes the politics. Do these things, and the politics begin to almost take care of themselves. Do these things and find out that our excessive focus on politics and all its polarization and partisanship is a function of a hollowed-out church that would rather impose its will on America's laws than do the hard work of sacrifice and service that is required to build the kingdom of God.


  1. Great insight. You really hit on something with the difference between a focus on God's kingdom that leads you into a political controversy compared to going out and trying to find a political battle to fight. The Christian right does too much of the latter.

    You paint an inspiring picture of what the church could be. It challenges me to spend less time thinking about politics and more time in sacrifice and service to do my small part in bringing the church to where it could be.

  2. Hey Jesse,

    I'm really impressed with your writing. I teach history and am coming out with a book on the evangelical left.

    Could you send me an email at david.swartz AT I'd like to chat with you offline.