The recent election and more particularly the reactions to it in on my Facebook news feed, caused me to reflect on a book title I read in college—Politics by Other Means. The book was assigned for a government class called Comparative Models of Democracy. To the chagrin of my former professor, I retain only incomplete and elusive memories of this book. What really stuck with me was the intriguing and suggestive title.
Partly, it suggests that things don’t always remain the same, that there are other, more creative or more effective options, that you don’t have to play by the established rules.
After the election results became apparent, many fled to the social media soapbox to voice their grievances. What followed, in a sense, is a testimony to true democracy. There were no raids by secret polices, no seizures of property, and no arrests. And yet, despite the robustness of American democracy, as a Christian I felt an acute sense of lack.
I can understand why Republicans are disappointed and why some Christians are apprehensive. But this is precisely where the power of this suggestive book title gains steam. Politics by other means.
Rebel? Reform? Resign?
For a long time American politics and society has more or less “enjoyed” (I’m sure not everyone has been enjoying it) strong Christian underpinnings. Are these eroding of late? Should Christians mourn? Hibernate? Demonstrate? Emigrate? As Hans Küng stated the trilemma in a different context, “Rebel? Reform? Resign?”
One thing is becoming obvious, as Charles Colson once remarked, “The kingdom of God will not arrive on Air Force One.”
This is true no matter who the ruling party is, Democrat or Republican. And for Christians maybe it’s a needed wake-up call that we can’t rely on a political party to do what we ought to be doing. The Sermon on the Mount is the Christian standard, and it is aimed at areas of life, the interior, which cannot be legislated. In the end, we need to be ok with the “stone cut out without hands” (Dan. 2:34) crushing all of human government, including American democracy.
Kingdom of God?
Both political theology, liberation theology, and moral theology all leave something to be desired. And throughout history, many “premature identifications” of the kingdom of God have been made.
In On Being a Christian, Hans Küng identifies some of these historical misnomers:
- The solidly institutionalized Church of medieval and Counter-Reformation Catholicism
- Calvin’s Genevan theocracy
- The apocalyptic kingdom of revolutionary, apocalyptic fanatics like Thomas Münzer
- The kingdom of God of theological idealism and liberalism as an existing order of wholesome morality and consummate bourgeois culture
- The thousand-year political Reich, based on ideologies of nation and race, as propagated by National Socialism
- The classless realm of the new man which Communism has hitherto striven to realize
Jesus made clear that the kingdom of God does not come with observation (Luke 17:20). Which may have been a disappointment to some of his contemporaries. At least one of his disciples, Simon the Zealot, was a revolutionary. The Zealots wanted the radical, immediate, and violent overthrowing of the Roman occupying forces.
But for Jesus neither legislation nor revolution were the solution.
Prayer as Radical Commitment
In his book Marcel Proust, Roger Shattuck notes:
Clausewitz describes war as the continuation of policy by other means. Like many authors, Proust often treated writing as a continuation of life by other mean.
To this I would add, Jesus treats prayer and proclamation as politics by other means.
This is not a cry to not be involved, but an invitation into greater areas of involvement which are exclusively available to the church. If the church doesn’t lobby here, no other institution can or will. Prayer and proclamation are two imperatives directly tied to the manifestation of the kingdom of God.
You then pray in this way: Our Father who is in the heavens, Your name be sanctified; Your kingdom come; Your will be done, as in heaven, so also on earth. –Matt. 6:9-10
This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole inhabited earth for a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come. –Matt. 24:14
Vote, but more importantly pray and proclaim
Volunteer, but more importantly pray and proclaim
Voice opinions, but more importantly pray and proclaim
In this light, an overtly secular government may be more helpful than a theologized political party. It may help us remember our true mission in the world.