To politically conservative Christians in America,
Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I am writing to you in the spirit of St. Paul for two reasons.
First, just as Paul appealed to the Philippian church not to put confidence in the flesh by listing his own qualifications for doing so, I want to appeal to you not to put confidence in your own conservative policy assumptions by listing my own conservative qualifications.
Second, as Paul affirmed the Corinthian church in his teaching on sexual immorality not to judge those outside the church but absolutely to judge those within it, I will ask the same of you and myself.
Lay down our rights
Paul wrote to the Philippians,
If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (3:5-11, NIV)
If anyone else thinks he or she has reasons to consider themselves a defender of conservatism, I have more: an orthodox Christian by faith and a registered Republican by party affiliation; in regard to political activity, a former high-ranking member of a countywide Republican presidential campaign, a former campaign coordinator for a conservative Republican state senate candidate; as for zeal, passed out Christian Coalition voter guides to numerous churches.
But whatever marked me as a conservative I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. As I grow closer to Christ, I see more how political divisions – be they conservative or liberal – alienate people whom God loves. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider my previous political leanings trash, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from my opinions, but that which is through faith in Christ. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
But how can we fellowship in his sufferings and become like him in his death when we cling to what we perceive to be our rights and to their tireless defense? Why do we seek to protect our rights at the expense of others? Why are we so afraid? Don’t we know that we no longer have any rights: we gave them to Christ, and they are now his?
“You are not your own; you were bought at a price…he who was a free man [when called by the Lord] is Christ’s slave.” (1 Cor. 6:20, 7:22)
“But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ…Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.” (1 Cor. 9:12, 19)
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20)
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Rom. 12:1-2)
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt. 5:10-12)
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Matt. 16:24-26)
We have been afraid and tried to protect ourselves for far too long. It’s past time for us to let go of our rights and leave them where they belong, in God’s hands.
Judge those inside the church, not outside
Paul wrote to the Corinthians,
I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.” (1 Cor. 5:9-13)
Why are we intent on legislating Christian morality on people who are not Christians? Why do we want to force people who already don’t agree with us to live by the beliefs and standards we live by? Will that make them want to accept our beliefs as their own? Will that win their hearts to Christ, or instead completely drive them away?
Is the Gospel spread by mandating Christian morality on those who disagree with Christianity, or by demonstrating the love of Jesus by being open to receiving people as they are before making demands of them?
“While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and ‘sinners’ came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked the disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt. 9:10-13)
Is God’s kingdom enacted through force and coercion or through the church being an example that others will desire to emulate?
“You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden…let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:13, 14, 16)
“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” (Matt. 13: 33)
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)
I plan to write more to you at a later date, to focus on specific issues instead of only broad themes. May the God of peace bring you wisdom, strength and humility to be the people He desires you to be.
I leave you with a final word from the Apostle Paul:
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom. 12: 9-21)