When We Surveyed the Wondrous Cross...
Last summer I had an interesting meeting over coffee. I was the press secretary for a center-progressive Christian organization committed to articulating the biblical call to social justice. She was a staffer at a conservative Christian organization that did not agree with mine. We had been connected through a mutual acquaintance because we were both interested in reaching across the aisle.
She was very surprised that I wanted to talk about faith, but talking about faith isn’t unusual for me: When I was on staff leading evangelism and prayer at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, my boss used to say of me, “She loves talking to people about Jesus and talking to Jesus about people.”
In this case, though, talking about faith was also a tactical maneuver: Because of my progressive politics, many Christians—my brothers and sisters—automatically assume that my faith is unsound or insincere. Christian progressives often have to work double-time to prove that we’re actual Christians. Talking about what unites us—our trust in Jesus for everything, our embrace of the cross—tore down some walls. She shared entries from her prayer journal. What could have been a polite meet-and-greet turned into a conversation among sisters. We both left encouraged and surprised.
The more that I meditate on the cross, I find myself amazed at its power to turn enemies into siblings. Christianity is a radical faith—at it’s heart is a rejection of power, which is utter foolishness in a city like Washington. Why would anyone who had all that power, all that authority, all that glory willingly and lovingly give it up for people who just don’t appreciate it that much?
And the longer that I am a Christian, the more I am surprised that both political parties continue to court the “faith vote” in general and the evangelical vote in particular. Surveys taking the temperature of these so-called values voters abound, either offering hope or despair to aspirant politicians and their platforms. But Christ’s followers are called to be like him, and a group of people who are ready to divest themselves of power, a group of people whose fundamental value is sacrificial love should be the most dangerous, unpredictable voters out there.
But when I—per the great hymn’s instructions—survey the wondrous cross, I can’t help but wonder why it’s been so easy to politically pigeon-hole us. It is impossible to meditate on the cross without considering how absolutely astounding it is that, in Christ, God would not only become small and human, but that he would willingly experience death at the hands of his own creation in order to break death’s hold over us. Or that this great, almighty God incarnate in a bloodied and crucified man would offer forgiveness to those who killed him as he died. Or that Jesus, facing his coming death, would consider that time of humiliation, abandonment, and agony—on behalf of humanity—as the hour of his glory. The amazing and divine love of God as revealed through the cross “demands my soul, my life, my all.” That’s an allegiance that transcends every political identity and ideological claim.
So why have we, as people of the cross, allowed ourselves to become people of the empire?
Why have we allowed ourselves to consider someone’s political affiliation as a proxy for her or his theology?
Why have we allowed political identity to cause division amongst sisters and brothers?
Why do both parties, each extolling values that we should all hold, believe that they have the corner on how Jesus would vote?
To paraphrase Tim Keller, the pastor of my church in New York: Perhaps the problem is not that Christians are too fundamentalist, but instead not fundamentalist enough. The King who we worship and whose Kingdom we proclaim was crowned with thorns and enthroned on a cross, rejected by the religious and political elites of this time. The King we worship and whose Kingdom we proclaim did not “count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6–8)
Is our allegiance to that King or to a party whose leaders are vying for power?
That coffee last summer challenged us both to see the other through the cross. Not as opponents or enemies, but as daughters of the King and sinners both in need of grace. And like our King we both took up our crosses and died a bit to our agendas and political tribes, surveying together, the wondrous cross.