“And they began to accuse him, saying ‘We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king.’”
This dialogue is from a blog series that originated on The Wheelhouse Review.
The other day while I was reading my Bible (you know, like the good little church-lady I am), I came across a familiar chapter, one that I’ve read many times before. Now, maybe it’s just because I’m also a good little progressive and I delight in words like “subvert,” but for some reason, Luke 23:2 stood out to me. Jesus stands accused of “subverting [their] nation.” Which in a sense is 100% true—the kingdom over which Jesus reigns both subverts and overrules the nations and kingdoms of this world. You and I, despite our earthly, specifically American political leanings are first and foremost citizens of that kingdom and our allegiance must always be to Christ our King first. Yet because we claim our allegiance to Jesus first—someone who loved not only his neighbors but his enemies—it enables us to be good citizens in America and to seek its welfare and peace. Seeking this peace though, may sometimes include opposition to the status quo.
With all the talk of revolution and two angry wings on either side of the political spectrum, what are your thoughts on that?
One of the things I find most interesting about Jesus’s “asks” of us is how unpredictable they are—and, sometimes, how non-subversive. For example, the accusers in the passage you mention have it totally wrong. They’re having to completely twist the words of Jesus to come up with a claim against him; after all, wasn’t Jesus the one who said to “give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:20-22)? To me, our call is so much more often to love those with whom we disagree or see as a threat rather than take an angry stance against them.
If you watch a lot of the political rhetoric happening now--and I’ll go ahead and say it: most of it is coming from my (right) side—you’d think that Christians are called to be the loudest and most vocal opponents of government, focusing on all it’s doing wrong. Fear of guns being taken away, rights being violated, etc. But there’s got to be a way to recognize the limitations of government while also seeing the benefits of it—all while operating within a kingdom mindset. What about you? Care to call out your side on anything they’re doing wrong, then reach a solution between the two of us here that leaves the political world speechless and grateful?
Speechless gratitude for the political world, coming right up! But first, let me call out my side. I think that there is a real danger here of giving government too much credit for it’s problem-solving abilities. Government is a good thing and according to Romans 13, has been established by God. According to the same passage, paying taxes is a good thing. We use services and public works provided by the government and paid for by our taxes. These are good things. And as someone who has had to use the safety net of Medicaid (while I was an independent contractor at a famous media company after college and couldn’t afford private health insurance) and unemployment (while I was the first runner up for more jobs than I care to recount), I’m grateful for the help to get back on my feet. I am very much for a strong social safety net. I’m very much in favor of a “preferential option for the poor and vulnerable,” and I think that we should consider their needs before considering the needs of wealthy political donors and those with power and influence.
However, I think my (left) side can err too much on the idea of government as the solution to social ills and evils. I think most of us want economic equality and justice. And I can’t think of many people I know on either side of the political spectrum—or in between—who want to see people remain in poverty and hunger. But the language of “revolution” rather than “reform” concerns me. What exactly does that mean? It’s never been possible to build a utopia. We can’t legislate a care and concern for the poor, a love of justice, or a desire for generosity. That can only come through changed hearts and I only know one Person who can do that (it’s not Bernie or Hillary).
What do you think? Do you think we should have a preferential option for the poor? How can we do that while also not forcing people to be generous?
Here’s something that I think we can agree on: government not being the ultimate authority/panacea/savior/hope for any of us. And I agree with your assessment that the liberal worldview tends to place too much of its hope for solutions in government’s hands. To even the score, though, I’d like to point out something that I’m so tired of seeing the right do: moan about the ills of government, advocating for limitations on it, then (especially in regard to the religious right) behaving as though every election is a referendum on the state of our nation’s morality, not to mention the end of the world as we know it (if our guy doesn’t get elected).
I used to feel that way. I used to get ALL worked up about polls and election outcomes. I used to feel truly afraid if the “right” person didn’t win. Then I realized that the song “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” does not refer to Donald Trump, or Bernie Sanders, or either of the Clintons (gender-neutral pronoun in effect). So I think we could all stand to calm down just a bit—if, that is, we believe that God is bigger than our government and an election outcome.
(Spoiler alert: he is.)
This doesn’t mean we don’t get to care, or get to remain passive. But it does mean that talk of revolution looks a bit ridiculous if we’re not getting that worked up about injustices we see, or people around us who are suffering. And will continue to suffer, regardless of the election outcome, because you’re right: government is not going to change hearts, and it’s also not going to fix lives. Which is why I do think that the church, and we as Christians, are obligated—dare I say, privileged?—to look out for the “least of these.” Whether that looks like a preferential option is fodder for a longer discussion (SEQUEL!), but I do think we could all take stock of where our hearts are on this and place it on equal footing with what we do in the booth.
Here’s where I think the true revolution will start: in conversations like these. In friendships like these. In being willing to see each other as people and in context and to try to understand why we believe the things we do. The status quo right now is entrenchment. We dig moats around our ideas and beliefs and fire on anyone who is perceived to threaten them. That’s not strength of belief—it’s fear. What is truly revolutionary is you and I putting down our ammunition and embracing each other as sisters, because our truest and most central identity must be that Christ loved us and gave himself up for us. What is truly revolutionary is to step back from the fearful claims of apocalypse and decline and to put our trust and hope in God’s kingdom. And as citizens of that kingdom turning our attention to this country we both love and looking for ways we can help heal it. That’s the revolution I hope to see.
Juliet Vedral is the founder and executive editor of both The Wheelhouse Review and Perissos. Juliet has served as the Press Secretary for the faith-based social justice activism organization Sojourners and the Director of Outreach and Community Relations for Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. She is also the Community Life Coordinator for Grace Meridian Hill in Washington, DC.
Stephanie Phillips A former New Yorker by way of Alabama who now lives in Atlanta with her husband and their two young sons. She is a pediatric dentist by trade and contributing writer to The Wheelhouse Review and Mockingbird in addition to her own blog, Plans in Pencil. When not writing, fixing teeth, or raising the next generation of men, she enjoys running, cooking, reading, and watching way too much TV and Netflix.
Juliet Vedral is a writer living in Washington, DC. She has served as press secretary for the ONE Campaign, director of ministry operation for Grace Meridian Hill, and press secretary for the faith-based social justice activism organization Sojourners. She has also served as Director of Outreach and Community Relations for Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and was the founder and executive editor of The Wheelhouse Review