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Bugs, politics and the church

If you are looking for something to binge watch on Amazon Prime, consider the one-season CBS comedy-thriller BrainDead, a political satire set in a present-day Washington, D.C. that’s been invaded by extraterrestrial insects which both feed on the brains of and take control of people, including congress members and staffers.
As the bugs take over, they cause their hosts to become more extreme in their ideologies and tactics—so much so that the Democrats and Republicans mirror each other to the point that it gets hard to distinguish one from the other.

The bugs’ agenda? To keep people distracted: while the humans fight each other, the bugs take over the planet.

As the political climate degraded last fall, I found a bit of relief in the satirical series' use of things like exaggeration, irony and humor to comment on current issues. But with the frequent shots of Trump and Clinton on TVs in the background, BrainDead’s reality felt a little too close to our own.
According to PEW, political polarization is the defining feature of modern American politics, both among elected officials and the public. It’s like an infection that pits everyone against each other—including believers.

And that’s a problem—not because political parties separate us but that we’ve aligned ourselves with them to begin with.

“The tragic decisions of American Christianity to align itself with a political party have now landed in a pool of manure with a plop,” writes New Testament scholar Scot McKnight in a blog post last fall.

McKnight speaks to both progressives and conservatives, describing them as “two sides of the same coin” who “seek the Powers, bend the nation towards one’s particular vision of the Christian vision through the Powers, call the other names and call them to repent from their unChristian ways, and bring in the kingdom” through those Powers.
This is dangerous, says McKnight, because the more we see the way to change the world through the Powers, the closer we become to being Constantinian—and that diverts us from the mission of God in and to this world.

So fiercely aligning with the Powers compromises and corrupts the gospel. Aspects that agree with a political party are emphasized and those that don’t are silenced. And a partial gospel is no gospel at all.
“The impotence of political and social systems to bring about real change is one of the reasons Jesus didn’t send his students out to start governments or even churches as we know them today,” says Dallas Willard in Renovation of the Heart.  “Instead, his disciples were to establish beachheads of his Person, word, and power in the midst of a failing and futile humanity. They were to bring the presence of the kingdom and its King into every corner of human life by fully living in the kingdom with him.”

Believers are designed to live together as family of discipled believers with Jesus as the center. This church is a counter culture community ruled by love in which there is no Greek or Jew, male or female, Democrat or Republican, “for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” It is an upside-down kingdom in which God, as Willard puts it, “is tangibly manifest to everyone on earth who wants to find him.”
Kingdom citizens will act in political and public arenas. They cannot cooperate with public unrighteousness or injustice, says Willard. “A transformed soul will block those streams or die trying.”

Kingdom living is breathtaking in its power and light—like encountering Jesus himself. But this modern Constantinian shift is like a malevolent invasion, eating away at the life of God’s people.

We must choose differently. As McKnight puts it, “The alternative is not Left vs Right, but Left-Right Powermonger vs. kingdom politics embodied in gospel living and church living.”

This is an updated version of my column that first appeared in MWR last fall.