My engagement with the impeachment imbroglio playing out in the hallowed chamber of the US Senate has been mostly after the fact. I watch daily news reports of the congressional proceedings and read the analysis. I scratch my head and roll my eyes. Given the allegiance of the politicians to their parties, the end appears as predictable as the beginning. As a dilettante of American history, I’m aware of our country’s predilection toward binary fury in its politics. Partisan democracy draws its energy from the passion polarity generates. Still, I appreciated columnist P. J. O’Rourke’s sardonic advocacy for extreme moderation: “We need a political system that isn’t so darn sure of itself. … Power to the far middle!”
Good and evil exist as mutually exclusive categories, but since we are fallible and finite humans, any overconfidence in judging ourselves or others as either is intrinsically fraught. Christianity’s doctrine of original sin (however you slice it) indicts even our best judgments as tinged by self-interest. The biblical writers adjure God’s people over and over to err on the side of mercy and leave the reckoning to God, who alone looks and sees our whole hearts (1 Sam. 16:7; Matt. 5:44–45; Rom. 12:17–19; 1 Thess. 5:21–22). Nevertheless, there are times when we must take a stand and even offend, especially in defense of the powerless and disenfranchised and for the cause of the gospel. Offense is sometimes the roadkill of righteousness (Matt. 11:6).
My esteemed predecessor bequeathed a fairly momentous legacy with his viral editorial last month. I’ve inherited the whirlwind, so to speak. Politics and theology both exist on broad continuums. By virtue of Mark Galli’s editorial and CT president Tim Dalrymple’s follow-up, we’ve situated ourselves on these continuums in a kind of extreme middle—in censorial critique of the president and yet open to conversation as well as critique. Tim Dalrymple used the metaphors of a flag and a table. Similarly, my predecessor described himself as “a stake in the ground kind of guy.” Everybody knows where he stands. I joke about being more of “a steak on the grill kind of guy.” I like to sit down over dinner and sort it out between us. The flag and the table.
What we say is important, and how we say it matters too. At CT, we strive to speak truth with love. Scripture instructs us to “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone” (Col. 4:6, NRSV). Jesus cautioned against losing our saltiness (Mark 9:50), which modern parlance equates with coarseness and disregard for the other. But the biblical metaphor goes back to the practice of Old Testament sacrifice. Offerings of gratitude and atonement would be seasoned with salt so as to be holy and pleasing to God (Ex. 30:35). Thus Jesus said, “Have salt among yourselves and be at peace with each other” (Mark 9:50).
Jesus was intentionally elusive as to political alignment. You really can’t nail him down, which is part of what got him nailed to a cross. He incited opposition with deliberately political language, speaking of God’s kingdom as one with values and purposes that reject political and cultural prerogatives. Then as now, kingdom implies power, specifically, the power to rule and control . For the Roman empire of Jesus’ day, kingdom power meant control by military might and brute force. Historians describe Pax Romana as a time of world peace, but Rome made peace by way of war, extortion, and economic domination. Roman apologists labeled this imperial supremacy “good news,” which it was as long as you weren’t an enemy of the state, a slave, an immigrant, a woman, poor, or Jewish.
Jesus’ first sermon in the Gospel of Mark—right out of the water and having defied the Devil in the desert—announced the kingdom of God as better good news (1:15). Jesus said the kingdom was near, but you had to repent to believe it. This no doubt offended his audience, chosen people chafing under oppressive Roman rule. Rural Galilee was first-century Israel’s version of a Bible belt. The people already believed in God and suffered for it. They hungered and thirsted for justice. How could Jesus call them to repentance? What did they do?
The better news of the kingdom of God was disturbingly ironic. Kingdom power would not rule through human force or political might or cultural complicity. Kingdom power works from the margins of human power and influence to love enemies and welcome outcasts and strangers. It cares for the poor, shuns privilege and the pursuit of wealth, and humbly goes the second mile, doing its good in secret and not for applause, its left hand not knowing what its right hand is doing. It’s confused with weakness and looks like defeat. Nowhere is this more evident than in Christianity’s calling card. Rome used crucifixion to viciously squelch insurrection. Jesus used the same cross to expose the futility of Roman violence and religious collusion with it while executing a sentence of forgiveness on his crucifiers. In God’s kingdom, peace was not made through the shedding of enemies’ blood, but by the King shedding his own blood. Ours is a Savior crucified by majority vote.
We know but forget that governments are not God. Governments lie and cannot be trusted. Only God can be trusted, which is why Jesus said repent and believe the better good news. Trust God, in whom true power resides.
Last month’s forthright editorials were not the last word, but the next word in what we intend as an ongoing conversation among Christians concerned for our country and its politics even as we pray God’s kingdom come and his will be done on earth as in heaven. Look for space in our pages and online for dialogue and debate but also, we pray, for consensus and commitment to living our lives in a manner worthy of the calling to which God has called us in Christ.
Daniel Harrell is editor in chief of Christianity Today.
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