Like Paul, I grew up in a tradition that didn’t pay much if any attention Good Friday, or see anything terribly ironic about the adjective “Good.” I’ve come to see that omission (and with it the implication that the crucifixion didn’t really happen on any meaningful level, or represented sort of a magic trick played on Christ’s executioners) as very dangerous, and certainly subversive of the basic Christian doctrine of the Incarnation.
If the Incarnation means anything, it’s that God became man in this world, and the world proceeded to kill Him. That death–that very real death, as real as the resurrection, and certainly more distinctly illustrated in the Scriptures–is what Christians, or anyone who wants to understand Christians, should be thinking about today.
It means a lot of things to me personally, including my own responsibility, along with the Romans and the Sanhedrin and anyone else you want to name, for Christ’s murder, for a crime that is far greater than any moral merit or demerit that I or anyone else could ever earn.
But here at Progressive Revival, a religio-political site, I’d like to offer some brief but perhaps provocative thoughts on what the crucifixion means in terms of how I think about politics (using the broadest definition of that term).
To put it simply, the death of the Incarnate God, and the nature of His resurrection, rule out, once and for all, any idea of us humans building the Kingdom of God on earth. If Jesus Christ couldn’t accomplish that, and indeed, was murdered for even proclaiming the Kingdom, then his disciples won’t, either. Yes, I pray that His “Kingdom come” several times each day, but this is because “His will be done,” not because of anything that you or I can do. Perhaps we contribute in an invisible way to the Kingdom by living as Christians, but frankly, I fear it is demonic to arrogate to ourselves the divine power to make this world into The Other.
This dualism about the Kingdom of Man and the Kingdom of God, along with the faith that God will ultimately reconcile them, has always struck me as central to what I understood of Christianity. It is not, needless to say, a point of view that has always prevailed among Christians, but as a Protestant, I recognize no authority that can tell us all precisely what God’s Will involves when it comes to the operations of civil society or politics–except that we should resist secular demands that we treat its own authority as God-like. And that is why Christians can and must fight totalitarian movements that demand unconditional allegiance to any nation, caste, class, emperor, tribe, or family, or indeed, to any particular system of morality or economics, beyond what is necessary to let us love and feed one another. Christians will obviously differ on political choices that don’t involve such disloyalty to God, but within certain boundaries.
The only thing worse–far worse–than accepting the idolatry of unconditional secular belief systems is to confuse them with the Kingdom of God. And that’s equally true if you think the Divine Will involves unilateral disarmament and ownership of goods in common, or the sanctification of so-called “family values” such as patriarchy, heterosexual marriage, or interference with the reproductive prerogatives of the gender which God has exclusively entrusted with that responsibility.
To put it another way, I don’t dislike the “Christian Right” because it’s “too religious,” but because it idolatrously worships an entirely secular brand of cultural conservatism and then has the audacity to claim it for God Himself, usually via an highly selective recourse to scriptural inerrancy (or as Catholics sometimes call it, “Bibliolatry”) that betrays its real motives. But the last thing I want to do is to fight the “Christian Right” with a “Christian Left” that equally seeks to dress up it secular preferences in religious garb and claim the Kingdom for itself.
Where does that leave this Christian? Well, for one thing, it makes me strongly support the separation of church and state on religious grounds, which used to be a pretty common attitude among Protestants in this country. And it also tends to make me a “liberal” in the American meaning of that word, if only because political principles like diversity or equality should come naturally for Christians, and also because “conservatism” has too often involved the tendency to semi-divinize too many things of this world, from race, class and country to The Market. That may just be a prejudice, and I may be wrong about all sorts of individual political judgments I make, just like anyone else. That’s why we have political debate and political parties and elections. But please don’t tell me that God demands that I vote for your candidate or support your “Christian” political cause. Unless you are willing to claim the role of Prophet, with the spiritual dangers that involves, you shouldn’t even go there.
If these ruminations offend any readers, or seem a ridiculous extrapolation from a meditation of the crucifixion or Good Friday, I apologize. But when I survey the wondrous cross, I see a world that has killed the living Word, and does so every day, and that can only be redeemed spiritually, not by those carrying crosses who confuse Christ’s resurrection with the appropriation of divine power to their own earthly causes, however well-meaning. And this Holy Week is as good a time as any for Christians active in politics to seriously reflect on how Christ seeks to shapes our activism with His loving hand–even as we nail it to a cross.