Keep politics out of worship!
I have heard this declaration from other Christians many times in my almost thirty years as a member of Christ’s body. I can’t remember a specific moment when I said this but, given my own spiritual journey, I have to assume it’s come from my lips more than once. It’s often followed by the companion assertion, “Just give us the pure Gospel.”
The problem with this twin complaint, however, is exposed in the very heart of what people might call “pure Gospel.” Every week churches all over the world say, sing, or chant the Lord’s prayer, which includes the line,
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.
On Earth as it is in Heaven.
How is this not a political statement? For that matter how is all worship not a political statement? We Christians gather together and declare the ancient proclamation, “Jesus Christ is Lord” throughout the duration of the service. Have we tamed it so much we no longer see how radical this utterance is? Jesus is Lord — not Caesar, not the empire, not the country, not the president, not the flag. No human leader or institution can be Lord, because Jesus is.
Worship shouts this, it cries out to all creation, “There is a kingdom coming, and this is not it!” This cry of longing and defiance challenges all human power, reminding it of its temporary nature and it’s powerlessness before the God of all. Declaring “Jesus Christ is Lord” should alter the very nature of the way we interact with the polis of this world. It is political.
But it is not partisan.
This is the biggest mistake Christians have made over the course of nearly 2000 years, over and over and over. The current iteration of this error, first in the Religious Right and in more recent times the Religious Left, is a toxic inheritance from our own forgotten history. If “Jesus Christ is Lord,” and no human power is, then a disciple of Jesus must never conflate the Kingdom of Heaven with any human-generated ideology. To do so is disastrous for both our witness to the ancient proclamation and the very nations in which we sojourn. When there appears to be overlap between the call of the Kingdom and a political ideology we can and should engage as our conscience allows 1. At the same time, we must remember to keep a skeptical eye open for the machinations of this age. While we may encounter ideas and goals in the political realm 2 which may appear similar to Jesus’ teachings, these different motivations can be directed toward outcomes which may be incompatible with our savior’s call 3
This is why worship, when it is driven by partisan ideology, is always false worship. Partisan cheerleading ends up taking our eyes and heart away from our ancient proclamation “Jesus Christ is Lord” and sets them on some other altar. Christian worship should manage to challenge every partisan ideology from some angle. All our tendencies will face an inevitable clash with whatever portions of Christ’s teaching we are most comfortable ignoring. Genuine Christian worship has a tendency to uncover our idols and call us to repent. When our worship begins to excuse our own partisan tendencies it doesn’t matter how much we dress things up in Christianese, we’ve begun to practice syncretism.
So let’s acknowledge the political nature of worship, and even be willing to face contemporary political issues in context of worship. But may Jesus always challenge us with the ways his kingdom challenges even our strongest partisan attachments.