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Why do you argue that discipleship and politics are rooted in opposite attitudes?

Question. At a recent conference I heard you argue against the idea that there could ever be a distinctly “Christian” political position by contending that political disputes are premised on a claim to superiority while discipleship is fundamentally rooted in humility. I don’t think I get what you mean. Can you explain this?

Answer: In every political debate, the feuding parties assume that they are wiser and/or morally superior to their opponents. On what other basis could two political parties oppose each other?

For example, if you oppose the Republican or Democratic economic plan, it’s because you believe it is either unwise or unfair – and this, of course, presupposes that you have more insight and/or a greater sense of justice than those who espouse whatever plan you oppose. So it is for every conceivable political dispute you could imagine. Should we have a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq? Should stem cell research be legal? Should all abortion be outlawed? Should laws be passed that aim to reduce the human contribution to global warming (if there is indeed a significant human contribution to global warming)? And so on. Whatever position you assume on divisive questions such as these, you have to assume that those who oppose you are wrong either because they lack your superior insight or because they lack your superior moral sensitivity.

But why should we think that following Jesus gives anyone an advantage in either of these ways? A quick glance at Church history and at the Church today certainly doesn’t suggest Christians have any special wisdom or moral insight into political issues.

Even more fundamentally, how could there ever be a uniquely “Christian” way of claiming intellectual or moral superiority? It seems to me that the New Testament commands followers of Jesus to embrace an opposite attitude. We are to humbly place ourselves under others (Phil. 2:3-5; Eph 4.2) and to regard our own sins as much greater than other people’s sins (Mt. 7:1-5).

Of course, we may have opinions about certain political issues, and undoubtedly we think our opinions are right (why else would we hold them?). But it seems we should take great care to not claim there’s anything distinctly “Christian” about our assumed superiority. For all I know, you may in fact be wiser and more morally developed than all who disagree with you. But that doesn’t make your views “Christian.” It just makes you politically smart and moral.

So by all means go ahead and have your opinions about how to best fix the world. Be wise and moral, and vote accordingly. But don’t ever label your views “Christian.”

Finally, never forget where the hope of the world lies. If anyone could fix the world with his or her superior wisdom and moral sensitivity, the world would be fixed by now. As it is, nothing has broken the world more than people trying to fix it, doing whatever they must to defeat those they assumed had inferior insights and morality. Most of the slaughtering that’s been done throughout history has been done in the name of someone’s intellectual and moral superiority!

The hope of the world certainly doesn’t lie here. It rather lies in that small tribe of people who trust God enough to simply love others like Jesus loved them, obediently placing themselves under others while confessing that they are the worst of sinners (I Tim.1:15-16).

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