I’ve recently been able to spend some time with one of my favorite very conservative friends: a man who will only watch Fox News, only listen to Rush Limbaugh, and only read books by Glenn Beck. If he could, his paper would be the Washington Times. At the same time, he is a devoted Christian who is unafraid to ask the hard questions, and always wants to know more. Part of what makes him one of my favorite people is that he enjoys conversation with folks on the other side, is willing to listen, and always speaks with respectful civility.
It’s made me ask my own question. Do politics inform our understanding of the gospel, or does the gospel inform our understanding of politics? It’s probably a combination of both, but we have chosen the wrong path if the gospel is not predominant.
I like to think that it is the gospel that informs my politics, which, of course, makes me a perfectly fair and balanced observer of how others answer the question through their words and deeds. For instance, I’m fairly sure that my friend’s politics inform his understanding of the gospel, and he hopes that, if he asks the right questions, sooner or later it will endorse his conservative libertarian world view. To the extent that it has not yet done so, he is able to compartmentalize, keeping Sunday, church, the bible and Jesus in one place, and his politics in another. I suppose it would help if he had more politically conservative pastors in his life. He’s tried that, but it is the gospel as wrestled with in the Episcopal Church that feeds his soul and gives him the blessed assurance he craves, so he puts up with pastors who are unable to cross his political threshold.
You can see how fair and balanced I am about this, very close to the Pharisee in the parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector. But the question is a good one. Think about it. Does the gospel inform your politics, or do your politics inform the gospel? As pastors, we need to ask it repeatedly because the answers will be slippery little devils, quickly appealing to our various assumptions and prejudices. Answering it through thoughtful, prayerful discernment will force us to examine them, while making room for us to listen when God has something to say. And, as scripture so often reminds us, what God has to say is often something we don’t want to hear.