All posts in Politics

  • Trumped


    Trumped
    Brian Zahnd

    Politics trumps everything. That’s an axiom that holds up. Unless you really see the kingdom of God and are willing to rethink everything in the light of Christ, politics trumps everything — including faith and ethics. I learned this the hard way. When I pulled away from lock-step allegiance with the Religious Right because I had seen the kingdom of God and had begun to take Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount seriously, many politically conservative Christians accused me of “going over to the other side.” Committed as they were to a dualistic us vs. them paradigm, they could only interpret my kingdom-conscious approach to politics as traitorous. “If you’re not on our side, you must be on their side!” In their closed dualistic system, even Jesus has to be either a Republican or a Democrat.

    So my honest claim to have no interest in the Left/Right political divide because I only cared about following Jesus fell on deaf ears. They could not see the kingdom alternative I was pointing to — they could only see us vs. them, Republicans vs. Democrats, Elephants vs. Donkeys. They were incredulous about my claim to only be interested in following the Lamb. Yes, I learned the hard way that if the kingdom of Christ is not perceived as a viable alternative society, then competition for conventional political power seems the only option for influencing the world.

    With a low ecclesiology, politics trumps everything. If the local church is viewed as devoid of what we think of as real power, then we inevitably set our sights on Washington D.C. The National Prayer Breakfast is believed to be important, not because of prayer, but because the President and other power brokers are there. And once you’re convinced that God is working through the political machinations of Babylon, and that God is inviolably on the side of your political party…well, you have set yourself up to make enormous compromises. So let me talk about the elephant in the room — Donald J. Trump.
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  • On Love of Nation

    On Love of Nation
    Brian Zahnd

    As followers of Jesus we are not commanded to love our nation. Rather, we are commanded to love God with all our heart and to love our neighbor as our self. Nation — whether we are referring to the modern nation-state or to its ancient meaning of ethnicity — is not a proper category for a priority of love. To prioritize love of one’s nation-state or one’s ethnicity will almost of necessity put us at odds with the commands we have received from Jesus Christ. We are called to love God supremely and then to love those around us with a co-suffering love — and we are to do this regardless of our neighbor’s citizenship or ethnicity. This is the basis for all Christ-informed ethics, and this is what Jesus sets forth in his parable of the Good Samaritan.

    Jesus gives the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37) in response to a question from a Torah scholar trying to wiggle out of loving his neighbor by asking for clarification on who actually constitutes a neighbor. The biblical scholar understood that Jesus had spoken correctly when he had identified love of God and love of neighbor as the heart of Scriptural revelation and the way that leads to life, but the scholar was looking for a loop-hole because there were obviously people he didn’t want to love, and Samaritans would certainly have been on his not-to-be-loved list. Thus his lawyerly question. This is the backdrop for the parable.
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  • Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down

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    Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down
    Brian Zahnd

    Yesterday I heard Attorney General Jeff Sessions attempt to defend the deliberately cruel practice of separating immigrant children from their parents and placing them in separate detention camps by citing the Bible. This outraged me. This is not a partisan political issue, but a human rights issue. The United Nations human rights office, the American Psychological Association, Catholic Bishops, the Southern Baptist Convention, and Franklin Graham all agree. But using the Bible to justify this repugnant policy…well, that sent me over the edge.

    Here’s what I had to say about it last night on Twitter.

    Today I sat at my writing desk for seven hours working on the “Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down” chapter for my next book, Postcards From Babylon, and I thought I would share with you the last paragraph I wrote before calling it a day…
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  • Postcards From Babylon

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    Postcards From Babylon
    Brian Zahnd

    At the end of Peter’s first epistle — a letter to believers living in the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire — the apostle cryptically says, “She who is in Babylon greets you.” What does Peter mean by that enigmatic phrase? Why does Peter end his letter by referring to some mysterious woman living in the once great but now insignificant city of Babylon? The answer to this question has to do with the long and bloody history of empire and the new kind of empire that had just began to emerge in the world, a new empire in which Peter plays an important role.

    In the Hebrew scriptures Babylon is the prophetic icon of empire. Empires are rich and powerful nations that, in their arrogant assumption of a divine right to rule the nations and in their conceited claim of possessing a manifest destiny to shape history, intrude upon the sovereignty of God. Peter sees Rome as the contemporary equivalent to Babylon — the latest economic-military superpower deifying itself and asserting a sovereignty belonging only to God. “She” in “Babylon” is the bride of Christ, the church, the community of those who through faith and baptism have renounced the idolatrous belief that Rome is the savior of the world and that Caesar is Lord, who now boldly confess that it is Jesus who is the world’s true Lord and Savior. This is an audacious claim to say the least! It’s this controversial and dangerous claim that periodically landed Christians in prison and the Coliseum. That is, until the church in the era of Constantine found a way to compromise with the empire and make the convoluted claim that somehow both Christ and Caesar were Lord — one in heaven and the other on earth. Goodbye early Christianity, hello Christendom.
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  • How I’m Voting

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    How I’m Voting
    Brian Zahnd

    Election season. The worst of times. The bane of my pastoral existence. A forced march through Desolation Row.

    Praise be to Nero’s Neptune, the Titanic sails at dawn
    Everybody’s shouting, “Which side are you on?!”

    I’ve become so exasperated with America’s quadrennial descent into politicized madness that four years ago Peri and I made plans to take a seven week sabbatical and walk the Camino de Santiago during September and October of 2016. At this point that decision seems to be among the best I’ve ever made. Peri and I can’t wait to begin our five hundred mile pilgrim walk an ocean away from a million political ads and the hysteria they induce.

    You see, having pledged all my allegiance to the Lamb I have none left for elephants or donkeys. I’ve placed all of my hope in the kingdom of Christ. My short form politics is, “Jesus is Lord.” My long form politics is the Sermon on the Mount. And I know good and well that neither the elephant party nor the donkey party have the inclination or ability to seriously embrace the cruciform politics of Lamb. That’s the gist of my political theology.
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  • Marked by Mercy in 2016

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    Marked by Mercy in 2016
    Brian Zahnd

    I’m praying that in 2016 the church would be marked by mercy — that we would walk the world as the pardon of God.

    I wrote these words yesterday following our Wednesday Noon Prayer and Communion service in the Upper Room. As we were praying about the witness of the church in America in the coming year, our prayers took on the theme of mercy.

    We are living in a moment marked by mean-spiritedness. Much of this meanness is directed toward immigrants and refugees, Muslims and foreigners. And, of course, various political factions aim their ire at one another. As we move through the presidential campaigns of 2016, I sadly anticipate the mean-spirited rhetoric to grow worse.

    My prayer is that in 2016 the church would be something other. That instead of conforming to the spirit of the age, the church would model mercy as a Christlike act of nonconformity. Or to say it another way, I’m praying that the church would conform to the mercy of Christ and not to the current zeitgeist of mean-spiritedness. I’m praying that we would walk the world as the pardon of God — a phrase borrowed from G.K. Chesterton’s description of Saint Francis of Assisi.
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  • Income Tax Day by Walter Brueggemann

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    Income Tax Day
    Walter Brueggemann

    On this day of internal revenue
    some of us are paid up,
    some of us owe,
    some of us await a refund,
    some of us have no income to tax.

    But all of us are taxed,
    by war,
    by violence,
    by anxiety,
    by deathliness.

    And Caesar never gives any deep tax relief.

    We render to Caesar. . .
    to some it feels like a grab,
    to some it is clearly a war tax,
    to some — some few —
    it is a way to contribute to the common good.

    In any case we are haunted
    by what we render to Caesar,
    by what we might render to you,
    by the way we invest our wealth and our lives,
    when what you ask is an “easy yoke”:
    to do justice
    to love mercy
    to walk humbly with you.

    Give us courage for your easy burden, so to live untaxed lives.
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  • End of the Line

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    End of the Line
    By Brian Zahnd

    Western Christianity is at a critical juncture. Those who care deeply about the church are aware of this. Things are not as they once were. Things are changing. Dramatically so. Even if we don’t understand what is happening, we can certainly feel it. There is an uneasy feeling throughout evangelicalism that everything is changing. Long-held certitudes are being challenged from both within and without the Christian faith. The way things were even ten years ago is no longer the way things are today. It’s easy to be disconcerted by it all. Read more

  • Re-Membering the Dismembered Body of Christ

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    Re-Membering the Dismembered Body of Christ
    by Brian Zahnd

    That they may all be one…that the world may believe.
    —Jesus (John 17:21)

    I’m kind of depressed.
    Or at least a little bit sad.
    Politics is the pathogen of my mental malady.
    Every election cycle it gets worse—
    Like an unholy Civil War re-enactment.
    Brother against brother.

    The American presidential election is dividing the Body of Christ.
    “I am of Obama!”
    “I am of Romney!”
    Is Christ divided?
    Was Obama crucified for you?
    Were you baptized in the name of Romney?

    Yet the Body of Christ is divided. Not merely that one votes for the donkey and another votes for the elephant (this is to be expected), but that Christians are breaking fellowship over “donkey vs. elephant” allegiance. Vote for my candidate or I will not call you my brother! This makes me deeply sad. As it does the Holy Spirit.

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