Philip Yancey is a well-respected Christian author in the evangelical community. In an early 2011 interview he spoke of the negative reaction that people have when they hear the word evangelical. He asked a person on an airplane what she thought when she heard the word: “We had a good conversation; but when I asked that question, the words that came up immediately were ‘judgmental,’ ‘telling me how to live,’ ‘intolerant.’” Philip went on to say in the interview, “I would put it this way, evangelicalism is flexible, and it appeals to many people if they give it a chance. It got quite complicated by right-wing politics. That really exacerbated the image problem.”
Please understand me when I say I am not advocating for either conservative or liberal political persuasions as being definitive for the church. I heartily agree with the position that Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon take in relationship to the church and politics: “We believe both the conservative and liberal church are basically accommodationist (that is, Constantinian) in their social ethic. Both assume wrongly that the American church’s primary social task is to underwrite American democracy. In so doing, they have unwittingly underwritten the moral presuppositions that destroy the church.” They go on to say, “We would like a church that again asserts that God, not nations, rules the world, that the boundaries of God’s kingdom transcend those of Caesar, and that the main political task of the church is the formation of people who see clearly the cost of discipleship and are willing to pay the price.”
Jesus tells a story to a partisan “legal expert” (a guy who clearly knows his Bible) that demonstrates the bipartisan spirit of the kingdom of God. The question is asked of Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” and Jesus responds with the story about the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The idea of a good Samaritan would have been an oxymoron for an orthodox Jew. Samaritans were racially mixed and considered unclean. Samaritans were the descendants of Babylonian captors and the Jewish remnant that were left behind during the captivity period, considered too old or weak to be of benefit as slaves for the conquerors. The Samaritans also rejected important Old Testament doctrines essential to Jewish interpretation, primarily concerning the atonement and means of sacrifice. You can imagine what went through the Bible expert’s mind when Jesus asked the question: “Which of the three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hand of robbers?” The man replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus’ directive was: “Go and do likewise.” Point made: right action trumps right doctrine and even legally correct ideology when all is said and done. Does truth matter? Absolutely, but God’s truth will always be demonstrated through loving, redemptive actions.
As followers of Jesus we are not to define nor are we to divide ourselves according to the ideologies and platforms of Caesar. The two extremes of rigid conservatism and relativistic liberalism can destroy Christ’s mission in the world through his church. But I see a new generation of Christians who are seeking a way that is neither left nor right, red nor blue. They are striving together to reclaim the radical and inclusive message and mission of Jesus by tearing down the partisan divides that separate us.
This post was excerpted from my book with Chuck Gutenson, Hijacked: responding to the partisan church divide (Abingdon Press, 2012).