Presence Over Power

“The cumulative testimony of the four Gospels is that when Jesus Christ sees the fallenness of the world all about him, his deepest impulse, his most natural instinct, is to move toward that sin and suffering, not away from it.” – Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly

I was struck when I first read that sentence 2 days ago, as part of a youth worker reading group led by CPYU. And then yesterday, our nation experienced a very troubling thing – call it insurrection, treason, attempted coup, whatever. We saw the consequences of a President who has continued to claim election fraud despite repeated judgments that it didn’t happen, who has stoked his supporters’ pathos into fighting democracy.

I think these 2 things intersect here – the way of Jesus is not demanding power by brute force, but instead about laying down power to be present with a hurting world. When one of his closest followers chopped off a guy’s ear to prevent Jesus’ ministry from being stopped through an arrest, Jesus rebuked him and healed the guy.

One of the most concerning things I see as I look around portions of Christendom is a tendency to cling to political parties and power. This certainly happens on either side of the aisle, but it’s particularly striking presently as it pertains to the Republican party. Largely, because of the single issue of abortion, some Christians have pledged their unwavering support to a party and its politicians with disregard to character, other pertinent and Biblical issues, and the lack of legal progress on that singular issue (even when the branches of government have been largely conservative).

Jesus calls his disciples to be in the world but not of the world. Because we are not of the world, we cannot align ourselves with a singular kingdom of this world. A faithful disciple of Jesus should always be uncomfortable with aspects of every political party and politician. No political party is free of error, yet that’s how many Christians have been operating (at least in the white evangelical world I find myself in – I can’t speak directly to other spheres but my impression is that it’s different). What happened yesterday is what we get when we blindly support someone in order to cling onto our political power.

Because we are to be in the world, we cannot simply remove ourselves from the picture either. A faithful disciple of Jesus can never entirely remove themselves from engaging with politics. First thing, it’s impossible to completely remove ourselves, so to pretend that we can is not helpful. But considering that the world around us is constantly experiencing all that’s happening politically, we must lovingly move towards that in a Christlike way. Consider these things:

  • People of color watched police handle primarily white “protestors” with a lot less brutality than they did with Black Lives Matter protestors over the summer
  • Symbols of racism were paraded through the Capitol in ways that had never happened before
  • Flags bearing the name of Jesus waved amidst the destruction (and not in a good way)
  • Even after seeing the events of yesterday unfold, followers of Jesus continue to claim election fraud and support the “revolution” wholeheartedly

It’s fairly easy and comfortable for some of us, like myself, to remain silent, because we can largely push off events like yesterday as acute. It happened, it doesn’t trigger years of similar traumatic experiences, and in trying to not offend someone we don’t speak up. But I really don’t think that’s an option for disciples of Jesus, especially those like myself who are shepherds of his Body.

I saw a meme earlier today that modified Ron Burgundy’s words slightly to say, “Well, that escalated slowly over 4 years.” The shocking events that unfolded were not sudden, should not have been all that surprising, and were fueled in a significant way by the political fervor of Christians.

Here’s ultimately what I have to say as I try to make sense of what I’m thinking:

Disciples of Jesus cannot continue to jockey for political power in order to serve our agendas. Even when those agendas are good and true, pursuing power at the expense of character, love, humility, and faithful presence is wrong. That is not the way of Jesus, and it’s a glaring scar on our witness to the world when a particular political party’s presence in office is more important to us than loving our neighbors well.

This blog is called “Uncomfortable Youth Ministry”, and while the uncomfortable aspect of this post is readily apparent, I hope it’s as apparent to youth workers, parents, coaches, teachers, etc. how applicable all of this is to the teenagers we love and serve. They are looking at us to see how we will respond, process, and address what’s happened, both yesterday and in the past few decades. Will we strive to be faithful disciples who are in the world but not of the world, or will we continue grasping for power we’re not meant to grasp for? Will we see the threat that Christian nationalism is (not patriotism, nationalism), and will we continue to be present in the midst of sin and suffering?

I welcome any discussion, questions, agreements/disagreements. There’s a lot more I have on my mind but this is good for now.

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