Today our neighbours to the south are heading into an election that most, regardless of party affiliation or political bent, believe is incredibly significant. Christians on both sides of the political aisle have been active and vocal in fighting for their preferred leader and party platform. The political disagreement has, at times, become vicious and even violent - even among those who claim the name of Jesus.
On this US election day, we are continuing to consider Christians and politics, remembering that politics isn't primarily about elections and elected representatives. It isn't even primarily about parties and platforms. Politics is, at its core, about the "affairs of the city." And when thinking about how we engage in the affairs of the city, many Christians seem to forget some very important words that Jesus spoke when he was talking to the most important politician in his city - Pilate.
Jesus was on trial, falsely accused by the political and religious leaders of his "tribe" and handed over to the powers of the empire to deal with. As Pilate questioned him, Jesus looked into the eyes of the empire representative and said,
"My kingdom is not of this world.
If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders.
But now my kingdom is from another place."
He didn't fight to be heard. He didn't try to curry the favour of or sway the power of the empire to his benefit. He taught Pilate, corrected the Pharisees, and called us to understand a central truth that Jesus and his followers are citizens of another kingdom that is not of this world. That doesn't mean his kingdom doesn't exist within this world. It means that our allegiance is not to the power brokers, parties, and positions that make up the kingdoms of this world. Our peace does not come through pulling the strings, maintaining privilege, or controlling courts. Our hope is not found in electing the right person, adopting the right policy, or silencing the wrong ideologies. Our identity is not found in a flag, a party affiliation, or the support of a particular candidate.
Jesus said, "All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me." The ones he entrusts that authority to is the church, the faithful community of Jesus followers, to live out in his way in their world. Their engagement with the affairs of the city was meant to be pursued under the authority of Jesus and in the way of Jesus.
Early church writings tell about the martyrdom of Polycarp, an early bishop of Smyrna. A bounty was put on Polycarp because he was a church leader. When he was arrested and brought before the Proconsul he was challenged to renounce his faith and, "Swear by the genius of Caesar." This was an oath of loyalty invented by Julius Caesar. When pushed and pushed to this end, Polycarp replied, "If you do vainly imagine that I would swear by the genius of Caesar, as you say, pretending not to know what I am, hear plainly that I am a Christian. And if you are willing to learn the doctrine of Christianity, give me a day and listen to me." Polycarp's trial ended with him being burned alive at the stake for refusing to give up or even share his allegiance to Christ with allegiance to Caesar.
We, like Polycarp, are to stand in the face of calls to align ourselves with the gods of our age - including the pursuit of power and position, capitalism, nationalism, militarism, and hedonism - and humbly, but clearly, declare our citizenship in a different kingdom doesn't allow for divided loyalty. The call stay loyal to the way of Jesus today carries challenges that Polycarp didn't face because the calls for us to align with the gods of our age now often come from people within the church. We need to stand against those calls even when they come from others who claim the name of Jesus. Our allegiance is to Jesus. Our peace comes through knowing and being known by the living God. Our hope is found in trusting in and living out his way of love and peace in our world. Our identity is found in being his beloved children.
All engagement in the affairs of our city is to remain rooted in this foundation. Sadly, many who claim the name of Jesus seem to have come loose from this soil.