Politics and religion are often at odds. That’s one reason why the contemporary rule-of-thumb is to avoid discussing either. And, if your most sacred mantra is to live and let live you may agree with that approach. I don’t.
Suffice it to say that, no matter how much we wish our lives were tension-free, it doesn’t work. Unless we opt for life as a hermit (and a diminishing “world” makes that harder than ever) we are impacted by others and we do, and will impact others. “Live and let live” may work for a while, or for seasons at a time, but for the most part we no longer have the luxury of a lone-ranger lifestyle.
That means, in part, that each of us has to determine which standards of interaction we’re going to live by, whose rules or principles we’re going to pin our character and our allegience to. There are many options to choose from. For most of us, among the more precious of those options are our heritage and our faith. Naturally born Americans, like myself, often unconsciously blend the principles and paradigms of the two into a sort of “Christiamericanism.”
For the most part, a Christiamerican worldview works, I think. After all, our founders—if not all “Christ followers” —were at least all raised in a largely bible-based culture and tradition. Some overtly joined their faith to their patriotism, others more subtly, some preferred not to—but did, regardless—because their religious heritage, quite naturally, had become part of who they had become.
In any case, while this amalgam of faith and political culture generally gives us a sound system for living, it also presents subtle conflicts requiring hard choices.
For example, the Jewish apostle Paul is described in the Book of Acts (23:2-5)—the story of the early, post-Jesus evolution of the Christian faith—as having been hunted down and imprisoned by his socio-religious foes. Suddenly on trial, Paul bravely stood up for his reasonable rights before the religious rulers when Ananias, the group’s leader and Paul’s chief accuser, ordered underlings standing nearby to slap Paul in the face for his declaration that he had lived his life with a clear conscience before God (v1). Paul’s immediate response was to lash out verbally, cursing and name-calling and challenging Ananias’ obvious double standard. But, when others questioned him for cursing a legitimate ruler of the people, Paul remembered God’s command in the Book of Exodus (22:28) forbidding such verbal violence.
Paul now had a choice to make. He could, reasonably, defend his response as warranted by the disrespectful assault of this powerful foe. His status as a captive—as a declared enemy of his faith, of his people—would have predicted that. To most modern eyes, the circumstances would have justified it. But, that’s not what Paul did.
In humility, and before both his most loyal followers and most vehement rivals, Paul apologized, acknowledging he had violated a higher authority, a more worthy leader and the One for whose message of loving obedience he now stood in chains.
Today’s news brings similar challenges our way from time to time. Sometimes we have to choose whether to react as we’re expected to—as our allies teach we should in order to preserve our dignity, our rights, our just cause, our peers’ trust—or whether to react honorably in the face of dishonor, respectfully in reply to disrespect, out of integrity instead of out of impulse.
Courage is needed, of course. And faith. And only character can prepare us to produce such a reaction when cherished socio-political rights are being publicly tested. But, in choosing character, faith and courage we have the rare chance both to defend the rightness of our cause and to influence others far more than mere slogans, taunts and self-righteous roars ever could.