Christ, Not America, First | Sojourners

Christ, Not America, First

Jesus never ran for office.

Jesus never endorsed a political candidate.

Jesus never voted.

Jesus never pledged allegiance to a flag, country, or ruler.

Through his entire life and ministry, Jesus was notably absent from involving himself in the political systems of his day. Why? Because the Kingdom of Heaven was his priority, and living out the divine ideals of that kingdom would be contrary to those of any worldly kingdom or system of power.

Therefore, Jesus did what the gospel instructs us to do today: Help the poor, comfort the oppressed, empower the downtrodden, welcome the foreigner, care for the maligned, accept the outcast, and provide hope, mercy, grace, healing, forgiveness, and sacrificial love to the world around us.

One of the hallmarks of following Christ is emulating his life. And this is what Christianity essentially is: Jesus.

Christianity isn’t a political ideology, or a sovereign nation, or a set of laws legislating values or enforcing a society’s preferred brand of morality. Christianity is centered upon Christ.

Of course, one can be involved in politics, run for office, and vote, but the question is what happens when Christians must choose between the two. What should followers of Jesus do when one contradicts the values of the other?

Our answer lies with Christ himself, who was arrested, put on trial, and condemned to a horrific death by the ruling government of the day — for refusing to sell out his faith.

Jesus could’ve taken the easy way out and just given the rulers what they wanted, but he didn’t. His resistance towards governmental procedures and structures was his obedience to God.

And it’s probably not a coincidence that the ultimate act of evil by Satan would be disguised under the façade of a government justice system and bureaucratic process. By Roman standards, Jesus had a fair trial and was guilty — end of story.

Many prefer this type of no-nonsense clarity of rules, regulations, laws, and enforcement.

It’s tempting for today’s Christians to become co-opted by partisan alliances, political opinions, and fear. The disciples fell into this same pitfall, and Jesus, the Son of God and savior of the world, was all but abandoned by his followers during his greatest time of need, even being denied three times by one of his closest companions.

This is what governments and societies try to do: enforce control through division, anger, hate, anxiety, and power.

But the early church, the first generations of believers, took the sacrifice of Jesus to heart and refused to be cowed.

They followed Jesus to their deaths, unwilling to forsake the gospel in the face of political persecution, public humiliation, sacrificial suffering, and even the judicial laws of their time. So, like Jesus, they were “justifiably” killed and suppressed by the ruling powers.

Those very first Christians would not let the message of Jesus be co-opted by political agendas, and they put their hope in Jesus alone. And this is how the good news of Jesus was spread: by standing up to powerful rulers and refusing to compromise the gospel for anything.

We can directly link our faith today to the sacrifice of those countless Christ-followers who wouldn’t bow to Rome, or to Caesar, simply because they were following Jesus.

They understood the dangers of political idolatry, but their legacy has often been lost on current Christians, and we must rediscover this brave willingness to choose Christ over everything.

Because it’s been under the trappings of populist patriotism and nationalism that historically recent atrocities such as the genocide of Native Americans, slavery, segregation, racism, the internment of Japanese citizens, and countless other heinous injustices were committed by the United States and many of its Christian citizens.

Despite having some notable exceptions (there were followers of Christ who stood up against such evil), we must wonder what people of faith were thinking. Because whatever excuses, logic, or reasoning was used, it was completely wrong.

How will history judge Christians today? More importantly, how will God judge us?

Will our opinions about national security, foreign policy, financial security, economic impact, logistical capacity, and political arguments appease God when we’re asked about how we treated the refugee, the immigrant, the widow, the orphan, the oppressed, and ‘the least of these’? 

Can we follow Jesus even if it means going against our favorite politician, political party, national interest, or whatever entity or idol usually prevents us from seeing the gospel clearly?

God doesn’t want American-followers, or Republican-followers, or Democrat-followers. Instead, God wants Jesus-followers.

Additionally, God wants us to view everyone — regardless of their ethnicity, culture, nationality, politics, worldview, or socio-economic background — as people divinely loved by God and created in God’s image.

So instead of classifying people as refugees, immigrants, “illegal” immigrants, Muslims, Iranians, or whatever other association we use to judge people, God wants us to see humanity as fellow loved ones, children of God.

Christians today are facing a litmus test of their faith, and many don’t know what to do, how to act, or what to be either for or against. They like the gospel, but they also don’t want to forsake their party loyalties, hurt their country, or break the law.

But at some point, inevitably, Christians will have to choose between Jesus and their preferred political party and ideology. And when that time comes let’s pray that their choices won’t be at the expense of the gospel or any person created in the image of God.

This is what Christianity is: to love God and love others as you would like to be loved. God help us.

“‘And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)