Electing to Follow Jesus: Claiming Our Baggage
Disillusioned and losing sleep over the election? Randy Harris has some thoughts that may help you sleep, but also wake up. This post is part 1 in a series that will help us stay sane leading up to and following the election. Stay tuned for more posts each week, and find the rest of the series here.
I teach theology, ethics, and preaching at Abilene Christian University (ACU) in Abilene, Texas. In class I have a habit of saying, "Here’s my baggage on this topic. You ought to know."
We never come to a conversation without baggage. Name it and claim it--you have baggage, too. We're always dragging our stuff with us, and that’s expected, but revealing it saves trouble along the way. Self-revelation is easier than others dragging it out of us! So what follows is some self-revelation of baggage about politics.
When I first went to teach at ACU two decades ago, I had missed early orientation for new teachers because of a previously scheduled trip. So, I got my own personal orientation from my then dean, Jack Reese. My very first day on the job, I'm in my office working, and Jack comes by and says, "Hey, how you doing?”
"How was your trip to Africa?"
He leaves and then he comes back.
Jack asks, "Has anybody told you about opening day chapel?"
I can see wheels spinning in his head.
"Well, maybe I'd better tell you," he says.
Jack knew I was coming to ACU from David Lipscomb University and, more importantly, he knew I was a Lipscomb-ite, which is not the same thing.
When I taught at the Nashville university, I was one of only two “Lipscomb-ites.” To understand what a Lipscomb-ite is and why it matters, you have to know that the namesake of the university, David Lipscomb, lived in the mid-1800s. His life and views were deeply impacted by the Civil War. Seeing Christians kill each other over any issue or injustice was deeply disturbing to him. He had this view that Christians should be deeply invested in the Kingdom of God and let the kingdoms of this world take care of themselves. For Lipscomb, this meant not involving himself in politics, but he went one step further.
David Lipscomb did not vote.
I understand, for many Americans who have lived and died for the right to vote, for the cause of freedom, this is the worst kind of ignorance and ingratitude. But you have to understand the place Lipscomb is coming from. He’s looking at the world not as a statesman or even a citizen of a nation state but as a citizen of the Kingdom of God. What counted for Lipscomb was how to be a good citizen of the Kingdom Christ lived and died for. What does it mean to act (vote) in the way Jesus would call us to?
Now, I'm not a strict Lipscomb-ite. I actually do vote, but I don't ever vote for anybody who might win. In fact, in half a dozen presidential elections, I’ve written in “Jesus.” He hasn't done well in the results. It doesn't look like this is going to be a great year for him either, but I digress.
Back to Jack’s mini-orientation just for me. "Well, in opening chapel here,” Jack says, “we have this combination of Christianity and patriotic symbolism, including the Battle Hymn of the Republic and a flag bigger than the state of Texas that comes down as the big finish, and I just thought you might oughta know that."
Did Jack really think his new semi-Lipscomb-ite faculty member would walk out of this ceremony? Well, his concern was legitimate.
I said, "Well, how about if, rather than marching in my cap and gown, I just go and watch to see how it hits me, and we'll go from there?"
I did go to opening chapel, I did not walk out, but I was grateful Jack had given me a heads up. Some of you may well write me off, as many did in Lipscomb’s day, as an ingrate, ungrateful for God’s blessings upon our country, sadly undeserving yet benefiting from the blood of men and women who died in the struggle to be free from tyranny, to gain the right to vote, and to be equal under the law. I get that.
The reason I tell you this story is not to say my position is without its difficulties or that there is no other way to view politics. Remember, I’m revealing my prejudices, my baggage, and some of it means quite a lot to me. I tell you this story because I deeply resonate with David Lipscomb's fundamental notions that Christians are to be preoccupied with the Kingdom of God.
Some people think that because I admire and follow this Lipscomb view that I don't like politics. False! Few things in the world entertain me more than politics. Why would you watch reality TV? Elections are reality TV! During elections, I can’t wait to finish work and find out what is going on that day in the world of politics.
Here’s why this confluence of my Lipscomb views and fascination with politics matters. Because as you read articles in this series, you may think that some of what I say is odd--but remember that I've got this Lipscomb background where, like that man of the 1800s, I am deeply disturbed when commitments to the kingdoms of this world get in the way of our commitments in the Kingdom of God.
You also ought to know that I am trained in postmodern philosophy. Basically postmodern philosophy only happened in the last 50 years on one continent. Nobody else cared. One of the big guys in postmodernity is a French thinker (they're mostly French) named Michel Foucault. By reading Foucault, I developed deep suspicions about power in all of its guises. Power intended for good goals tends to make me almost as nervous as power used for bad goals. One of the ways I've tried to explain my position is this: I would prefer to neither be a persecuted person nor a persecutor. But you should know my greater fear is to be the persecutor. That's the position I would least want to be in.
There's no fascist more dangerous than a Christian fascist. Why? Because a Christian fascist thinks they have God’s approval for it. My suspicions about power and how it manifests itself are clearly going to come out in this CHARIS series, and you should know that.
I am also formed by the scholarship and views of two friends, C. Leonard Allen and Richard T. Hughes, who have traced some of my Church of Christ heritage back to the Anabaptists, better known today as Mennonites. I don't ride in a horse and buggy and don't intend to. I'm not quite as anti-21st century culture as that tradition tends to be, but I do think that there is a certain seduction to culture and power that Christians ought to beware of.
I’ve done my best to tell you some of my key prejudices; after reading further you may say, “He has many more!”
What about your baggage? Are you disillusioned, disengaged, over-engaged, taken in, involved, angered, exasperated with politics? What’s your baggage you bring to the conversation?
You’ll find this article series most helpful if you reflect on your own biases then go with me with a combination of Scripture, philosophy, and exhortation to see politics through the eyes of Jesus Christ. The short-hand for Christ’s politics, the view of who is in charge of the world and how we live in it, is called the “Kingdom of God.”
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