Sunday, July 31, 2016

A Different Way

In this hot political season, with voices raised about guns, immigration, jobs, money in politics and more,  I find myself pausing to ask: which Way am I called to follow? Whose priorities should I pursue?

Before Christians were called Christians, they were called Followers of the Way. The Way was Jesus: simultaneously the path itself, guide and example, companion on the journey. Jesus said “I am the way, the truth and the life.”

But he also said “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). 

The way to relationship with God, to the full life Jesus promised, is through Jesus himself, but also through following the path he shows us, walking with him the road of sacrifice and self-denial.

I’ve been listening to Christian leaders tie themselves in knots trying to explain why followers of Christ would also follow Donald Trump, who knows less than any potential leader I've seen about sacrifice and self-denial.  I’ve read carefully the explanation that while Donald Trump may not be as pro-life, pro-family, pro-faith as Christian leaders might want, the fact that he’s the Republican nominee makes him “the only hope.”

That sounds a little blasphemous to me.

Following the Way of Christ starts with a willingness to set our habits and loyalties aside. 

Jesus said again and again: "leave your nets, your fields, your money, your life, and come, follow me."

The early believers understood that the first step of the Christian journey was a step away from all prior allegiance, including allegiance to self, to comfort, safety, the right to be right, the mistaken idea that somehow we, on our own, are good people, better than those others.

Allegiance to party platform.

Even national pride.

The Apostle Paul understood this completely:
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more:  circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. (Philippians 3) 
The early Christians understood that the leadership of Christ stood in stark contrast to the leadership of Caesar. 

The Roman Empire proclaim evangelion, the good news (or gospel), that Caesar Augustus (the Exalted One) would bring peace and prosperity. Caesar’s peace had winners and losers: subjugation of non-citizens, slaughter of enemy barbarians, prosperity for Caesar’s favorites.

The followers of Christ proclaimed a new loyalty, a contradiction of the Roman good news. The Christian gospel was not about the political rule of a forceful human leader, but the unexpected narrative of Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection and the announcement of a risen savior who would bring peace for all, not just the Romans favored by Caesar.

Jesus said, “Peace I bring to you, but not as the world (Rome) brings.” New life in Christ was by definition in stark opposition to empire, power and violence.
Several centuries later, Athanasius of Alexandria  (ca. 296-298 – 373) described the visible influence of the Way of Christ  on the surrounding culture:
Christ is not only preached through His own disciples, but also wrought so persuasively on men’s understanding that, laying aside their savage habits and forsaking the worship of their ancestral gods, they learnt to know Him and through Him to worship the Father. While they were yet idolaters, the Greeks and Barbarians were always at war with each other, and were even cruel to their own kith and kin. Nobody could travel by land or sea at all unless he was armed with swords, because of their irreconcilable quarrels with each other. Indeed, the whole course of their life was carried on with weapons. But since they came over to the school of Christ, as men moved with real compunction they have laid aside their murderous cruelty and are war-minded no more. On the contrary, all is peace among them and nothing remains save desire for friendship.  (On the Incarnation) 
As followers of the Way in the 21st century, we face a challenge not known to those new Christians of an earlier world. We carry the heritage not only of those whose lives mirrored the example of Christ, but also of those who in the name of Christ went on with their war-minded ways, killing and conquering, justifying slavery and sexism, suppressing scientific study, shouting down opponents, carrying signs saying “God hates.”

No one said the Way of Christ would be easy. 

Russell D. Moore, Southern Baptist pastor and theologian, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, has been working valiantly to encourage white evangelical American Christians to extricate themselves from unexamined allegiance to the Republican party and its current candidate.

In a 2015 New York Times op-ed he set forth as clearly and as calmly as I’ve seen the deep divide between the “way” of Trump and the way of Christ.
[T]he problem is not just Mr. Trump’s personal lack of a moral compass. He is, after all, a casino and real estate mogul who has built his career off gambling, a moral vice and an economic swindle that oppresses the poorest and most desperate. When Mr. Trump’s casinos fail, he can simply file bankruptcy and move on. The lives and families destroyed by the casino industry cannot move on so easily. 
He’s defended, up until very recent years, abortion, and speaks even now of the “good things” done by Planned Parenthood. In a time when racial tensions run high across the country, Mr. Trump incites division, with slurs against Hispanic immigrants and with protectionist jargon that preys on turning economic insecurity into ugly “us versus them” identity politics. When evangelicals should be leading the way on racial reconciliation, as the Bible tells us to, are we really ready to trade unity with our black and brown brothers and sisters for this angry politician? 
Jesus taught his disciples to “count the cost” of following him. We should know, he said, where we’re going and what we’re leaving behind. We should also count the cost of following Donald Trump. To do so would mean that we’ve decided to join the other side of the culture war, that image and celebrity and money and power and social Darwinist “winning” trump the conservation of moral principles and a just society. We ought to listen, to get past the boisterous confidence and the television lights and the waving arms and hear just whose speech we’re applauding.
The Way of Christ leads us away from the longing for an earthly savior, away from allegiance to a political gospel of physical power or personal prosperity or the need to "win" at the cost of integrity and witness. 

It leads us away from slogans, mockery, hostility toward the opposition, nostalgia for comfort and ease at the expense of others unlike ourselves.

It leads us deeper into humility, deeper into the longing for wisdom, the repentant awareness of our own lack of love, our own inadequacy in the face of complex, overwhelming need.

And along that Way, as we read the words of Jesus, as we pray to hear and know his voice, as we ask to see with his eyes, to love what he loves, we find our hearts changing. 

As we follow his way, we find ourselves claiming, with him, a purpose and passion like his own, priority enough in this conflicted season:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4)

Christ of the Breadlines, Fritz Eichenberg, 1951

This is a revision of a post from 2012, Which "Way" Am I Called to Follow?

It's also part of a series on What's Your Platform
Beyond the Party Platform July 24, 2016