In moments of cultural unrest and political crisis, identities become confused. I find it helpful in such times to review the basics of what it is to be Christian.
To be Christian is to identify with the cross of Christ, knowing that this secures to us eternal life now and in the future.
When we are baptized, we publicly identify with the death of Christ. His shameful death is ours; his surrender of his rights is ours; his being socially ostracized is ours; his refusal to retaliate or lash out verbally is ours; his love for enemies is ours; his praying for his persecutors is ours; his rejection of grasping after power is ours; his giving up control of the course of history is ours.
To begin as a Christian disciple, then, is to publicly surrender our rights, privileges, symbols of social status and the desire to control the course of history. It is to cast our lots with the coming kingdom of God rather than any earthly nation.
Much of Christian discipleship is the life-long discovery of just what we gave up when we considered everything loss in order to gain Christ.
In times of cultural unrest, when anxieties are enflamed, it may seem best to assert our rights, to fight our enemies, to grasp after power so that we might determine the course of history and to control national events.
Christians must see in this the temptation to give up our Christian discipleship, to get off the cross, to cut ourselves off from Christ.
And this would be a tragic mistake, for only those who identify with the death of Christ are guaranteed the hope of eternal life. Only those who surrender earthly rights will receive a heavenly kingdom. Only those who lose their lives will live.
Now, identification with the cross does not mean doing nothing. We are baptized into a new people, and we enter into wholly new social behaviors such as loving and serving others. We welcome strangers and those with no social capital and we treat them as equals and honored guests. Christians provide hospitality to others by feeding and clothing them and helping the homeless to find sustainable housing.
Consistent through the Scriptures of Israel, the teaching of Jesus, the apostles and New Testament writers, God calls Christian communities to do these things especially to those whom the majority culture demonizes.
These are all unusual behaviors. They are not the norm.
But Christians behave this way so that the God who loves his enemies will be truly seen in this world. Christians behave this way to make manifest that they truly belong to a coming kingdom. Christians behave this way because they follow a king who rules from a cross, who sits on his throne as a slaughtered lamb. And Christians behave this way because they believe that when they do, the Lord Jesus Christ and the God who sent him most effectively dwells among them.
In a time of cultural upheaval and enflamed anxieties, it may seem best to close our doors, to demonize others, to hate our enemies, to retaliate, to lash out verbally, to refuse hospitality to strangers and to deny refugees the basic care they need. It may seem to make sense to adopt the hopes and hatreds of the majority culture.
Christians must see in this the temptation to cease our Christian discipleship, to no longer be the radically alternative community ruled by Jesus, to see Jesus’ commands as burdensome, inconvenient, dispensable and undesirable.
Giving in to this temptation is to go the way of the world and to testify that we do not believe in a coming kingdom. It is to grasp after our lives now because we do not believe in the promise that by losing them now we will gain them later.
Christian discipleship is not the denial of politics. It is the rejection of the politics of power, quests for control and anger, and the cultivation of a cross-shaped politics of weakness, welcome and joy.