Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and received his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller. He is the author of Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus, and Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith.

5 Ways To Be Political The Way Jesus & Early Christians Were Political

Some say that Christianity by nature is political.

To a great degree, that’s absolutely true– though I think we must be careful to not simply leave it there as if Christianity is political in the way the world is political– because it’s not.

Christianity is political precisely because it declares that “Jesus is Lord.”

When the first Christians began to utter that now central confession of the Christian faith, it was absolutely a political statement. Originally the popular saying was “Caesar is Lord,” so to replace Caesar with Jesus was not just political in nature, it was actually an act of political rebellion from the system these early Christians found themselves in.

Another famous term Jesus used was “Kingdom” which is also political– it’s hard to flip a page of the Gospels without Jesus referring to it, and some of the central teachings of Jesus are directly related to how things work in his political world.

While one of the very first acts of Jesus was to categorically reject political power (something as an Anabaptist I completely affirm), there was certainly a political edge to his ministry.

The word politics itself refers to “policies” that impact the general public, and while neither Jesus nor the early Christians told the government the best way to do things, they most certainly spoke out on how people ought to be treated. Thus, as we revisit Christian origins and those who founded our religion, here’s 5 ways to be political the way Jesus and early Christians were political:

5.  Critique the political landscape in as much as you are attempting to show the world that the principles of God’s Kingdom are radically different.

As Christians we must not engage the political arena out of loyalty to a nation or political party. We must not become people who blindly carry the water for a political group. Jesus and the early Christians avoided this entirely– they were focused on building God’s other-worldly Kingdom that operated on a completely different set of principles than any nation then or now.

Instead, when we critique policies or rebuke leaders, may we do it out of loyalty to Kingdom principles and a desire to show the world that so many national political values do not line up with Kingdom values. We must critique in as much as we’re showing a difference between the two. (This principle is exactly why I, a non-voting Anabaptist/Mennonite type, still speak out on some political issues– I want to illustrate the difference between the two Kingdoms.)

4. Don’t confuse the calling to prophetically rebuke power to that of wanting/attempting to assume power.

The quest for power has the ability to suck you in– and once it does, it re-wires your brain to a degree where you’d be lucky to ever get it back. We must remember that even though Jesus and early Christians spoke out on policies that impacted people (politics) they did not get caught up in a quest for political power or positions.

Politicians may be able to make sweeping changes in policy, but we are the ones who are able to make sweeping changes in culture– and changing culture is what brings the most effective and longest lasting change to the world. This is precisely why Jesus and the early Christians focused on being culture changers instead of culture rulers.

3. Don’t wait for government to solve problems– get busy participating in solutions.

Certainly the Bible prescribes certain functions/responsibilities for earthly rulers. Throughout the Old Testament God commanded kings to tend to certain things, such as ensuring redistributive justice for the poor, the widow, and the orphan, and welcoming immigrants. However, and I’ll admit, we on the left are good at this: we must not wait for government to solve problems. Government is exceedingly slow and often inefficient.

The early Christians didn’t wait for government- they got busy thinking of solutions. For example, early Christians dealt with poverty by sharing their wealth in-kind, rejecting personal ownership of property, and redistributing wealth to the poor and needy. While government can– and I say, does, have a legitimate, biblical mandate to ensure such things– we must not wait or place hope in that. Instead, we must get busy working toward solutions all on our own.

2. Speak loudest not on the issues most important to you, but those which impact the marginalized, forgotten, and the thrown away.

Jesus and the early Christians didn’t get involved politically to speak for themselves. They didn’t argue for lower taxes so they could have more money left at the end of the year. Instead, they spoke out on the issues that most desperately impacted the marginalized, the forgotten, and those that culture had thrown away.

Jesus spoke forcefully on caring for the hungry, the naked, for immigrants, for those in prison, etc. Early Christians also focused heavily on those issues, in addition to issues such as vocally opposing capital punishment (which was universally believed by Christians to be abhorrent).

Want to speak out politically? Fine– but speak out primarily on the issues that impact culture’s forgotten and thrown away.

1. Rebuke the religious leaders who collude with political power-holders to oppress people in the name of religion.

Speaking out politically is primarily an issue of speaking to secular government. However, all throughout history there have been religious leaders who colluded with government powers for either money, fame, power, influence, or other non-Jesusy desires (think Franklin Graham).

While I believe speaking out on politics and even criticizing political leaders is part of the Christian tradition (John the Baptist was a political prisoner who was executed for rebuking the King’s sexual immorality), Jesus held his sharpest rebukes for the powerful religious leaders who tried to oppress others by enforcing their rigid religious rules on everyone else (again, think Franklin Graham).

In fact, Jesus spent most if his time rebuking this particular group because he was far more concerned with how religious leaders were treating people than how secular political leaders were treating people. It got so bad that– not to spoil the ending of the story for those who haven’t seen the movie version yet– but these religious leaders don’t just block Jesus on Facebook; they actually used their influence with secular political forces to have Jesus tortured and murdered.

No one hated Jesus more than conservative religious leaders who were knee-deep into secular politics.

Is Christianity political by nature? Most certainly– but it’s not political in nature the way the world is.

As Christians, I hope we’ll continue the tradition of being “political” but in as much as we are political the way Jesus and early Christians were political. When we speak, may we do so in order to demonstrate the Kingdom of Jesus is totally different. When we rebuke power, may we resist the the allure to become power. When we identify needs, let us be the first in line to offer a solution and support. As we speak on issues, may we speak the loudest on the issues that impact those with less privilege than ourselves.

Most of all, for those of us who want to be political the way Jesus was political, may we save our harshest rebukes for our own religious leaders who collude with the powerful in order to coerce others in the name of “religion.”

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Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and earned his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller.

He is the author of Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, and Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus.

It's not the end of the world, but it's pretty #@&% close. Trump's America & Franklin Graham's Christianity must be resisted.

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It's not the end of the world, but it's pretty #@&% close. Trump's America & Franklin Graham's Christianity must be resisted.

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  • While political voice is critical for influencing change, it behooves followers of The Way to have a basic understanding of economics, notably behavioral economics. The principle of ‘scarcity’ challenges all of us to think more deeply about real world solutions. Without this awareness, many ideas sound ideal but lead to unintended consequences. I recommend ‘Basic Economics’ by Dr. Thomas Sowell, an entertaining and eye opening, very readable text that should be taught from in every middle and high school.

  • 1: American: 2: BSR (British Scandinavia Russia): 3: AF-EU (AFRICA EUROPE): 4: AI-OP (Arab India Oceania Pacific)!

    King: King-King-King!!!!

    PACE: PACE-PACE-PACE!!!!!!!!!!!!

    2: British (Ireland-British): Scandinavia: Russia: BSR!

  • I agree with much of what you have written, but Jesus’ “Jewish ethics were being applied to an empire situation in a land that was under military occupation… his words as recorded fit that “political” situation, and not a democracy where individuals are needed to participate in the process, including seeking the power of elected position… Thanks for your work. It’s interesting.

  • Benjamin, I have the sense that you are criticizing primarily conservatives with this post, since you mention Franklin Graham several times. But as I was reading, I was thinking of all the people who criticize my husband and other libertarians for being cold-hearted, and say you can’t be both Christian and libertarian. My husband is one of the most generous people I know, and a regular (monthly) supporter of several ministries that feed, house, and otherwise care for the poor. He just prefers to support those he chooses, not be forced to by the government, through taxation. Please speak to this.

  • I agree with a lot of your post, but why do you not vote? I can understand that early Anabaptists would not get involved in any governmental positions because governments were authoritarian, and involvement would have meant at least colluding in, and probably participating in, use of violence and oppression. This was clearly a principled and honourable position, which I totally support. But in a democracy, and in view of your nos. 2 and 3, while accepting that there is no such thing as a Christian party (in the UK we have a “Christian Party”, but my view stands), and Christians don’t all agree on political issues anyway, why would you not vote for the party or candidate who comes closest to fulfilling a biblical mandate or are most likely (in your view) to benefit the marginalised?

    • I have a tendency not to vote, as well. Primarily because voting generally seems to involve trying to decide which candidate is the lesser evil. And, it’s a cliche, but: the lesser of two (or more) evils is still evil. Never has this been more true than in the last election!

    • It doesn’t matter whether a democracy or authoritarian state…they are both propped up by the use or threat of violence. Voting, even in a democracy, is colluding with an inherently violent entity. It’s impossible to separate violence from man’s governments, because every single law is enforced through violence, or the threat thereof.

      But, let’s take a look at this election we just had in the US. Trump vs Hillary. Neither of these candidates possess a worldview that is remotely consistent with the teachings of Christ. Even if you want to go down to the 3rd parties, none of them possess a Christ-like worldview, especially given that their concepts of governance require the use of violence to some degree or another.

      You seem to be making the argument that I often hear every election cycle of voting for the “lesser of two evils”. I get the pragmatic argument for doing so, but Christ’s teachings are based on pragmatism. We aren’t called to ever embrace “lesser evil” because “lesser evil” is still “evil”.

      But, that’s my perspective on it as a Christian, pacifist and voluntaryist.

      • Thank you for your perspective. (I presume you meant to say “Christ’s teachings are not based on pragmatism.”)
        Can I ask you how you define violence? Granted, every government depends on violence or the threat of it in their defence policies, but I would not say that most laws depend on violence for their enforcement.
        Here we are fortunate in having more political parties than you do. In the Scottish Parliament we have two parties – SNP and Green – who are committed to the removal of nuclear weapons. Individual politicians of other parties share this commitment, including my local Labour candidate at the last UK election. I have other reasons for not voting SNP, but this policy is to me more of a “good” than a “lesser evil”. In the UK coalition government of 2010-2015, the Liberal Democrats prevented the Conservatives (for the period of that Parliament) from commissioning the renewal of Trident. I could use other examples of supporting good policies but this one very specifically relates to reducing the threat of violence.
        I work in local government. My job is planning and co-ordinating public transport. This I believe contributes to the good of society, although in times of austerity such as now there is a strong element of limiting the effect of cuts rather than making positive developments. I also like the fact that I am not supporting a specific commercial interest against competitors.
        So that’s something of my perspective.

  • Neither Jesus or early Christians advocated using governmental powers to carry out the work Jesus laid out for the church.

    Caring for the poor, the orphans, the widows, etc. is the job of the church. The church was never told to force everyone, even those out of the church, to participate.

    • Unfortunately there are more needy people than churches alone can feed, house, train for employment, etc. unless all Christians sell their possessions and give the money to the poor as the Bible instructs. Realistically that isn’t going to happen, but the government can help with social programs, rather than have the streets overrun with homeless people turning to crime out of desperation. In that case, the least the Christians can do is not complain that SOMEONE is taking care of the poor when they didn’t.

      • Jesus didn’t make utilitarian arguments. He didn’t tell christians to go out and do what’s necessary in order to feed the poor. He told Christians to go out and feed the poor, themselves.

        Christians are welcome to argue for social programs. My problem is when they pretend like their Christianity compels them to do so.

  • One item not coveredin the other comments, is that Jesus was not opposing “conservative” leaders. The High Priest, the Sadducees, and some of the Pharisees were colluding with the Romans and had liberalized the Law in many ways to accomodate Roman sensibilities. They even tested Jesus in this manner – “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar?”. Jesus was killed as an insurrectionist as a way to preserve the nation from Rome – at least that was the High Priest’s view. Jesus never abrogated the Law, he held to its spirit. He loved those who followed it, and was angered by those who used it for their own gain and purposes – the heart of Paganism which God condemned in Deuteronomy.

    We must not make the mistake of reading our own cultural views and stuggles back on the text.

  • Well said, Benjamin. I agree that we in the kingdom are to change people–not control governments. Whenever Christians come into governmental power, their focus changes from Jesus to Caesar. And when they begin to force their religion on others, they have lost the kingdom ethic altogether.

  • ‘early Christians dealt with poverty by… rejecting personal ownership of property’

    – not sure if thats actually true. More an assumption. It isnt ‘immoral’ to own property, then or now. I assume you rent your home.

    ‘Early Christians also focused heavily on those issues, in addition to issues such as vocally opposing capital punishment (which was universally believed by Christians to be abhorrent).’

    – or perhaps not: http://angelusnews.com/articles/for-catholics-trump-s-scotus-pick-may-stir-both-hopes-and-fears

    ‘No one hated Jesus more than conservative religious leaders who were knee-deep into secular politics.’

    – well specifically Jewish religious leaders who rejected Him as the Jewish Messiah, so Im not sure you can simply equate them with today’s Christian leaders. And it wasnt ‘conservative’ leaders who hated Him, it was ‘hypocritical’ religious leaders of any kind (Im sure there are few of them in the progressive/liberal camp?).

    As for ‘secular politics’ I think it is a good thing that some Christians are directly involved, such as MPs in the UK.

  • political – adjective –
    ** relating to the government or the public affairs of a country.
    ** relating to the ideas or strategies of a particular party or group in politics.
    ** interested in or active in politics.

    In this U.S. of A. the court system, the executive office and the congress are political as the three are constitutionally equal, check and balance, branches of government.

    Jesus is political, equally concerned with the government of all mankind today because He has a strategy, prompted by a love for all children of Man, to offer an eternal visa to a perfectly benevolent kingdom. Jesus is political leading, teaching and serving His disciples (all whose spirit is a child of God as is His) because He has all authority over heaven and on earth – “not to spoil the ending of the story for those who haven’t seen the movie version yet” – heaven is eternal and the earth is not, dust to dust, ashes to ashes, spirit to spirit.

    From my heart and mind I vote. I vote because my puny little influence is prompted by my love for all children of Man, not my allegiance to just the survival of my one nation at the cost of many outsiders. I am most proud to vote for the huddled masses yearning to breathe free from war torn nations, those nations that I am unable to speak out or vote to influence from within. I am most proud to be able to influence in love the best I have learned from within this nation that, so far, allows me to speak out and to cast my ballot. I am most proud when I know that someone was lifted up by my vote to find heaven when all they knew before was the hell of “me and mine before you get what’s left”.

    While the soldiers were casting their lots, Jesus politically cast the greatest vote for the good of all mankind, testifying His allegiance to all mankind as one and to our creator God, as one, who serves because They love mankind before mankind knows to love Them. The last measure Jesus marked on His ballot was the request of forgiveness for all those who knew not what they were doing in governing the public affairs of this earth.

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