The Politics of Jesus

The history of the Episcopal Church is founded on the concept of Via Media: The middle way. While that might sound like treading a meaningless, lukewarm path in the midst of conflict, our history points to something more radical: In a time when Christians were shedding each’ others’ blood over doctrine and politics, the Church of England’s innovation of common prayer called people to meet at Jesus’ table. To meet, literally, at the altar — not because they had to share all the same beliefs, but because we believe we all need the forgiveness Jesus offers, and that in shared confession, listening, and reconciliation we might experience something of the Kingdom of God. That theological innovation of common prayer laid the groundwork for the political innovation that separated church and state. Four hundred years later, here we are — in an extraordinarily frought political situation, one in which our practice of via media might be, again, a painful gift.

Recently Bishop Loya invited all of ECMN to a shared practice of noonday prayer on Tuesdays leading up to the election day. I hope you’ll join us in that practice, using the form here or another that suits you. We pray not for one party to prevail but because we know lament and prayer to be faithful ways of being God’s people together, as we stumble together in the dark. We pray because we know God is God, and we are not. We pray also because we know prayer is formation: Prayer changes us. Sometimes, leaning into the Scriptures helps us to hear God’s voice around and above the ways our prevailing culture shapes our minds.

To that end, I was grateful to read Bishop Loya’s words about the Way of Jesus in that message:

“I ask you to be bold in your proclamation and witness to the good news of Jesus in this moment. While the gospel is never partisan–it does not endorse one candidate or party platform–the gospel is always political, meaning it is always concerned with the way people are treated and resources are managed in the real world. This is not a time for us to be timid in announcing that Jesus is always present with those who are cast down and cast aside, that Jesus affirms and values the inherent worth and dignity of every human being, and that the Holy Spirit is always engaged in helping us embrace the outsider and the other. Our nation, and our world, need the gospel’s message of hope and love as much as they ever have.”

Faithful Christians, and faithful Episcopalians, have understood the relationship between their faith and their civic/political engagement in different ways. Our via media tradition doesn’t demand intellectual acquiescence to one approach to policy, economics, or polity. But it does demand that we take seriously the story of faith as we seek to live it out as disciples of Jesus today.

To be shaped by Scripture means that we know that God hears the cries of those who suffer, and cries with them (Exodus). It means that we know that God abhors the use of power to exploit people and planet (the Prophets). It means that we have the audacity to believe that love of neighbor is love of God, and that our baptism is first a joining with Christ in his death and then a defiant hope in the resurrection (the Gospels). It means that we have our eyes open to the ways the powers and empires of this world want to colonize us, and that we turn instead toward the Way of Love (Revelation).

If this story of faith is beckoning you, I commend to you the upcoming School for Formation courses on the Hebrew Bible and on the Creeds, both of which touch on essential aspects of Christian identity.

Excellent resources are coming out every day from the Episcopal Public Policy Network, including the Vote Faithfully Toolkit. Likewise, I commend to you this article on baptism as sacramentally anti-racist. And this podcast, with evangelical thought leader Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, who recounts how political interests colonized conservative Christianity in this country with a white, nationalist vision. All of those resources, I think, will shed this light: the via media, the middle way, is not a political safety valve from the Way of Jesus. It’s a call to ongoing relationship at Jesus’ table with those who disagree while we do our best to live the Gospel, even and especially at the voting booth. It’s a call to wrestle openly and lovingly with the ethical demands of our civic life in the context of our faith without dehumanizing each other or anyone else. And it’s most definitely a call not to wait for unanimous agreement but to speak truthfully and bravely about what it looks like to love all our neighbors, and all of creation.