Kingdom Politics: Sewing the Great Commandment Back Together

Kingdom Politics
In early 21st century American politics, the two sides of our partisan divide can be described as a rupture between the two halves of Jesus’ Great Commandment. One side champions personal holiness (love of God) and thinks that the role of society is to create a basic system of law and order that will allow individuals to succeed or fail according to whether or not they make responsible choices. The other side champions social justice (love of neighbor) and thinks that the role of society is to make sure that everyone is provided for and has a seat at the table. The challenge of Christians who want to see kingdom values reflected in our society’s politics is to sew love of God and love of neighbor back together.

The problem is that many people use the half of the Commandment they like as a shield against the other side. Some justify their lack of concern for social justice with their zeal for personal holiness, while others do the opposite, and most are in the confused middle. It has not always been the case that personal holiness and social justice were pitted against each other. In the late 19th century, evangelicals built a prophetic movement that fought for temperance, women’s suffrage, labor union rights, and public education, among other justice and holiness issues. So how in the world could the religious right and the religious left of today ever unify around a kingdom-based political movement? I propose starting with the following recognitions about the kingdom and the world around us.

1) Peace and justice can only fully happen in the kingdom

The kingdom of God describes the social order that is submitted to the reign of God’s mercy established through Jesus’ cross and resurrection. Kingdom people have gained the freedom to admit that they’re wrong; they know that Jesus suffers with them anytime they are mistreated; and they trust that God will right every wrong just as Jesus was vindicated by His resurrection. This is the social circumstance in which true peace and justice can exist organically between people. The word for mercy in Hebrew is hesed, which means not just “forgiveness,” but the unconditional “loving-kindness” that you have inside a family. God establishes peace and justice not through war and tribunal, but by making us a family in which the blood that incorporates us is thicker than genetics. This doesn’t negate the need for restitution and reconciliation in dealing with the conflict and injustice of the world. It just means that our feet need to be wearing kingdom shoes whenever we march on Washington, like Dr. King who sought to be reconciled with his oppressors into one family.

2) The kingdom engages the world both subversively and pragmatically

People of the kingdom should always remain aloof to the structures and allegiances of the world. Christians on both sides of our Great Commandment schism have failed in this regard. Social gospel Christians from the early 20th century allowed their social reforms to get co-opted and absorbed into a centralized, secular bureaucracy. Similarly, the Christian family values movement today has allowed its cause to be co-opted by worldly agendas that have nothing to do with Jesus’ priorities like gun rights and climate change denial. We have to engage the world, but it is a perilous task that we must do cautiously to avoid being remade in the world’s image. We need to be subversive, which means that we can do things like cover our hearts for the Star Spangled Banner in order to win others for the kingdom but never forgetting that pledging our allegiance to a piece of fabric is flirting with idolatry since Christ is our king. We also need to be pragmatic, which means that even though we might like it better if the church could feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and heal the sick on its own, we do not accomplish this goal by sabotaging the ability of secular institutions like the government to provide for the hungry, naked, and sick.

3) Technocracy and capitalism both stand against the kingdom

There are two major forces in our society right now that stand against God’s kingdom. Technocracy describes the presumption that our society’s problems have to be handled by “experts,” who are hidden behind bureaucratic walls and speak in inaccessible jargon whenever they do enter the public discourse. Technocracy tells us that regular people can’t be heroes. It throws a wet blanket over the spirit of entrepreneurship which, understood properly, is a thoroughly Christian value – the fearless surrender to the lead of the Holy Spirit, something kingdom people should be all about.

The other suffocating force in our society is capitalism, by which I do not mean simply a “free market” environment in which we are free to start our own businesses that sell products at prices we set, but rather the mysterious force that emerges within the free market which manipulates us into seeing everything as a commodity whose value is derived extrinsically through exchange rather than intrinsically through its intangible worth as God’s creation. Capitalism can easily cause us to see everything we own as investment property. One of the most damaging impacts of capitalism has been the sexual degeneration of our society over the past 40 years, which is primarily the result of making sex into the most important commodity used to sell products. Kingdom people cannot avoid navigating the free market, but we must avoid falling under the seduction of its commodities.

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4) The kingdom is neither Pleasantville nor Woodstock

The 1998 film Pleasantville offers a side-by-side comparison of what I consider the two failed moral imaginations of the twentieth century. The premise of the movie is that two teenagers from the present have been warped into a 1950’s sitcom in which everything is absolutely safe and predictable. It critiques the American nostalgia for an idyllic Pleasantville that creates the phenomenon of suburbia, a way of leaving the world in which you flee the city with its violent mixture of race and class in order to seek a place where you only see people who look like you. This is the opposite of the way that we were told to leave the world by our Savior who said, “The poor will always be with you.” And yet many American Christians confuse the flight to Pleasantville with seeking the kingdom of God.

The film Pleasantville solves the problem of the Fifties by making the Sixties happen and invoking what I will call the Woodstock moral imagination. After the co-protagonist Mary Sue “pins” the captain of the basketball team in his car at Lovers’ Lane, patches of color start to appear in the black and white scenery. Soon, sexual liberation leads to a proliferation of art and culture and the whole town turns completely into color. The film doesn’t seem to realize that its Woodstock utopia is the second failed moral imagination of the twentieth century. Free love doesn’t make us free. It makes us selfish. “Open-mindedness” doesn’t make us more tolerant of each other; it makes us intolerant of people whose principles make our self-indulgence feel uncomfortable.

The kingdom is the solution to both the Fifties and the Sixties at the same time. Kingdom people seek neither to build safe, isolated castles for their nuclear families nor abandon themselves to their appetites at clothing-optional, drug-infested parties. We want to build a world in which all are safe, joyful, and part of the same family, which requires personal moral discipline on each of our parts but not as a means of constructing moral gated communities from which we can watch the world with a sanctimonious disapproval that justifies our lack of compassion.

Conclusion

You’ll notice I didn’t say anything about voting. I don’t think we should refrain from voting, but if the church were the prophetic voice it has been at other points in history, the buttons we pressed every two years would be less relevant than the relationships we built with politicians between election campaigns. Because of the culture wars, politicians have no reason to take the church seriously. As long as they’re voting for our preference on the token culture war issues, there’s no reason for them to think that we would change our vote if they blow us off on any other issue. Until a critical mass of Christians can sew the Great Commandment back together and demand that our government live in accordance with the love for God and love of neighbor that define the values of the kingdom, we will have little impact on our politicians’ realpolitik calculations. I look forward to the time when we look back on this broken and frustrating time in our history as the catalyst for a movement of prophetic integrity.


Morgan Guyton is the associate pastor of Burke United Methodist Church in Burke, Virginia, and a Christian who continues to seek God’s liberation from the prison of self-justification Jesus died to help him overcome. Morgan’s blog “Mercy Not Sacrifice” is located at http://morganguyton.wordpress.com. Follow Morgan on twitter at www.twitter.com/maguyton.

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About the Author

Morgan Guyton

Morgan GuytonMorgan Guyton is the associate pastor of Burke United Methodist Church in Burke, Virginia, and a Christian who continues to seek God’s liberation from the prison of self-justification Jesus died to help him overcome. Morgan’s blog “Mercy Not Sacrifice” is located at http://morganguyton.wordpress.com. Follow Morgan on twitter at www.twitter.com/maguyton.View all posts by Morgan Guyton →

  • Frank

    Start with loving the “least” of the least of these, the unborn and then we might have real progress but as long as a party has abortion on demand in its platform it is neither about loving God or loving one another.

    • Jonathan

      Legalizing or making abortion illegal has no effect on real abortion rates. Kind of like legalizing or making various drugs illegal has no effect on real rates of drug use. And, in fact, offering legal abortions allows for a way that is safer to the women involved, many of whom would be choosing abortion regardless of its legalization. You want to affect the abortion rates, start affecting the lives of women and men in the situation of wanting/needing an abortion.

      • Frank

        You should look up the data before you say something so factually wrong.

        Since legalization, abortion has become so routine more than 40 million unborn

        babies have been aborted since 1973. In 1996, 1,365,730 abortions were recorded, an

        increase of well over 100% since 1973, when the annual figure was 615,831, according to

        the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. About every 20 seconds a baby is

        aborted. 159 abortions are done every hour, 3,805 every day, 115,744 every month.

        Almost 30% of all pregnancies are now ended by abortion.

        Between 1974 and 1983 the repeat abortion rate soared drastically – 166%.

      • Frank

        And one more truth women do not seem to care what men think, not even the fathers. Are the fathers consulted and do they have a say? Do they get to keep their child if they want to?

        Absolute and unequivocal selfishness!

        • Drew

          Do you have anything to back this up, or are you just spreading hate, contrary to the Gospel message?

          • Frank

            Drew are you the same Drew that used to be reasonable and never misrepresented people or is this a different Drew?

            Show me where the fathers permission is required before his unborn child is killed.

            Abortion is contrary to the Gospel message as well as anyone who supports a party that has abortion on demand.

          • Drew

            Frank,

            The father doesn’t have to carry the baby to term, and in most cases, the father is the primary reason why the abortion is happening. Either the father is absent or the father is openly advocating abortion or the father is a deadbeat/abusive. I’m not sure why you invented a story that abortions are done frivolously, but it’s a fantasy that is poisoning your mind in regards to this issue.

            What is better, the Democratic Party stance that they will support mothers but won’t legislate abortion, or the Republican Party stance that they don’t give a flip about mothers and will cut all funding as much as possible to support them, but will make sure to legislate abortion? I say they are both flawed; you say you worship the RNC and therefore substitute the RNC Platform for the Bible.

          • Frank

            Yet more BS from you. Yes the republicans are evil and don’t care about mothers.

            I don’t need to to look at the GOP to know that the bible values life. Jesus values life. You sound like your are grasping at straws to maintain your flawed position or political leaning. Sad.

          • Drew

            Frank, I made it clear I am not entirely happy with each sides approach. Your tin ears only picked up on the Republican part of my sentence, but I mention Democrats as well. I actually do support legislation supporting abortion, although I question how effective it is and am mature and intelligent enough to know that passing a law does not mean that the law will be followed by everyone.

            While you advocate the RNC Platform and despise the DNC Platform, I point out problems with both platforms. You can tell me I’m supporting a “political leaning,” but you know in your heart that you are projecting.

            Again, you can think my approach is flawed, but my goal is the same as yours. That’s what should unite us.

          • Frank

            Drew I hope that we are indeed working together. Yes neither party is perfect but only one party is trying to stop the killing. The unborn deserve their support so let’s all support them.

            One thing you might want to put in check is the name calling. You may consider yourself more mature than others, a point that is arguable, but you insult those who may think differently in the process.

          • Drew

            You just said “more BS from you,” and you want to talk about civility? Again, you are projecting, Frank. When I say you are projecting, by the way, that is not name-calling. It’s not an indictment of your character, but rather, of your rhetoric.

            Again, you equate legislation with the only way to stop abortion. It’s not.

          • Frank

            Stop spouting BS and there will be no reason for someone to call you on on it. Simple really. And how many times must I post that legislation itself is not the entire solution but the critical first step to stop the wanton killing of innocent life? Open your ears my friend… open your ears.

          • Drew

            I disagree with you that it is critical and disagree with you that it is the first step. You may say it is not the entire solution, but you act as if it is – that is all you post about, legislative action. You worship your politically solution.

          • Frank

            Keep deflecting while over 21,000 innocent unborn children’s are killed each week only 3% due to rape, incest or the life of the mother. You should be ashamed of yourself.

          • Drew

            Slandering me and trolling websites does not stop abortion, Frank. Until you put your faith into action, it is dead.

          • Questioning

            Fathers should be a part of this equation. Last time I checked it takes two to make a baby. However, I don’t think it would turn out the way you are envisioning Frank. We have pretty good ways of determining paternity… I think. I say identify the fathers and MAKE them pay to support the child or incarcerate them and confiscate their possessions. We can identify sex offenders, why not dead beat dads. I guarantee you would see an uptick in morality and a downtick in abortions if MEN realized there were serious ramifications associated with where they peck their stickers.

          • Frank

            I agree Questioning. I think that would be great! Both mothers and fathers should be held accountable for their actions. Both mothers and fathers should have a say regarding the life of their child. Yes the mother has the gift of carrying the baby while it develops which, if it is too much of an inconvenience for her, should make her be that much more careful about her actions and responsibilities.

          • Drew

            A woman needs to be careful about her actions and responsibilities insomuch as a man does as well. The fact that a woman has more at stake if she gets pregnant does nothing to negate the fact that it takes a man and a woman to make a child. Deadbeat and abusive and neglectful fathers might be able to hid from the system, but they can’t hide from God.

          • Frank

            Drew the person who has the most at stake is the baby, which seemingly just gets ignored while people think of themselves.

      • 22044

        In many other nations, their respective languages don’t even have a word that would translate to abortion in English. And in others where pro-life policy is the law of the land, abortions do occur, but at so much lower levels than they do in the United States.
        Frank has laid out well why babies in the womb are vulnerable and that Jesus cares for them greatly. I would only add that if the government correctly has laws against murder, the government may justly determine that unborn babies are worthy to have their lives be protected as well.

        • Drew

          There are laws against murder. Tell me, are people still being murdered? That is the point that some are trying to make. Legislation is just one tool in the toolbox. The best way to reduce abortion is to prevent pregnancy from happening, and then when it happens, to support the mother. Passing laws will eliminate abortion clinics, but not abortions. It’s hard to even say how much it would curb it. FWIW, I support legislation, but only as part of a comprehensive support, which people like you and Frank fail to talk about because it is politically popular and expedient to advocate legislation versus support for mothers or anything that requires substantial effort, money, or love.

          • 22044

            It’s certainly welcome to discuss other parts of a comprehensive program to reduce abortion. However, the feedback from many others is that legislation is to be eschewed while pursuing the other parts – so I’m pushing back to advocate for legislation to be passed as well.
            Additionally, I laid out why pro-life legislation should not be scorned by Christians by engaging the consistent pro-life ethic. There can certainly be differences about how that ethic works out, but nobody who’s willing to consider that life exists in the womb can consistently defend laws against murder and other crimes and be OK with legalized abortion.

          • Drew

            Go ahead and pass the law. I’m for most laws restricting abortion. Then, when it doesn’t work, you’ll have to go before Jesus on judgement day, and when he asks you what you did for the unborn, you can say “Well, I voted once, and it didn’t do anything, but, well, the politician was really happy I voted for him.”

            Let’s face it, the reason for advocating legislation above anything else is because political worship is rampant, ideology worship is rampant, and most people don’t want to do the hard work that it takes to evangelize and change hearts and support mothers, and would rather pass laws and “feel good” about themselves.

          • Frank

            Drew you continually lower your credibility with these posts. Now you claim to know someones heart? That they vote against abortion just to relieve their conscience and otherwise do not really care about life?

            Sigh…

          • Drew

            My credibility was great when you agreed with me and now it is lowered when you disagree with me. It’s too bad that you base your opinion of me on such a shallow criteria, whether I am in lockstep with you or not.

          • Frank

            I don’t recall ever calling you credible. We have agreed on somethings that’s true but based on your recent posts I take you much less seriously now. Problem with spouting BS is that it calls everything you say into question.

            Not saying that you care BTW.

          • Drew

            I answer to Christ, not to Frank. So yes, of course I don’t care what you think.

          • 22044

            Drew,
            It’s certainly true that political worship is rampant out there, but that doesn’t address why pro-life legislation may be justifiably passed. Good & just laws are not enough, but they are necessary for a healthy, civilized society. Not just for abortion but for other matters as well.
            Most of the pro-lifers I’m familiar with lament that abortion is considered a political issue, as they advocate to protect lives, not pursue political power.

          • Drew

            I am sure some pro-lifers are like that. Randy Alcorn is someone who has protested abortion clinics and advocated legislative action and written books about the topic. Yet, he has also financially supported crisis clinics and has taken a pregnant woman into his home before and cared for her until she reached term. That is what is missing from the discussion, a comprehensiveness regarding the issue. As soon as someone does not advocate legislation, they are pro-abortion, pro-murder, liberals, communists, atheists, unsaved, reprobates…. when in fact they may be advocating a different and more successful approach. As long as people have the same goals (reducing abortions), there should be some leeway as to how they want to accomplish those goals.

    • Eric

      While Jesus taught and lived in a way that gave priority to those who were the “least,” it is a stretch to include abortion into the discussion. And too often when it is, those who were the “least” in the actual ministry of Jesus are sidelined. I oppose abortion but that conviction does not incline me (1) to vote for a party whose solution to abortion -making it illegal- has not been shown to reduce abortions worldwide or (2) to vote for a party who continually seeks to shift funds away from programs that help the “least” in our society. Frankly, not voting at all is a great temptation for me.

      • Frank

        Not a stretch at all unless you are trying to justify murder. The unborn are naked, hungry, sick, thirsty and both a stranger and a prisoner. They meet every criteria.

        How wonderful that the wanton killing of innocent life “does not incline” you. Yes Jesus really is showing through.

    • http://twitter.com/MAGuyton Morgan Guyton

      As long as the Republicans know that the vote of the majority of their electoral base is based on abortion remaining a live issue, they will never solve the problem because doing so would collapse their electoral coalition. What you should do is support pro-life Democrats because they’re the ones who need to make the change that will make your hope and my hope into a reality.

      • Frank

        Yes because all republicans are evil and do not want whats best for our country. Please you insult our country when you say something as dumb and hypocritical as that. especially since yuu just posted “I want to utterly avoid partisan identification and be simply a prophetic movement that engages politicians from the outside the way that Elijah engaged Ahab.”

        Its is in direct opposition to the Christian faith to vote for a party that has abortion on demand in its platform.

      • 22044

        I won’t add much to what Frank said, except…there are virtually no pro-life Democrats in power, and their platform supports taxpayer-funded abortion at any stage of pregnancy. Anyone who thinks they’re called to be a prophet should be aware of that.

      • Drew

        Not sure what you’re trying to get at here, Morgan.

  • Drew

    I would take a different track than you, Morgan, in regards to this topic.

    In my opinion, the problem is elevating politics above Christ. If we are Christians, we should have the same set of values. When we talk about politics as Christians, then, we should have the same goals – just different ways to get there. For instance, if we are both Christians, we should both hate abortion, but one Christian can favor legislation while another Christian can favor support for mothers. Two Christians, same values, same goals, just different ways of getting there. We can disagree with the solutions, but it is difficult to demonize each other because we both have the same goals.

    Like I said, the problem is when we elevate politics above Christ. If we are Politicos first, we believe our solution is right and the other solution is wrong, wen we are more interested in our solution being the “right” solution and being implemented than we are about the actual result. For instance, look at Frank. I’ve never seen him once say that he wants to reduce abortion. Instead, he only talks about HIS means of achieving a reduction in abortion – legislation. He cares more about the politics of the matter and about HIS ideology being implemented than he cares about a discussion in regards to the best way to reduce abortions. When people offer up different solutions, he usually trashes them and say they are not Christians or do not care about reducing abortion.

    Therefore, I think the solution is to start by talking about shared goals and values, and then discuss how we get there. We might still disagree, but at least we have the same ends. Two people can be Evangelical Christians, and have the same view on a topic, yet disagree about the solution, and that is okay. What’s not okay is when we start worshiping politicians, or political parties, or our ideology/ideas to achieve our goals.

    • Frank

      Drew you really should pay more attention. I want to stop abortion, especially abortions for convenience which account for 97%. I want to reduce them so much that no innocent will be snuffed out. It will only be accomplished through legislation and changing peoples selfish hearts.

      • Drew

        Thanks for demonstrating what I am saying so beautifully. We both have the same value, being against abortion, and we both have the same goal, reducing abortion. However, when you say the only way for it to be accomplished is through legislation, you are wrong. Until you realize there is more than one way to skin a deer, and until you stop worshiping your political party, personal politics, and solutions over other solutions, then it will be difficult for you to be a Brother in Christ to other Brothers.

        • Frank

          Drew please, you do us all a disservice in misrepresenting my position. Did you not read what I wrote and have written? We need to do all of the above but we first must stop the slaughter. Next week is too late for the 6000+ killed this week.

          So to clarify:

          Yes provide assistance

          Yes reduce pregnancies

          Yes educate people on the value of all life

          BUT STOP THE KILLING FIRST as much as possible.

          There is nothing we can do for the 40 million killed since Roe V Wade but we can help the 6000 that will be on the chopping block next week. This has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with the Christian value of life.

          • Drew

            Frank,

            I think you have taken an important first step – realizing that someone can have the same values as you but just has a different way to achieve that goal. Maybe a lot of Democrats do not have the goal of reducing abortions, but on this website, most of us are Christians first.

            I actually support legislation, but I do not think that is the most important or even the best solution. It’s not because I love abortion, or because I am dumb, or because I support the Democratic party. I just simply believe it is one approach out of a handful of approaches, and that it may not be the most effective. I mean, we have laws against drugs – tell me how the War on Drugs is going? God gave Israel the Ten Commandments – tell me how that turned out?

            Although you say you are for a comprehensive solution, this is the first time I have seen you advocate one. I’d like to see you keep on sharing that comprehensive solution… I think most people on this website would agree with you.

    • http://twitter.com/MAGuyton Morgan Guyton

      I think I actually want to take the same track that you do; I’m just using different semantics. I want to utterly avoid partisan identification and be simply a prophetic movement that engages politicians from the outside the way that Elijah engaged Ahab.

      • Drew

        Thanks for the clarification. I agree.

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