And let me suggest a definition different than the typical one.
Politics is people living together, making decisions and acting together.
Typically, when we don’t like certain decisions and actions, we slap on the label “politics.” So it’s become a word underlining the “bad” behavior of others, or the behavior of “bad” people. “Family politics.” “National politics.” “Church politics.” Doesn’t adding the word politics call to mind the worst of family, nation, and church?
But what happens when we focus on the worst? It breeds cynicism and ingratitude. It creates learned helplessness. The typical view of politics feeds the problem. Consider the extreme. Rarely is it put into words, but action reveals truth.
If all politics are bad, then good can only be found alone. By myself. I decide and act only in private. Because there is no such thing as a “common good,” I do best when I ignore public relationships and shared consequences. What happens in my family, nation, or church is literally not my problem. Because I’m a good guy, and I stay out of politics.
Withdrawal from politics is withdrawal from community. You cannot have one without the other. Citizenship in a nation, membership in a church, birth into a family come with responsibility to the whole. And the word for exercising that responsibility is politics. Even more, the private depends on the public. As we build relationships, make decisions, and act together—politics!—we receive the gift of community.
Paul wrote, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. … The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ … If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.”
Participating in politics expresses our need for one another. We all need all others—not just some as if we can withdraw from the rest, but all, with no exceptions. Paul’s are political words. In fact, they lead right into some of his most well-known words. His next words are often read at weddings, but Paul wrote them to a politically polarized community. They are political words too.
“Love is patient. Love is kind,” Paul wrote. And many hear an invitation to retreat into private, ensconced in the illusion that the welfare of their neighbors is no concern of theirs. We must struggle against this temptation!
The Jesus of the gospels preached, taught, and healed people in public. When Jesus healed people and cast out their demons, Jesus also restored them to community, to politics. Jesus led a diverse movement of people to march on the capital in Jerusalem! And Jesus died to create local gatherings of people who worship and who care for the orphan, widow, and stranger in their own neighborhoods—whether they came to worship or not.
Jesus lived, died, and rose again for politics, which is community, which is love, which is life. Jesus’ kind of politics are impossible without faith and hope, and Jesus’ politics are fulfilled by love.
By love, we evaluate politics. With and for love, we participate and transform politics.
As messy and imperfect as it can be, we cannot follow Jesus apart from politics with our families, nation, church and beyond. And it’s not all messy and imperfect! All that is good and just and holy in them was also born through politics.
Love leads to politics. Through politics, we get to express love.
Thanks be to God.
Saint Paul Lutheran Church
715 South Third Street
Clinton, IA 52732
(at the foot of the south bridge)