The Radical Middle
It's the first time in the history of Crossroads that Senior Pastor Brian Tome has talked about politics. For anyone who follows Jesus, here are some words to consider.
I like to be liked. And yet, I’m going to write about politics.
So that means half of you aren’t going to like me after the first few paragraphs and most of the rest will follow by the end. But I want to help you. Not to help you think the way I think, but to consider navigating our incredibly divisive political culture in an emotionally sustainable way.
There’s a story in the Bible that relates to the current political climate. The leader of Israel at this point in the story is named Joshua. On the eve of a battle, an angel shows up. Joshua asks,
“Are you for us, or our adversaries?” The Angel replied, “Neither; but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Joshua 5:13-14Joshua is asking a question that most politically engaged Americans ask: “Are you with us (the good guys) or with them (the stupid ones)? Are you the way I vote, or with the people who are idiots and don’t care for others?” Let’s remember that it was God who sent Joshua into battle. He probably hoped the angel would say, “Of course I’m for you!” But he says, “I’m not on either side. I’m on God’s side.”
We need to hear this. God isn’t on the right. He isn’t on the left. When Joshua gets reoriented and realizes he’s made it about us vs. them, he falls on his face in repentance. I would love for today to be the day that we repent for the level of divisiveness we’ve had in our hearts toward people who have different convictions and voting records.
Jesus lived under the political control of Rome, the most powerful nation of his time. This was a nation that is among the most corrupt, brutal, and immoral cultures ever, with absolute power in the hands of one man—Caesar. Any early follower of Christ would take the living conditions and leadership of any American President over that of Rome and Caesar. But they learned to live in their reality with joy.
Those of us in the radical middle are doing the same, as the left and right continue to feed on anyone in their way.
I like to be liked. And yet, I’m going to write about politics.
Living in the radical middle means these five things:You have a rootedness that informs you.
In our culture, the word radical means extremism. But radical actually comes from the latin word “radix” or root. When we talk about the radical middle, we’re talking about being rooted, with a foundation deeper than the outrage of the moment or the political wind currently in power. This is why I’ve never addressed government officials. My rootedness informs me that if Jesus didn’t address Caesar in the midst of all the awful stuff the Roman empire was doing, then neither do I need to get on my soapbox to be heard about X or Y issue. If my primary energy and emotion is devoted to what’s happening in the temporal political world, it’s a pretty good indicator that’s where I’m rooted, instead of in the eternal work of God.
Our current president and the previous one have made decisions that are outside the bounds of scripture. You don’t need to read the Bible to know that, nor do you even need to agree with me. Just understand that I submit to and am rooted in a higher constitution. I am an American, but first and foremost I am a citizen of the Kingdom of God. Sure, my preferred America isn’t happening. In fact it’s likely going to get worse. But I’ve decided that my political country doesn’t have the power to affect my joy. I’ll choose the restraint of Jesus over lack of restraint. I’ll choose Jesus’ passion for the Kingdom over passion for a preferred America. I’ll choose Jesus’ way of being in the minority on the narrow path over the way of self-selecting into communities where everyone thinks alike and believes their majority equates to truth.You can’t be categorized.
The right hates me because I’m open to new gun control laws. The left hates me because I own guns. The right loves me because I want to see businesses get bigger and make more money. The left loves me because I want more help for the poor. I’m fine with being loved and hated by both sides, because my security, my hope, my priorities, and my ways of making decisions aren’t dependent on either side liking me.
The Bible actually shows us how not to be categorized. The apostle Paul puts it this way,
To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 1 Corinthians 9:20-22
Let’s make an effort to relate to and empathize with all people. As soon as you’re known by your political stripe, you’ve decreased your relationships. By “taking a stand,” you’ve eliminated half of your potential. You took a stand alright, and lessened the impact of your life. As soon as you’re a person who can be politically categorized, you’ve lost the ability to influence and bless as many people as possible.You can hear people with an opposing view.
The Left believes that right-wing tribalism—bigotry, racism—is tearing the country apart. The Right believes that left-wing tribalism—identity politics, political correctness—is tearing the country apart. They are both right. —Amy Chua, Political Tribes
The Republican and Democratic Parties have to stake out ground that is different to appeal to others. They have to pump up those differences to try to prove their relevance. In the meantime, the rest of us who get all worked up get duped. Jesus never got worked up about the Roman Empire. We don’t see him railing on their elected officials nor making a crusade out of their different moral choices. The only time Jesus even mentioned Caesar was when he was questioned about taxes. He said, “Whose image is on that coin?” They said, “Caesar’s.” He said,
Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. Matthew 22:21
For someone who is following Jesus, we have to understand that money and political power are small potatoes. Let others have them—those things are going to fade.You want to bring people together in the middle.
I used to crack on the people who posted their food on social media. Not anymore. I long for more stupid oyster pics or narcissistic vacation selfies. We used to have organizations that were a meeting space in the middle. Fraternal organizations, churches, Elks, Rotary Clubs, The American Legion. They barely exist anymore. As a result, we aren’t forced into relational rhythms with people who are different than us. Instead, we socialize on Facebook, where everyone has self-selected their friends because they think alike. We’re firing each other up instead of building bridges to find common ground. And finding common ground is how a country is changed.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Matthew 5:9
Where are the peacemakers? Jesus leads me to conclude that there must not be many “sons of God” on the bombastic left and right. I want to have common ground wherever possible, and where we can’t, I want to be as inoffensive as possible. Should some believers be in politics? Absolutely. Should we wisely post on Facebook about political issues? Fine. Should we be concerned and fight for things we see happening in our public sphere? Of course. But if we are followers of Jesus, how we do those things should look very different than the status quo of politics in modern day America.
At the end of the day, it comes down to where our heart, our trust, our security is found. Are we relying on and being fueled by God’s heart and mission for the world? If we are, that is always going to cause us to cross boundaries to the middle, to engage in relationship with people who don’t look like us, and to take risks that cost us time, money, and influence.You get more peace.
This next line may be very offensive to some of us who are called to political office. God wants believers with high standards in elected office. But if political engagement—picketing, ranting on social media, or judging people who don’t think like you is your way to change the world, you are sadly and woefully mistaken. You won’t accomplish much other than becoming a bitter person and ruining your effectiveness.
Of course I have an opinion on some social issues, care who a potential elected official should be, and even root for specific Supreme Court justices. But whether my preferences do or don’t prevail, it’s never the source of my joy. God dictates my moods and my view of the future, not politicians or the political winds of our country.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Galatians 5:22
You can have antagonistic politics, fear-ridden paranoia over America’s future, and disdain toward people who think differently than you. Or you can can have Jesus. You can be like everyone else who gets worked up over every issue and fights for their own way. Or you can get worked up over giving God more of your life. You can have the ways of this world, or the ways of God.The world we live in is one of increasing, unyielding polarization and separation.
At the white hot center, we find a political divide that is seemingly impossible to cross. People in our country have self-selected into fortified camps, which are just echo chambers of firing each other up, and in the process giving themselves ulcers.
Root yourself in the example of Jesus who brings a peace that outlives the current election cycle. Stand in the middle so you can hear the thoughts, fears, and hopes of all sides. Be someone different. We would love to have you in the radical middle.