The Powerful or The Powerless
Tuesday - January 19th
Devotionals from the Book of James
Scripture to Read Today: James 1:26-27
Religion that God our Father accepts
as pure and faultless is this:
to look after orphans and widows
in their distress and to keep oneself
from being polluted by the world.
Polite society suggests we should not talk about religion and politics with friends and family. This old adage seems to have been lost in recent years. The year 2020 thrust politics and religion to the forefront of our society and into conversations around the dinner tables of American families.
The tension and strident disagreements that emerged have divided couples, families, generations, businesses, and churches. Many now long for a return to the nostalgic adage of not talking about religion and politics. But would that really solve the problems our nation faces?
Politics has had various expressions and forms over time. Even within our great American democracy, politics has shifted, adapted, and shifted again. Political parties gain power, lose power, and gain it again. Both the left and the right use religion for their own advantage. Both have, over the years, weaponized religion to carry out their own agendas.
Church history shows the dangers, pitfalls, and failures associated with Christianity grabbing for political power. Rarely, if ever, does anything good come out of Christianity embracing political methods and means to advance Christ's Kingdom - even when very well-intended.
Does that mean Christianity cannot have Christians involved in politics? Does that mean any hint of political engagement by the followers of Jesus will end badly? No. Our biblical beliefs have political ramifications. We should vote from our biblically shaped consciences.
According to our God, Christians who seek to serve at the local, state, or federal government level choose to enter a valued area of ministry (Romans 13). I have good friends who have pursued and been elected to political office. Engaging in politics is not a bad thing. But there have been (and are) many ways Christianity participates in politics and loses its testimony for Christ - even while saying it wants to advance His Kingdom.
One of the pitfalls to Christianity pursuing political power is the perception the world has of our faith - or, as they might say it, our religion. Christ sent His disciples to make disciples. At the core of that commission was evangelism, baptism, discipleship, teaching, and mobilizing others in and for the Gospel. We are to be known for the truth and grace of Jesus.
James 1:27 says that authentic religion is not about pursuing political power to change our world but to seek ways to serve the powerless. Changing our community, state, nation, or the world has far less to do with getting the right people in positions of power than it does with going to the powerless and seeing that their needs are met. Christ sought out the powerless more than he sought out the powerful. Jesus lived his whole life with that focus.
According to James, genuine religion drives us "to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." That is the kind of life and ministry Jesus lived out as he walked on earth. That should be our first and primary focus. Until we have mastered caring for orphans and widows and keeping ourselves pure in this world, why would we pursue anything else?
Talking about politics and religion is not the problem. Missing what Jesus says religion looks like is the problem.