How can a group of people whose leader says “blessed are the peacemakers” become among the most divisive people groups in our culture today? When that group of people has a powerful mindset that is not from heaven. Jesus called this misalignment a lack of knowing “the spirit (mindset) you are of.”
Today, divisiveness and tribalism seems to be as American as Apple Pie, Justin Bieber and Yankees baseball. But one would assume that Christians, with biblical commands such as “as much as it’s in your control, be at peace with others” would be above the fray. Sadly, that’s not the case as Christians are often among the most angry, most shrill and most partisan people around. Could it be that the evangelical church has been partnered with a right-wing, partisan mindset for so long, we’re struggling to discern the difference between God’s directives and those of conservative ideology and media? It’s certainly happened before!
…after fifty years of mixing our religion with partisan, conservative politics we simply don’t know the spirit we are of.
In the Bible, James and John were two of Jesus’ closest colleagues and John was his best friend. When a village of mixed-race people, known as Samaritans, rejected Jesus, James and John fell back on the only mindset they’d ever known. Their Bible told them that a town that rejected a messenger from God was to be cursed. And, boy, did the two guys nicknamed “The Sons of Thunder” have a plan for this village!
They asked Jesus if they could nuke that town with “fire from heaven.” They were sure this holy indignation would please Jesus — It didn’t.
Instead, the Bible says Jesus rebuked them – quite the opposite of the expected reaction. “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of,” said Jesus as he explained that he didn’t come to condemn people who reject him, but to restore their connection to God.
How confusing this must have been for James and John. Their lifelong zeal had been to follow God’s rules or be punished, but their boss was telling them to think the way they’d always known, was wrong. Jesus said their mindset was, in fact, the opposite of the heart of God.
How Today’s Christians Resemble James and John
A similar mindset exists in today’s evangelical church.
A mindset is a basic belief system that drives us. The belief that God wants to punish people for their bad behavior or punish America for not having the correct laws is the same spirit for which Jesus rebuked James and John. These are Old Testament beliefs in a New Testament world. And those beliefs are not from heaven.
In history, lifelong mindsets have driven “good” people to make bad conclusions. The good, Christian women of the late fifties Little Rock, Arkansas held prayer meetings on the steps of Little Rock Central High School praying God would save their school from the “evils of desegregation.” When those prayers didn’t work, they just moved to the suburbs to get away from “those people.” Today Christian zeal to pass laws to ban bad behaviors are driving Christians to believe they are to speak curses over our country for “rejecting Jesus” – totally missing that Jesus made it clear that’s not God’s directive.
Damaging the Gospel Story
The world outside the evangelical church community is scratching its collective head as to how good-hearted, smart, Christian people can be in complete, unwavering support and defense of Republican President Trump when those same people were loudly incensed by the immorality of a Democratic President Bill Clinton. “How can Christian people,” the world is asking, “be so intent on protecting ‘their’ president that he states he can ‘shoot someone on Fifth Avenue’ and not lose any votes?’” How can people commanded to love their enemies and care for the sojourners be among the most anti-immigrant people in our culture?
The answer is we’ve convinced ourselves this is how God wants us to be. Evangelical Christian communities have been living a mixture of religion and right-wing politics for so long we’re convinced God demands that we be more fervent for his laws than being fervent about the people he sent Jesus to save. I’d say, after fifty years of mixing our religion with partisan, conservative politics we simply don’t know the spirit we are of.
Because of this, the world around us has lost interest in what the church has to say. We have, in fact, marginalized the voice of The Gospel in our culture and held back God’s work in our cities and country with our man-made ideas about God’s plan for the season.
When we remember it’s God’s kindness that draws people to repentance, not his laws, then we’ll feel less of a need to place his laws on everyone else. Then we can, once again, share truly “Good News” with the world around us.