As the political climate degraded this fall, I found a bit of relief in the CBS comedy-thriller BrainDead, a satire set in a Washington that’s been invaded by extraterrestrial insects feeding on the brains and taking control of people, including members of Congress and their staffers.
As the bugs take over, they cause their hosts to become more extreme in their ideologies — so much so that the Democrats and Republicans mirror each other. The bugs’ agenda? To keep people distracted: while the humans fight each other, the bugs take over the planet.
Satires use exaggeration, irony and humor to comment on current issues. But with the frequent shots of Trump and Clinton on TVs in the background, BrainDead’s reality feels too close to our own.
Political polarization defines modern American politics, both among elected officials and the public. It’s like an infection that pits everyone against each other — including Christian believers.
That’s a problem — not because political parties separate us but because we’ve aligned ourselves with them to begin with.
“The tragic decisions of American Christianity to align itself with a political party have now landed in a pool of manure with a plop,” writes New Testament scholar Scot McKnight in a recent blog post.
McKnight describes both progressives and conservatives as “two sides of the same coin” who “seek the Powers, bend the nation toward one’s particular vision of the Christian vision through the Powers, call the other names and call them to repent from their unChristian ways, and bring in the kingdom” through those Powers.
This is dangerous, he says, because the more we become convinced that the Powers are the way to change the world, the closer we become to being Constantinian (linking the church to the state) — and that diverts us from the mission of God.
Fiercely aligning with the Powers compromises and corrupts the gospel. Beliefs that agree with a political party are emphasized, and those that don’t are silenced. And a partial gospel is no gospel at all.
“The impotence of political and social systems to bring about real change is one of the reasons Jesus didn’t send his students out to start governments or even churches as we know them today,” says Dallas Willard in Renovation of the Heart. “Instead, his disciples were to establish beachheads of his person, word and power in the midst of a failing and futile humanity. They were to bring the presence of the kingdom and its king into every corner of human life by fully living in the kingdom with him.”
Believers are designed to live together as family with Jesus as the center. This church is a countercultural community ruled by love in which there is no Greek or Jew, male or female, Democrat or Republican, “for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” It is an upside-down kingdom in which God, as Willard puts it, “is tangibly manifest to everyone on earth who wants to find him.”
Kingdom citizens will act in political and public arenas. They cannot cooperate with public unrighteousness or injustice, says Willard. “A transformed soul will block those streams or die trying.”
Kingdom living is breathtaking in its power and light — like encountering Jesus himself. But this modern Constantinian shift is like a malevolent invasion, eating away at God’s people.
We must choose differently. As McKnight puts it, “The alternative is not Left vs. Right, but Left-Right Powermonger vs. kingdom politics embodied in gospel living and church living.”
Carmen Andres, a former editor of the Mennonite Brethren magazine Christian Leader, lives in Alexandria, Va.