Not long after I
came to Asheville, the Republican Men’s Club of Buncombe County invited me to their
breakfast meeting to tell them about myself and my hopes for our church’s future.  It’s not my practice to speak at meetings,
formal or informal, of political parties, but the man who invited me was a
member of this church and someone I liked and respected.  He assured me that there was no hidden
agenda, no intent to identify me with any particular candidate or issue, and no
expectation other than I meet the folks who would gather and get better
acquainted.  I decided to go. 

We met in the
back room at Cornerstone Restaurant, and I enjoyed talking with the men at my
table over pancakes and coffee.  After
the plates had been cleared from the tables, my friend introduced me, and I began
my talk in what I thought was a lighthearted way.  I said: “I was born in West Virginia and
spent a lot of time there as a boy.  I
remember that, in my maternal grandfather’s kitchen, over the little table
where he drank his coffee in the mornings, there were two pictures.  Over his left shoulder was FDR who, according
to my grandfather, saved him and his family from starvation in the Great
Depression.  Over his right shoulder was
a painting of Jesus Christ, who, my grandfather said saved him from sin. Every
morning when I was at his house, those three faces—Jesus, FDR, and Papa
Fred—looked at me as I had my cheerios. I can see those faces this morning as I
speak to the Republican Men’s Club of Buncombe County, and none of the three is
smiling at me.”  

It was supposed
to be funny.  I thought it was.  I was the only one who thought it was.

fairness, the men there didn’t know me, so they didn’t know that, while I have
strong political opinions, I also understand that God doesn’t play favorites with
nations or political parties.  As we
commonly say, “God is neither an American nor a Democrat nor a Republican.”
don’t believe that, if the Democrats were unhindered by Republicans that they
would create a society characterized by the Sermon on the Mount, and I don’t believe
that, if the Republicans faced no opposition from Democrats, that they would
make a culture where everyone kept all ten of the Ten Commandments. Political
parties are made up of human beings, which means that they are collectively as
capable of sin and stupidity as any individual human being, and they are also
capable of wisdom and goodness.  The
fellows at the Republican Men’s Club didn’t know how little stock I put in
either, or any, party, even though, at the same time, I think political
involvement is an important responsibility for all of us.
spoke to those Republican men in October of 2001, and you remember what had
happened in September—on 9-11—of 2001. 
All of us who gathered for breakfast that day were reeling from and
grieving over the terror attacks which had recently shaken our nation and the
world.  There was a lot of talk about
impending war, “going after the terrorists,” and giving up some of our civil
liberties in order to feel safe. 
Laughter was hard to come by in those days.
they didn’t know me, and the times were tense; but as I left Cornerstone that
day, I also thought how our political culture was making it harder for us to
work together to solve our problems.  It
was true then, and it is true now, that most Americans are, when they aren’t
forced to choose left or right, Democrat or Republican, blue or red, are middle
of the road pragmatists.  We want to do
what works will work to solve our problems, make our communities safer and our
schools better, build and maintain a solid economic base, take care of people
who can’t take care of themselves, protect people against discrimination,
ensure equal and civil rights, and defend ourselves against violence and

more locally we can work on our problems, the better solutions we come up with,
because we know each other, see each other in the grocery store, sit in the
same bleachers at high school football games on Friday nights, and serve each
other the Lord’s Supper on Sunday at church. 

the broader the arena, the more polarized we become—to the point that, on the
national level, the polarization is paralysis; it often seems that the only
things which get done are the kinds of things which ensure that nothing gets
polarization and paralysis of our national politics are in the news we read and
hear every day.  All the posturing,
position-taking, and partisan name-calling on the national level have an effect
on how we see each other closer to home. 
We forget our commonalities and magnify our differences; we let the
divisions of Washington, D.C. become divisions in our communities and families
and, even, our churches.  These days, I
think sadly, most churches are blue or red; there are hardly any “purple”
churches left, and I think it’s a real loss.
I have a
modest hope: I’d like for us to realize, or realize anew, that, as followers of
Jesus, we are citizens first of the Kingdom of God and only afterward citizens
of our nation.  Our primary loyalty is to
the kingdom—the rule and reign, the will and way—of God made known in
Jesus.  The agenda of that kingdom always
transcends, something judges and sometimes affirms, all our “political”
arrangements.  For a Christian, there is
nothing ultimate about politics, and a Christian recognizes that governments,
political parties, economic theories, and foreign policies, like all things
human, “fall short of the glory of God.”
Since it is true
that our first and enduring commitment is to the kingdom of God, I think
Gregory Boyd, a Minnesota pastor and sometime seminary professor, got it right
when he said, in The Myth of A Christian
: “The distinctly kingdom question is not, ‘How should we vote?’  The distinctly kingdom question is, ‘How
should we live?’”   (pp. 47-48)