The first time I had the conversation I was a little surprised.
September was like a starter’s gun when I ministered to graduate students. School’s start-up was the time to meet in-coming students. Our ministry team would set up a booth at the university’s welcoming events to meet, greet, and engage these eager young professionals in conversation.
A conversation with a male student from Virginia was the first time it happened. When discussing his faith background, he made this statement: “I’ve thought about becoming a Christian but I don’t want to become a Republican.”
Ok, this was one disgruntled student but two weeks later, I had a conversation with a female student from California. What was her response when quizzed about her faith? “I’ve visited a lot of churches but I’ve concluded that if becoming a Christian means becoming a Republican then I don’t want to do that.”
What was going on?
The reality is that sometimes our faith is perceived as an alignment with a particular political party. We question whether we should “politicize” sports or the Oscars but the gospel can be politicized as well. It’s time to choose a third way. A way that’s not progressive or conservative, not Republican or Democrat. The Third Way is the way of God’s kingdom.
Choosing The Third Way should be a logical choice. After all, we’ve been “delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred to the Kingdom of His beloved son” (Colossians 1:13). Our true “citizenship” is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). We’ve been made members of God’s Kingdom (Revelation 1:6). We’re commanded to “seek first His Kingdom” (Matthew 6:33). In today’s hyper-political climate, we must practice The Third Way.
Does this mean that we don’t identify with a political party or vote? I think how we engage in the political arena is set by the boundaries of loyalty and responsibility. We would all agree that our loyalty must first be to God’s Kingdom. Because our first loyalty belongs to the Kingdom, we should look with both approving and critical eyes at political leaders and parties.
We can identify our true loyalties by the degree to which we become defensive or open-minded about criticism of a political party or leader. No party, leader, or nation is perfect or beyond criticism or censure. Our King and His kingdom are the only ones who are truly righteous. Jesus said we can’t serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). So, our first love is God’s kingdom but we have a responsibility to the public square — the arenas of education, government, economics, etc.
What is this responsibility? Like Israel in exile, we must seek the “peace and prosperity of the city” because when the city prospers, we will prosper (Jeremiah 29:7). This means serving the public good. In Titus 3:1-2, Paul explores our relationship with the state. Commenting on this passage, author John Stott writes that our responsibility is to be “public-spirited . . . to be ready to do what is good.” We’re called to serve the public good in our cities and neighborhoods not impose or exercise power. This is living out The Third Way.
So, in our current stressed-out political world, how do we maintain our loyalty to the Kingdom while serving our nation and local communities? Here are some guiding principles I’ve been reflecting on to help me live The Third Way.
I must discern if there are Kingdom values behind political slogans and political parties. A friend of mine has been in dialogue with a family member about the slogan, “No justice no peace.” Their conversation is not a defense for or an argument against the statement or protesters. My friend deliberately raises questions about the nature of justice and peace. He’s challenging another to look at the values behind the political issue. This is the Kingdom way.
The biblical responsibility I find hardest to apply is Jesus’ instruction to love and bless my “enemies” (Matthew 5:44; Romans 12:20). In the heat of a discussion, I can quickly conclude that a person with different political or social convictions from mine is an enemy. Their beliefs may be injurious when applied but I’m called to love and bless them as a person. My interaction with them should be peaceful (Romans 12:18), gracious (Colossians 4:6), not quarrelsome but kind (2 Timothy 2:24). I find it hard to love people with whom I violently disagree but this is the The Third Way.
A third principle is to challenge myself to think biblically. This fall, I’m teaching a four-week series on racism, poverty, immigration, and the environment in one of my church’s adult classes. My goal is that people would work away without ever knowing what candidate I would vote for. I want to bring my personal political loyalties under the scrutiny of the Scriptures and discover how to apply The Third Way in some key contemporary issues.
The next few months are going to be tense but critical ones for disciplemakers. The political backlash from the street protests will only deepen. The debate about how we handle the covid-virus will only become more challenging. The outcome of the fall election may be unresolved on election day. We have to be people who live by The Third Way or we will climb into the same valley of despair and bitterness that surrounds the current political discourse. We must model and help those we disciple live The Third Way.
Now is the time for us to commit ourselves to the way of the kingdom. We cannot serve two masters. Our loyalty is to Jesus but we’re responsible to serve our communities. Let’s focus on Kingdom values, love and bless our enemies, and think biblically about the issues of the day. Let’s take up the challenge to live The Third Way, and disciple others to do the same.