January 6, 2021, was the darkest day in America since September 11, 2001. Twenty years ago, foreign terrorists turned passenger planes into missiles and slammed them into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, our symbols of wealth and power. Mere months ago, domestic terrorists attacked America from within. Instead of targeting our affluence or strength, they attacked our identity. Rather than bringing down buildings, they infiltrated our Capitol and committed acts of insurrection. On that day, America came perilously close to catastrophe.
Even now, months past, our nation remains in peril. While America banded together in unity after September 11, we are today in the throes of disunion. Two decades ago, with the notable exception of “9/11 truthers,” Americans shared a common understanding of who attacked us. In 2021, there is no shared narrative of who attacked the Capitol, whether they were justified, or whether it even matters.
America can withstand physical attacks from without, but it cannot survive this growing gangrene from within, this loss of shared, objective truth. If left untreated, this infection will rot us.
For Christians serving in politics, whether on the Left or the Right, this prognosis beckons us to bear witness of Christ’s love that shatters divisions, lowers defenses, and fosters trust. Our call is not to withdraw from public life or obscure conflict in the name of false harmony, but to work in the midst of political mess out of allegiance to a higher King, for the good of our neighbor.
On paper, this mission is often confused for piety and platitude. In action, its power is unmistakable and undeniable, for it is wholly unlike the ways and means of earthly politics.
Most politicos come to Washington to be Pharisees or zealots: to be right, or to win. Ironically, without love, both starting points lead to the same hellhole of Machiavellian “divide and conquer” politics, practiced by conservatives and progressives alike, where victory is fleeting and rancor is permeating. The Christian mission to “love thy neighbor” does not contradict righteous anger or political maneuvering, but rather qualifies and sanctifies them.
We catch a glimpse of this love in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 10.
When a Jewish lawyer asks Jesus to define “neighbor,” Jesus replied not with a dictionary, but with a story. A Jewish man, robbed and left for dead on a dangerous road, expects help from those in his political class and social tribe, but the religious elites pass him by. The parable’s hero is a lowly Samaritan—the first-century ethnoreligious arch-rivals of Jews—who bandages his wounds, gets him to a hotel, and pays for his medical bills.
Jesus’ parable of the “Good Samaritan” often falls on deaf ears. We have grown so familiar with the story that its meaning is nearly lost to us. The point of the parable was never to tell mankind to be kind and “go the extra mile.” To quote Eugene Peterson, Jesus’ message is far more “subversive.”
The notion that a Samaritan would go to such lengths of love for a Jew would have shocked and repulsed Jesus’ audience. After all, Samaritans rejected much of the Hebrew scriptures, compromised with the Babylonians, and sabotaged Israel’s subsequent attempt to rebuild Jerusalem. By the time of Jesus’ day, bad blood and hardened hearts separated these tribes. For Jews, to be a Samaritan was to be irredeemable.
The parable, rightly understood, should disturb us. It reorders our political relationships to see the people we hate as God’s chosen conduits of grace.
This isn’t to say that Jesus overlooked Samaria’s bad theology; far from it. But he took those conversations directly to Samaritans (see John 4). When talking with his own “tribe,” Jesus never denigrated “the other.” He helped his fellow Jews see how they needed Samaritans—how sometimes God demonstrates his love to his people through their enemies.
These words from 2,000 years ago challenge us today. Jesus never asks us to excuse lies and deceit; to do so would be unjust, cheap grace. As Marc LiVecche has previously observed, neighborly love compels Christ-followers to confront evil. “To not do so,” he argues, “is not only to be indirectly complicit in that evil, it is to directly fail to love our neighbor.” Let us, then, be clear: the terrorists who stormed the Capitol based on “The Big Lie” worshiped political victory at all costs, even insurrection. In so doing, they mistook the base of a flagpole for the foot of the cross.
But Christ will not allow us to write them off as enemies, nor will he let us ignore his atoning work when we were at enmity with him. Were we to do so, we would be no better than the self-righteous lawyer who condemned Samaritans as subhuman. Many devout Christians today are in danger of committing this mirror sin of political idolatry: being right, at all costs. This self-righteousness is itself an act of insurrection against the God who showed mercy to tax collectors, sinners, and Samaritans.
In contrast, Jesus calls us to meet our neighbors at a table instead of a rhetorical battlefield. Doing so will cost Christians dearly. In politics, meekness and humility are often spun wrongly as cowardice and fear. Those who answer Christ’s call to love in the public square will invariably be mischaracterized, marginalized, and ostracized—oftentimes by those who also claim his name. Jesus knows this pain intimately, but he endured to the end with faith in his Father, hope in resurrection, and love for us, his one-time enemies turned friends. May we, in response to our Lord and Savior, “go and do likewise.”