Politics: To Play or Not To Play…

If you have seen a few of my tweets or a couple Facebook statuses here and there, you would know that House of Cards has disrupted my focus. The devious Francis J. Underwood (played by Kevin Spacey) puts the artist in “con artist”; craftily manipulating whomever he needs in order to exercise higher levels of power. If one were to stand in his way, Francis would then proceed to utterly obliterate their career in a heartbeat. Or he would utterly obliterate their heartbeat.

Those who have seen the first couple of seasons know just how true this is.

Yet there was an interesting moment during “Chapter 22” (Season 2, Episode 9), where a particular person who causes problems for both Francis and his wife, Claire. His name is Adam Galloway and is a world-famous photographer who was approached by rivals of Underwood seeking to ruin their political careers. Galloway complied and released a couple of photos of Claire that would raise questions within the public about her marriage with Francis. Even though what Galloway says regarding the photos is actually true – that the photos reveal exactly what they appear to reveal; an affair between him and Claire – Claire asks him to humiliate his own public standing so that the Underwood name is cleared. Galloway responds with, “I am not a part of this world.”

Another figure whom I worship and study on a daily basis has said a very similar claim in a very similar situation: “My kingdom is not from this world.”[1] While the political atmosphere within Jesus’ time was vastly different than what the modern atmosphere is now, it still operated in terms of power. Considering the tension between the Jewish leadership and the Roman government, Jesus was a trouble-maker on all fronts. He disrupted the religious system, which of course caused a problem for Pontius Pilate. As all four Gospels depict, the crowd was creating quite an uproar about crucifying Jesus – even suggesting to Pilate that he would be against the Emperor if he didn’t grant them their wish. The religious leaders wanted to exercise power over their own people; Pilate did not want his throne of power to be removed.

There is, then, a political connotation to Jesus’ words; he is quite literally saying that he does not play the same political games to attain or exercise power in this world. And yet, Jesus is saying something so much more; that the power he truly has was given to him and no one of earth can remove it from him.[2] Even if Jesus would want to have played the political game, he was well aware that the power given to him from God was greater than any on earth.

No, it is not a new thing to say that Jesus subverted the systems of power in his own day, nor is it a new thing to say that we should follow his lead. All that came to mind when watching House of Cards was that we are entering a new election year. The peak of this political season is still a year and a half out, but the campaigns have already begun. This means that those who play the game are already devising strategies to use the most people‘s votes to attain the various levels of power they seek. So now – yes, even now – is a critical time for the reminder of Jesus:

“You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”[3]

My hope with the upcoming political turmoil that our nation is about to endure is that I would not value people by whom they vote for, but because they are people. One of the biggest challenges to the church today is having a balanced relationship with modern political atmospheres – knowing when to challenge or reject political opinions and when to listen for whatever wisdom that might be gleaned from them. This is not to say that our favorite politicians either replace the teaching of Christ or never have anything of value to say at all. Rather, it is to say we must exercise wisdom when listening to them – to make sure that all their promises and plans operate under the commandment of neighborly love.

It is my hope and my challenge. Our political atmosphere does a great job of pitting those who care about how the country is run against each other – categorizing them into one camp or another with no concept of “both/and” thinking. Our world operates by polarized views, “us vs. them” rhetoric, and fusions of God with patriotism – that to vote for their particular political candidate is almost to vote for a representative of God.[4] If we are to follow Jesus at his word, then we are not to play the political games our country demands of us.

May we all seek to love our neighbor as ourselves – even if they are on the other “side” of the political spectrum.

God bless.

[1] John 18:36, NRSV. A more explicit resemblance comes from John 8:23; “You are of this world, I am not of this world.”

[2] Cf. John 5:36; 6:37, 39; 10:28-29; 12:49; etc.

[3] Mark 10:42-45.

[4] Roger Olson points out that “Deism quietly filtered into the fabric of North American religious and political life, and the God of Deism and natural religion became the ‘God’ of civil religion in the United States (‘In God We Trust’),” The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition and Reform (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1999), 532.


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“Do not mistake me for a conjuror of cheap tricks.”

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