At our Good Friday service tonight, we will read The Passion according to St. John. When I woke up this morning, I read John’s Passion and was struck by how much it is all about where we give our allegiance. Peter can’t even acknowledge that he knows Jesus: “They asked him, ‘You are not also one of his disciples, are you?’ He denied it and said, ‘I am not.’” (18.25). Jesus’ conversation with Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor, and the Jews, is all about political allegiance. Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus replies with a political statement, “My kingdom is not from this world” (18.33ff). When the soldiers mock Jesus, they mock him as a political pretender: “Hail , King of the Jews!” (19.3). When Pilate asks the Jews, “Shall I crucify your King?”, they chief priests respond with a political statement: “We have no king but the emperor” (19.15).
One of the most troubling things about the Church in our time is that all too often we have so compartmentalized our faith into a personal and private sphere that we don’t see the disconnect between our political allegiances and our faith. This problem isn’t a Republican or Democrat thing, a liberal or conservative thing; it is a problem for everyone who has allowed the dominant political culture, rather than the God of the Bible, to dominate their moral imagination.
What do I mean? The politics of most Christians in this country is fundamentally shaped by national and party allegiance rather than by allegiance to Jesus. We begin our political thinking from a national rather than faith perspective. Regardless of our party affiliation, we have pledged our ultimate allegiance to the flag and to the country and to our favorite political leaders. We are simply living out the bold statement of the chief priests in The Passion according to John: “We have no king but the President,” whether that President is Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, Obama, or Trump. Therefore, although we would never say it as directly as Peter does, in giving our ultimate allegiance to the country and its leaders, we deny that Jesus is the ultimate reference point for our lives.
Good Friday is a day to take stock of where we want to give our allegiance and how we should frame our thinking about our political commitments. Our political conversations with one another shouldn’t be primarily defined by the current Red vs. Blue political divide. Rather, our conversations should be defined by what does it mean for us to be faithful to the way of the cross. Whether we are a Republican or a Democrat, our job as a church is to be faithful to our ultimate allegiance—Jesus. We should challenge our leaders to build the kind of world that Jesus announced: a world that includes everyone, welcomes the stranger, forgives the sinner, is biased towards the most vulnerable, and believes that self-emptying love is the lifeblood of the body politic.
If we give our ultimate allegiance to Jesus—confess him as Lord and Savior—we will be liberated from the pathetic nature of our current political discourse and our views will be a breath of fresh air. And maybe, just maybe, Christian Democrats and Republicans will start finding common ground that will help us build a better world. Wouldn’t that be a miracle worthy of the upcoming Easter season?