Modern Politics, Bonhoeffer, and Thurman

The Sermon on the Mount is not about politics, but it has political ramifications.  In fact, the whole of the Christian life has political implications.  This can be said for one primary reason, we are called to love our neighbors…

Sermon on the MountCopenhagen Church Alter Painting
Sermon on the Mount Copenhagen Church Alter Painting

Politics is the conversation we have about how we shall do our life together.  We get the word from polis which means “city.”  Just to reiterate, the Gospel of Jesus is not overtly concerned with politics, but to follow the way of Jesus most certainly has a massive influence on how we live our lives out with our neighbors in our communities.

Any time I hear or read something about modern politics, I am reminded of the “Scapegoat Mechanism.”  According to philosophical sociology, the most primitive and easiest way to create a group is to find someone to collectively blame and/or exclude.  It grieves me to see so many people on both sides fall into a pattern of blame and exclusion of their rival, of their opponent, of their neighbor.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan from Luke’s Gospel tells us that everyone is our neighbor, and as such, to blame or exclude rather than to meet the other where they are and to rescue, restore and redeem them is to woefully fall short of the Kingdom-ethics of Jesus.  You see, the way of Jesus, and Christianity when it is rightfully interpreted has incredibly far more to do with those who are poor, alone, ostracized and on the fringes of society than with any ruler, political figure, or worldview of dominance.  Christianity is not, I repeat, NOT about power-over-others and IS about power-under-others in order to help pick them up.

Thankfully, one of the largest influences on my life and thought has been the work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  This WWII Lutheran pastor wrote one of the most creative and devout commentaries on the Sermon on the Mount.  From his remarkable work “The Cost of Discipleship”, one chapter in particular stands out, titled “The Enemy-the ‘Extraordinary.'”  The whole chapter can be summed up in these few words, “You only love God as much as you love your enemy.”  Bonhoeffer argues that the love of the enemy, according to Jesus, is the only measure by which we may evaluate if we have the love of God  in our lives.

At a time in history when both sides of the American binary political system are claiming “Christian” virtues, it is beyond commentary that Jesus’ most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, and its call to “love your enemies,” is avoided.

Instead of talk of loving one’s enemies, and seeking to purposefully work together, we have media outlets that are exacerbating and magnifying what Howard Thurman calls “the hounds of hell.”  For Thurman, these three hounds are fear, hypocrisy and hatred.  Mankind will stay primitive as long as it chooses the easy route of that unholy trinity.  Fear, hypocrisy and hatred are each things that threaten to dismantle each of our own little polises (cities).  You see, the way of Jesus is always one of tearing down division, of learning to see the “other as a brother”, and sacrificial love.  Modern politics could benefit from learning from the way of Jesus if it truly seeks to create a world built on goodness, beauty, truth, love, compassion, mercy, justice, restoration, etc.

Keep your chin up, this world is not done yet.  We have much growing up to do, but let us not forget that the growing up is always easier when done together.  Dare to hope that we can still learn to live as peaceable neighbors.

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