Follow Jesus, Not a Partisan Tribe (372)

Our political partisanship continues to be more important to us than our moral commitments. Or, put another way, we’ll change our moral convictions, even those derived from our core religious faith, if those convictions don’t support our partisan “tribe.” This isn’t good news for us Christians, because it exposes our hypocrisy on important moral issues. And nowhere is that clearer than how we’re treating refugees fleeing persecution in their home countries (more on that below).

Michael Barber, a professor of Political Science at Brigham Young University, in his study “Who is Ideological? Measuring Ideological Consistency in the American Public,” found that we’ll change our moral convictions based on the priorities of our political partisanship. Barber uses the prime example of the sex scandals involving our current president. Partisan responses to these various scandals are nearly exactly the opposite of partisan reactions to the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal 20 years ago. Barber found that the partisan responses then showed that Republicans by a large majority said that personal moral character mattered, while Democrats said it was less important. Today, he’s found almost a mirror opposite, with Democrats insisting that a president’s personal moral character matters, while Republicans saying it’s less important. “Partisanship,” Barber says, “is an incredibly strong identity among Americans, and once people begin to affiliate with a party, either party, that tends to color nearly everything that they see.” This behavior should make every one of us blush who calls ourselves by the name of Jesus. We’ve allowed our political partisanship to trump our Christian convictions. And we’re seemingly unaware this has happened. We’ve “drunk the Kool-Aid” so much so that we now believe our partisan convictions are compatible with the teachings of Christ. The twisted syllogism goes something like this: “I’m a Christian. I have these partisan political positions. Therefore, my positions must be Christian.”

Nowhere is this more evident to me than in the way we’re treating refugees coming to this country fleeing persecution in their homeland. Recently, I visited a young Christian pastor from Nigeria who’s been held in “detention” (it’s really a prison) in our country for over four years after presenting himself upon his arrival as an asylum-seeker. In Nigeria, armed members of the Boko Haram threatened to kill him if he continued to preach the Gospel. Friends urged him to flee, so he did. Since he’s been detained, his wife, young daughter, and father have all been murdered by Boko Haram. And yet, our government has denied his appeal for refugee status. Fortunately, a judge has issued a “temporary stay” on his deportation order. This young man has been held in prison for over four years now. But he’s not a criminal. He’s a refugee.

Many Christians enthusiastically support our current government’s refugee policy. I don’t know how they square that with the teachings of Jesus. They’ve allowed their political partisanship to trump the Gospel. Across the political landscape, it’s time for us to wake up to how we’ve been blinded by our partisanship. That won’t be easy. The pressure to conform to our “tribal” affiliations is strong. But shouldn’t what Jesus says always be more important to us than what any political leader says? I’d hope so.



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