What if we believed our spiritual formation and politics were intertwined, not compartmentalized?
What if we were brave enough to admit that politics might be controlling us, not the other way around?
What if we looked at politics through redeemed eyes: for the sake of a flourishing world?
These, and more, are some of the powerful issues that Kaitlyn Schiess helps us face in The Liturgy of Politics.
The main premise of the book is that politics exert a strong influence on us, whether we admit it or not. If we aren’t actively countering that influence with spiritually formative practices, our actual political beliefs and participation become misaligned with the word of God. Politics, Kaitlyn argues, is not a dirty word. The way we view it, and the way we view formative practice, changes everything. Here’s a bit more about her book.
4 False Gospels: prosperity, security, patriotism, white supremacy (yep, she’s diving right in)
When forming political beliefs, most Christians would like to believe that the Bible is our primary influence. While ideal, that’s often not the case if we probe deeply enough. In her section on false gospels, Kaitlyn explores four areas where alternate ideas integrate themselves into the theology that then shapes our political beliefs.
One of the sections that resonated with me was the false gospel of patriotism. Her point is not that patriotism is wrong, but that we’ve made it more synonymous with righteousness than we realize. If we read the Bible with an underlying understanding of America functioning in the role of Israel (the one that extends salvation to the nations and the one that will be delivered, chosen, protected), and if our theology is oriented towards the protection and flourishing of America before other nations, we might be influenced by the patriotic gospel.
In all the false gospels, Kaitlyn points out that none of us would admit to explicitly believing things like:
America is more important than other nations.
We should seek protection against immigrants.
We need to maintain white control in our churches.
But if we look at the fruit of belief in our lives, and really challenge our assumptions, we will see deeper forces at work. Our actions, and gut reactions, show us what we really believe, even if that’s different than what we confess with our mouths. And, again, we must counter those deeper forces with an even deeper dedication to being spiritually formed by God, his Word, and our communities of faith.
Formation Through Spiritual Practice
Reading Scripture in community, a communion-centered church service, shared meals, the church as a redeemed political training ground, communal lament, the church calendar…Kaitlyn dives into all these practices and more for a very distinct purpose: what we practice shapes us. Even if we attend non-liturgical churches, the pattern of services week after week is a functional liturgy. We are formed by what we repeat, even if we say we don’t practice “liturgy.” She challenges us to consider how our churches could be more richly formative if we would do more than sing four songs, listen to a sermon, and partake in an occasional communion. Most of these practices, at least in the way they are traditionally executed, are predominantly focused on the individual. We are doing ourselves a disservice by not engaging in the community-oriented practices. But the point isn’t adding more practices in order to be “better.” The point is being more active and passionate in our spiritual formation.
Learning to Acknowledge The Power of Context
Kaitlyn notes our tendency to believe our understanding of the Bible is completely objective: uninfluenced by our race, culture, or generation. But it’s not. God didn’t form us as disembodied spirits, floating around learning truth. He placed us in a physical context, which is powerfully affects our understanding of Scripture. If we deny the influence of our culture, race, class, or physical location, we end up being blind to our own blind spots.
Kaitlyn uses a powerful illustration of her experience leading a small group through the study of Jeremiah. Her group quickly and easily picked up on the themes of idolatry and unfaithfulness; those are two concepts that we are hearing preaching on applying to our personal lives. But what the group didn’t pick up on was the Lord’s condemnation of the community’s injustice and oppression, even though it was explicitly in the text. Injustice and oppression are concept we are generally not comfortable with in the church, because we consider it social, or of the world. They are also concepts that are community, rather than individually, oriented. And, as Americans, we are strongly individualistic. We can’t pretend that our culture’s emphasis on individualism doesn’t affect how we read the Bible. And the more we are aware of it, the more we can counter it.
When Eschatology Shapes Conviction
Here’s another part of the book that grabbed my heart:
“Our apathy surrounding political efforts to create flourishing in our communities is directly connected to how much our vision of the end includes a bodily resurrection and material redemption of the earth. If ‘it’s all gonna burn”-if the ship is sinking or is already wrecked-what’s the point in working to create better material conditions for suffering people? You might as well take as many people in your lifeboat as you can, instead of trying to rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic.”
If we are active participants in bringing the Kingdom of God to earth, in pointing to what a redeemed world looks like, and functioning in this world as souls redeemed by God, then we will absolutely care for the earth, social justice, racial justice, poverty, and the political systems that affect them all. This is not ordered after the evangelical priorities I grew up with, not at all. And challenging principles instilled in you from early childhood is no easy task. But as I’ve examined my heart as I read Kaitlyn’s book, I’ve found a lot of room for God to work change. And I welcome that.
Where Do We Go From Here?
This book is vast in content; it’s not possible to summarize it all. You’ll have to read it for yourself! But, here’s my effort at putting it succinctly: Christians should not run away from politics. Not only can we not escape their influence, but by denying their influence we’re letting them have greater control in our lives. If we flip this situation and take charge of our spiritual formation as a community of believers, we will start to see Kingdom theology influence our political beliefs and participation.
Why do we participate politically? We do not participate out of fear of losing our Christian nation or national security, but out of love for our neighbor. We want to see the flourishing of the world and we can support, and shape, policies that move towards that end. All while pointing the world to Jesus.
It’s a lot to take in, and I’m already on my second read through the book trying to grasp it all. But, wow, is it ever worth it. This is a phenomenal work from a phenomenal young lady. I look forward to hearing and reading more from her in the future.
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