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RNC benedictionI did not watch the RNC opening yesterday. I was way behind rearranging the kitchen cupboards and reorganizing my socks and underwear drawer, and knew if I didn’t get those done my life would be complete chaos.

I also think the Republican party has lost its mind and I have enough crazy in my life without adding to it.

But I did stumble across this “prayer and benediction” that concluded the evening. After listening I felt I had to take a shower but it still didn’t come off.

First of all, and perhaps a small matter, but “PASTER MARK BURNS FROM THE GREAT STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA” doesn’t seem to know what a benediction is.

A benediction is not praising your political system as loudly as possible. A benediction is not a prayer either—of any sort. A benediction is when the pastor/priest, etc. turns to the congregation and speaks God’s blessings (the bene-diction or “good word”) to the congregation at the close of the service.

So, to sum up, in a benediction, the pastor is not praying TO God asking God to bless an agenda. It is the sacred and serious moment when the pastor speaks FOR God on behalf of the people.

Burns never actually got to the speaking for God part, and I can only say “thank you, Jesus” to that. He was too busy basking in his 3 minutes of fame and asking God to do what he already knew God was most certainly going to do, which is bless the Republican party and Donald Trump, a.k.a. “Immanuel, God with us.”

To me this prayer represents all that can go wrong and that has gone wrong in the history of Christianity (and religion in general) any time we think God teams up with a political system: the two become aligned and the result is always ugly.

So on that, I have 4 thoughts about what Christianity is really about when it comes to politics.

1. The Old Testament prophets weren’t so much predictors of the far-off future (a common misunderstanding), but more like street corner preachers telling people that God was about to show up and things were going to get serious, so watch out. They generally brought bad news to Israel’s leaders, political and religious.

Some of Israel’s prophets were political insiders, serving in the king’s court (like Isaiah). Others were political outsiders who tended sheep (like Amos). But in either case these prophets were very quick to keep kings from baptizing their own agendas in God’s name.

Pastors today, like ancient Israel’s prophets, whether insiders or outsiders, have a job to do, which is critique thelocker room political system and expose its failures, not support it like they are locker room chaplains asking God for victory against the enemy.

2. Part of the good news of the Gospel is that God doesn’t favor any people group, political system, or party. In the closing of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations. . . 

The Jewish messiah was expected to align with one political system, namely Israel’s, and restore Israel to its bygone days of political favor with God as in the days of king David 1000 years earlier.

Messiahs were to “make Israel great again,” but Jesus turned the tables.

His interest was not in reviving a political entity, as if God will only work through the system, but in drawing people of every tribe, nation, and political affiliation into the only kingdom that matters: the kingdom of God, which, as Jesus also said, “is not of this world” meaning it plays by entirely different rules—like justice, compassion, humility, true service and self-sacrifice . . . you know . . . none of the things we normally think about when it comes to American politics.

Thinking that God is aligned with a political party or any political system (including a democratic system) misses a very basic characteristic of the Christian faith. However politically involved Christians may be, those who get it truly know that God never aligns with any politician or political system.

3. The Gospel that Paul preached was politically charged. When Paul calls Jesus “Lord” he is claiming for Jesus a title that the Roman Empire knew only too well—the title reserved forCaesar.

To say that Jesus is Lord means more than one thing, but the political dimension is too often lost on casual Bible readers. Paul is claiming that Jesus is the true king and all others are subject to him, including Caesar. Jesus does not sidle up to and team up with earthly rulers. They bow before him.

Another title of the Emperor was “savior” who brought “peace” to the people through his just and mighty rule. When Paul calls Jesus “savior” he is again pitting Jesus against the Emperor. And when Paul begins his letter to the church at Rome (of all places) by saying “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” he is saying that the Empire’s promise of “grace and peace” is actually delivered by God and King Jesus.

Paul does not think of Jesus teaming up with government. He thinks of government as a parody and dim shadow of the kingdom of God, and the two should never ever be confused.

Let’s just say that Paul would have been all over Pastor Burns’s “prayer.”

4. Every Christian who wants to become a political leader should be forced to study the book of Revelation for a year and then pass a test of one simple question: “True or False: The Christian hope will be realized through political means.” Whoever says “true” should be forced to watch N. T. Wright videos about the kingdom nonstop for a year (starting with this one) and then take the test again every year until they get it right.

The book of Revelation is weird because it is full of ancient Jewish symbols of apocalyptic disasters and such. Teasing out what all those symbols mean is not for the weak, but neither is it necessary to get the gist of the book as a whole.

lamb of GodThe main message of the book is all about how wrong it is when an earthly power (the Roman Empire, for this ancient writer) claims a divine stamp of approval and divine authority.

Despite what it might look like to the naked eye, Rome, with its powerful armies and emperors, is not in charge. Rather, paradoxically and counterintuitively, the slain Lamb of God—the crucified and risen Jesus—is in charge.

Therefore—and I can’t stress this enough, people—Revelation is a call to God’s people at any time to be faithful to Christ over and against the “world system.”

As biblical scholar Michael Gorman puts it in his book Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation, Revelation is a critique of “civil religion”—of tying the Gospel to any political system.

Instead Christians are called to practice “uncivil religion” where Jesus is not tied to the state or aligned with any wanna-be king, and God is not dragged down into our political squabbles as if the Creator has chosen sides. Rather, followers of the slain Lamb stand firm in God’s kingdom and call earthly powers to account.

When I juxtapose the unholy prayer of civil religion at the RNC with the political tone of the Bible (and we’re just scratching the surface) is really makes me think Christians have lost their minds if they can’t see through how very sub-Christian—even anti-Christian—the Republican rhetoric is.

[All comments are moderated. Nasty or crazy comments will be deleted without hesitation. And remember it can take me several hours to get to your comment, so please be patient.]

{Click here to see a list of my books about what the Bible is and what it means to read it well.} 

Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.