Last night, I had a gig in front of a local youth group to approach a very taboo topic: God and politics. For lots of folks, these are equal entities, birthed together from the beginning of time. But for other folks, the two should remain as separate as possible.
My approach for the students was a little different, seeing as how only three of them could actually vote for something other than Homecoming Queen. We had two separate posters in the room. One was marked 'Politics' and the other 'Kingdom of God.' On each, the students were encouraged to write or draw what came to mind when they heard those words. What they wrote could not have been more opposite.
And that was my point. For these students born where and when the were, the notion of politics carries a certain stigma with it. They've seen scandals and corruption and are wary of even voting once they get the chance. On the other hand, these teenage Christians' picture of the Kingdom of God was as bright and hopeful as each of their Brentwoodian futures. The disconnect between our current political system and structures was glaringly obvious.
We then discussed the concept of the Kingdom of God as heaven on earth. Jesus discussed his own mission on earth in Luke 4:18-19 as
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
For Jesus, this would be brought about by living in the style of Micah 6:8:
What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
After all, Jesus reminded his disciples that their identification with him was tied to their love for others, and not to their being loud, right, rich, or powerful:
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35)
But could these concepts be realized by American teenagers? Absolutely. Look at what some teenagers have done politically when the deliberately decided to bring about:
- In 1960, black students sat at a Woolworth counter and sparked a national sit-in movement.
- In 1964, northern students with SNCC registered voters during 'Freedom Summer.'
- In 1969, Mexican American students walked out of class to protest unfair educational practices.
- In 1977, students at Stanford laid down in front of cars to get their school to divest their finances from companies with ties to South Africa’s apartheid government.
- In 1984, Yale students campaigned for a fair wage for university staff.
- In 1987, Florida high school students formed coalitions and campaigned to save wetlands slated for development.
- 1990, a Canadian teenager brought worldwide awareness to issues of child labor.
And the man who seemed to delicately and correctly navigate the tricky waters between politics and the Kingdom of God was Martin Luther King, Jr. A minister who prioritized Kingdom principles above political ones, King showed everyone the higher road was worth traveling, no matter the political and legal ramifications.
The kingdom is the destination, and politics can be a vehicle to get there. Inverting these two is at great consequence to our, moral, social and religious well-being.