Can the Right persuade better?
“Jesus is Lord”
The basis of our shared humanity is now up for debate.
“Jesus is Lord” is trending today on Twitter. That means lots of people are saying it. People of all races are saying it. People from various Christian denominations are saying it. Republicans and Democrats are saying it. This is one of those occasional bright spots on the ravaged horizon of our war-torn digital world: sometimes you get a little wholesome momentum going, and people—incorrigible, irrepressible, flesh-and-blood people—share a moment’s communion.
According to Twitter itself, such moments count as “Politics.” That is how the website characterized the trend when it showed up in my feed today, out of all the various categories available (“News,” “Trending,” “For You”—it doesn’t seem, tellingly, that there’s a “Religion” category). “Jesus is Lord” gets filed under “Politics.”
There’s some possibility the whole thing started with an Atlantic hit piece against Trump, which could partially explain this. But most of the people posting aren’t doing so in reference to Trump: there’s more at play here than just a petty dig at the Orange Man.
In one sense—not, I imagine, the sense Twitter intends—“Jesus is Lord” certainly does count as a political statement. The men who crucified Jesus saw it that way. It was among the greatest threats he posed, an accusation written on the instrument of his torture in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew: that he claimed to be “King of the Jews.”
But Jesus of Nazareth famously disavowed all claim to “political” leadership of the kind Twitter probably has in mind: to the perplexity of both his friends and enemies, he insisted that though he was God’s son, his kingdom was “not of this world.”
Many of his compatriots, crushed under the oppressive weight of Roman rule, would have been bitterly disappointed to learn that Jesus would not save them by leading a coup of the sort they envisioned. They would have liked to see God’s chosen one storm the halls of power to unseat Herod, Rome’s puppet-king, and restore glory to Israel.
What Christ actually did was stage a far more ambitious uprising to overturn the Prince of Darkness, who had ruled the whole cosmos from his invisible seat of power over men’s hearts since he first slithered through Eden.
Christ refused to have his angels carry him to earthly supremacy. As a result he was raised on high over all creation, pouring out his blood for the forgiveness of sin and—mystery beyond words—unseating the satanic prince of this world.
At this moment in America such claims are indeed quite political, as they were in Roman-occupied Jerusalem, and for exactly the same reason. Politics means the rules of how we live together, and the principles according to which we structure our coexistence. The question on the table this election season is: will we or will we not govern our communal life according to the teachings of that man who died and now lives?
I do not mean, will we establish a Christian theocracy? I don’t want that for America. I don’t think God wants that for America. It’s a moot point, because it’s not going to happen. What I mean is this: Christ’s death and resurrection upended the universe. Steadily, for those societies into whose bones Christian teaching was allowed to seep, there developed a set of reflexive moral convictions totally unlike those that had governed the ancient world. Those convictions include: that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. That among those rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Those ideas became so fundamental to our way of life that for some time they were no longer “political,” in the sense that they were not in question, not up for debate. They had to do with politics only in the deeper sense that they were the very premises of our life together. To revise them would be to unmake us.
At the moment many Americans, led and galvanized by extremely wealthy and powerful people, do want to revise those premises, and so to unmake us. These revolutionaries believe—as one of their foremost representatives, Ibram X. Kendi, has said—that “the only remedy to discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.”
Only rarely have such sentiments been expressed so bluntly by people so close to seizing control of our country. We look back on those times as the darkest and most unstable moments in our nation’s history, and rightly. Because when we call into question our equality with one another as American citizens—for any reason, under any pretense—we bow our heads and bend our knees again to that old ruler of the dead world, who prowls always at the edges of our sight like a lion to devour everything that makes us human and whole.
That evil shadow is indeed looming over America this year. I know because in a desperate attempt to frustrate Trump’s latest Supreme Court nomination, Democrats have taken to attacking Judge Amy Coney Barrett on the basis of her multiracial family—a family which presents as abundant and flourishing a picture of God’s covenantal love on earth as has been shown to the American public in my lifetime. Like it or not, the statement “Jesus is Lord” has indeed become political once again. Americans must choose whether to vote for or against it.