Politics in the Cities of God and Man – A Guide to Dual Citizenship
Mike is a pastor. The church he’s served for over 16 years sits downtown, a traditional steeple among the skyscrapers. Recently, Mike told us he’s seen a change in his congregation.
“During my time as a pastor, my prayers haven’t changed,” he said. “However, recently, I’ve been getting people suggesting that those prayers have become political.”
So what makes a prayer political? Aren’t we called to pray for our world, our leaders, our communities, and God’s will on earth? Is a political prayer a bad thing?
Navigating the intersection of faith and politics has become increasingly difficult. We claim we don’t want to hear politics from the pulpit while professing that our faith should apply to every area of our life. In reality, we often allow our politics to overrule our faith.
All too eager to capitalize on this, pundits on the right and left work to shape our desire (their business model depends upon it). They tell us how to vote, how to act. We get caught up in the political dramas that surround us, allowing FOX or CNN to guide our thinking, make or break our relationships, and dictate whether we should be hopeful or afraid as we look to the future.
The Church is not immune, often dividing along these same fault lines.
People who believe the same Gospel come to bitterly opposed conclusions on how to live it out. Christians on both sides can be quick to answer, “Well, what they are doing isn’t the Gospel.” But what we often mean is that what they are doing opposes our political ideology – even though it might be dressed up in theological drag.
We’re hardly the first Christians to encounter these conflicts. In the fifth century, in his book City of God, Augustine wrestled with the conflict between human and Kingdom politics—alternate ways of being in the world, represented by what he calls the “City of Man” and the “City of God.” His central insight is that these two cities share one geographic space, like two dramas playing out on the same stage, each competing for our attention and allegiance. And each works to win us over by shaping our desires and directing our practices.
Today, the ideologies of right and left together make up the City of Man, which offers us the same formative practices – constant media consumption, increasingly polarized thought and rhetoric, the endless fortification of our echo chambers, and the dehumanization of those we fear on the other side.
You know what this is like. Haven’t you noticed that once you start watching the news or scrolling through social media, you have an increased appetite for it? Soon, in the City of Man, all we can see around us is conflict and threat, our most cherished loves besieged by the terrifying other.
Augustine is clear; there is no room for compromise between the two cities. Instead, The City of God offers more than we imagined—more grace, truth, life, and hope. This is because the City of God is more real than the City of Man, which is passing away, inevitably headed toward destruction as it devours itself.
We are called, not to a life somewhere between, but of one beyond right and left – in a future that is becoming present through our obedience to our King. We are called to make the City of God visible amidst of the City of Man. The Good News of the Gospel shows us how. Jesus calls us to practices for occupying that shared space and for living out the story of God as an alternative to what we find in the endless cycle of bad news.
These practices can and will reshape our loves to desire the City of God. For example, Augustine sought to correct his malformed desires by practicing new ways of using his free time. He stopped going to the coliseum because the games trained his desire to love death instead of life.
We can make similar, intentional moves. What is our modern-day coliseum? Where are our desires being malformed? To answer that, we should start with basic Christian practices that Jesus gave us. Things like the practice of worship—prayer, singing, spending time alone with our Father, listening for his voice, and perhaps meditating on scripture at least twice as long as we meditate on our newsfeeds.
What else can we do? Our new Colossian Way curriculum, Political Talk, is designed to be a starting point—a guide for this dual citizenship, if you will. Will you join us? Learn more and order resources at colossianforum.org/PoliticalTalk.