How do I Separate Politics from God’s Mission?
By examining our yesterdays—that is, our history—Dr. Justo González leads us to ask some important questions in light of this historical cognisance. The first is: Can western Christians separate politics from the missio Dei (mission of God)? When speaking on the yesterdays of the Catholic Church, González said “the church as a hierarchical institution became an agent of colonial policies. Bishops were appointed, not on the basis of their pastoral experience in the colonies, but rather on the basis of their political contacts in Spain or Portugal.” Thus, “the entire colonial enterprise was also a Christian enterprise” (p. 25). The Catholic Church has an unfortunate history of comingling religious motivation with political motivation, reminiscent of the Crusades era. It seems that in more recent history—more recent yesterdays—this cult of personality has not quite left the Catholic Church.
Yet I wonder to what extent this is also true for Protestant churches and our own church body. Of immediate relevance, for example, is immigration. How many Christians and how many church bodies are capable of separating politics from the missio Dei that is clearly taking place among immigrants? The mission of God amongst these peoples—and all peoples—has naught to do with politics, yet we keep bringing in political concerns into the missio Dei. We replace the Word of God with the rhetoric of our favourite political pundits.
It’s not that we shouldn’t consider certain political dilemmas when participating in God’s mission, such as helping undocumented immigrants become documented to help them become good citizens (and, therefore, obeying the 9th and 10th Commandments). However, it becomes problematic when politics is the motivation behind participating in the missio Dei (e.g., colonialism) or neglecting the missio Dei (e.g., many Christians today who are not concerned for the spiritual and physical well-being of immigrants as if they’re a plague on American society). Thus, the church at large needs to consider the formal principle behind the missio Dei and from there discern which political aspects may or may not be appropriate as we serve these people in need.
Am I Afraid of Aliens?
The other question we should ask ourselves is: Are we afraid of aliens? According to González, “the Latino experience of the church under the Roman Catholic colonial regime, and even after independence, has been one of a church that is both profoundly enmeshed in the life of the common people and haughtily aloof from the struggles of that life. It is a church both profoundly ours and yet strangely alien” (p. 30).
In our own church body, we have Hispanic congregations, but the synod at large is “haughtily aloof from the struggles” of Hispanic lives. Why is our church body aloof from the struggles of Hispanic Americans? Is it due to ignorance, apathy, or fear? Hence the question, “Are we afraid of aliens?” Unbelievers might be afraid of space aliens, but many people—even Christians—are afraid of the human aliens among us, that is, not only aliens in the sense of immigrants but also aliens in the sense of people who are different than us.
Those who are different than us are alien to us. So, what accounts for the lack of Hispanic and other non-white representation in our church membership and leadership? Are we afraid of aliens—those different than us? Or worse: do we simply not care?
González, Justo, J.A.O. Preus III, Douglas Groll, Aurelio Magariño, and Gerald Kieschnick. Under the Cross of Christ Yesterday, Toady, and Forever: Reflections on Lutheran Hispanic Ministry in the United States. Saint Louis: Concordia Seminary, 2004.