Three Actions That Reflect the Unity of the Trinity
Article by Caleb Paxton | Photo by ElevenPhotographs
“Make love your aim.” (I Corinthians 14:1, NJB)
If we become the stories we tell in American politics, how do we tell better stories? Picking up where my last article left off, the question before us is: “How do we become a force for peace that others can hear, see, and touch? How do we make love our aim?”
To begin, we first must tell the great story of God over and over, because it has the power to transform how we see the world and where we place our trust. All political involvement happens at the intersection of our hopes and fears, and therefore every movement we take as engaged, or disengaged citizens, reveals what we believe about the source of our trust, our security, and our freedom to live a full life.
The great story matters because it gives us a pattern for how to respond to current affairs whether at home or across the world when our trust, security, and freedom are in doubt.
Before Jesus was betrayed, when he could feel the fragility of all three of these basic human needs, it’s striking how he prayed for his followers and all of humanity:
“I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so have I sent them into the world. And for their sake consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:15-21)
Through the words of Christ we see the nature of the relationship between him, God the Father and the Holy Spirit. Christ’s prayer for unity reveals the pattern for how we can make love our aim in every political interaction–which will never be easy!
“Trinity says that God’s power is not domination, threat, or coercion, but instead is of a totally different nature, one that even Jesus’ followers have not yet adjusted to,” writes Richard Rohr in The Divine Dance (p. 95). “If the Father does not dominate the Son, and the Son does not dominate the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit does not dominate the Father or the Son, then there’s no domination in God. All divine power is shared power, which should have entirely changed Christian politics and relationships.”
Over the last seven years of exploring–with a group of colleagues representing the entire political spectrum–how the pattern of shared power can remake the way followers of Christ approach American politics, three actions that define unity have become unmistakable, and each one reflects the involvement of each person of the Trinity in our lives. As we think about these actions, our purpose is not to control the culture “out there;” it’s to create culture “in here.” Political activism for followers of Christ isn’t about control or moving agendas driven by inner restlessness when we feel our trust, security, and freedom are in question.
“All political involvement happens at the intersection of our hopes and fears, and therefore every movement we take as engaged, or disengaged citizens, reveals what we believe about the source of our trust, our security, and our freedom to live a full life.”
It’s about moving closer to the heart of God, and making love our aim. It’s about a shared recognition that we aren’t like God and need mercy. It’s about using our God-given and politically-given authority as voters and citizens responsibly and recognizing that Washington reflects what we do in our communities, and churches, and families.
As a first action, we should be inclusive. Logically, none of us has all the information needed for wise governance, and spiritually we are all children of God. God the Father makes us one human community. We can’t finally exclude anyone because of God’s divine inclusion of us at a very fundamental level.
Secondly, we also must stay grounded in wisdom. Asking how to do that every day is largely the point. Wisdom is more of a posture than it is an answer. But to give a brief answer: it means remembering that we are children of a loving God, that we have the Holy Spirit to guide us, and that because of these truths we can explore the nuances of an issue before making quick judgments. For example, the policy briefs we read in Congress are significantly more detailed than the stump speeches we give on the campaign trail. It’s not wrong to have a preference on how to respond to migration at the US-Mexico border, but does that preference take into consideration all of the nuances of the issue? Wisdom means being able to recognize the gaps in our ideology: conservative, liberal, libertarian, or socialist solutions to a problem will all fail to create the full flourishing of the Kingdom of God, and so none of them are final solutions.
And finally, we should create. Create new solutions, new culture, new communities. In a Christian context this might simply be missional outreach or addressing injustices towards people who we have historically marginalized as a culture. It means following Jesus as our model as a creator of goodness and how to embody love on this earth. Ultimately, when followers of Christ are active in politics, the point isn’t to control policy, it’s to demonstrate what hope in the Kingdom of God looks like as we learn from each other to create policy outcomes that would be beneficial for all of us.
“Political activism for followers of Christ isn’t about control or moving agendas driven by inner restlessness when we feel our trust, security, and freedom are in question. It’s about moving closer to the heart of God, and making love our aim.”
These actions don’t give us all the answers we need. But they do help us frame better questions and foster the humility necessary to move from a culture of political divisions to a culture of unity. As we seek the Kingdom of God while being involved in public life, we can place our trust in the love and provision of our Father, we can find our security through prayer as the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, and we can follow Jesus as our model for compassion and creativity and final freedom.
These actions that define unity also reflect our unique opportunity as Christians in the United States. We have endless opportunities to improve our experiment in self-governance and equal rights. The Church and every person who lives in or has fled countries like Cuba, China, Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, Myanmar, or Ethiopia can show us profound insights into what it means to make the love of God our aim while lacking that basic political freedom, and what they are called to do will be different from our calling because of the opportunities that we have. The same is true for our own people whom we have marginalized and traumatized as a culture, and that reality illustrates why it’s so vital that we, with our ability to self-govern, take up the unique opportunity of our time to showcase how the love of God can influence how we lead our democratic-republic.
These three actions are also a reiteration of three underlying ideas communicated throughout Scripture. We are called to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8), we are reminded that faith, hope, and love abide, but the greatest is love (1 Corinthians 13:13), and we are directly called by Jesus to love God, love our neighbor as we love ourselves, and go into all the world so that the whole world will know about this love (Mark 12:30-31; Matthew 28:19). These three actions: be inclusive, stay grounded in wisdom, and create are one way to interpret these verses in an American political context in the 21st century.
Embracing these values provides us with the opportunity to move beyond our fears of losing trust, security, and freedom–and govern as people who are free, spiritually and politically. How different might the world look if we sought to make love our aim in American politics while asking: “How can we be more inclusive? How can we stay grounded in wisdom? And, “What are we called to create?”
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