The Idolatry of Politics
As we come to a contentious conclusion of our presidential election, even though the aftermath of this divisiveness in our national politics may unfortunately continue, I really want to challenge all of us to take a step back and look deeply and honestly at ourselves and our actions over these past weeks and months. Whether supporting the left or right, whether rejoicing with Biden or sympathizing with Trump, or simply agonizing over the sad reality of our broken country and its uncertain future with our divisive and angry spirit, as Christians we need to pause and reflect, and then deeply repent! We need to sincerely repent over the ways we’ve given in to fear and turned away from trusting in God. We need to soberly repent for allowing ourselves to fall into the many ways of worshiping and trusting in the idols of our society, idols we’ve created with our political leaders and even the idolatry of our ideologies!
Let me share three separate experiences that happened to me this past week which highlight the extremist actions we’ve given into, something I’ve honestly never experienced in my 26 years as a priest. First, one person told me that they can no longer be a part of our Church Family because they felt that their political agenda is not supported here. Think about this – they feel they can’t worship God in our beautiful community because of politics. I know we have committed Republicans and Democrats in our congregation, we have left-leaning and right-leaning ideologues, yet I believe we respect and love everyone equally. I don’t preach one side of politics from the pulpit and would never tell anyone how to vote. God has given you freedom and God has given you a brain. Yet this person felt they could no longer be a part of our church community because of political differences!
Then, several days ago, I received an email from someone who reads my daily meditation, and they wrote to tell me, among other things, “Fr Luke has sold out to the devil” because I didn’t agree with his political judgement. It’s one thing to vigorously disagree and debate with one another, but quite another to see our opponent as a co-worker with Satan, to arrogantly judge our brother or sister in Christ as a tool of the devil.
Finally, a friend I have known all my life, who I knew from my hometown church and who has been quite involved in the church throughout his life, wrote an email the other day that bluntly stated, “My love of this country far exceeds that of friends and acquaintances, so I am taking everyone from the opposite political party out of my address book & please feel free to do the same to me. There will not be any further communication of any kind between us after this message.” Imagine, such distorted patriotism and love of country which exceeds love of friends, even life-long friends!
What’s happening here?!? I must say that all these three instances deeply sadden me. How have we reached a point in our society where we no longer respect one another and no longer value friendships to the point of not ever wanting to communicate with someone anymore, simply because we have different political views? Why can’t we simply disagree while still remaining friends? Or vigorously debate with one another while still trying to listen to the other and hopefully discover common ground in our beliefs and in our desire for the good of our fellow human being?
What has happened to make us so arrogantly self-righteously divided? Is it that we have unconsciously and carelessly fallen into extremes – where we think either you’re with me or against me but we leave no room for middle ground for love and humility, for respect and empathetic understanding? Several months ago, I preached on this very danger of extremism from both the left and the right, and it seems that too many people are choosing to hide in these dark corners of radicalism.
Along with the danger of extremism, however, I think there is lurking within us another serious temptation and danger, and this is what I want to focus on today. I want us all to look at ourselves and reflect on where we’ve given into the grave sin of idolatry!
Now, when most people hear the term idolatry, they may think of some ancient pagan societies that worshiped many statues and gods. We may think about the Old Testament and the numerous times the Israelites turned away from the One True God and worshipped the foreign gods of their neighbors. Actually, do we realize that in Holy Scripture, idolatry is considered the greatest sin, even greater than murder and adultery, because it is a sin of turning away from the one true God?
Of course, when we warn about idolatry today, we most likely aren’t talking about worshipping other foreign gods. We can better understand idolatry in our contemporary setting by thinking of false religion and heretical ideologies. Tim Keller, in his book Counterfeit Gods, defines an idol as “anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, and anything that you seek to give you that only God can give.”
With that definition, how many idols do we have in our lives? Think of our obsession these past months during this political campaign, and the ultimate hope and fear we’ve placed in certain political figures and political parties, in various ideals like patriotism and country, in ideologies like capitalism or socialism.
Think about the disproportionate amount of time, money and passion we’ve put into this election over the past nine months. Our country spent $14 BILLION dollars on this election! And what about the ultimate and extreme hope and despair we’ve given to the results. How many people feel that our country or the world will be destroyed if their candidate or party lost, and others who feel that our politician alone can save the world as we know it. Such apocalyptic dreams point to idolatry! And I’m warning all of us, on both sides of the political spectrum, of this danger sin of idolatry.
Remember, even sincere desires and good intentions can become idols if we don’t stay vigilant and keep everything in a proper perspective. We love our families and yet, when we say “Family is the most important thing in the world” we’ve created an idol. We all want to be healthy but when we give in to the idea that “If you have your health, you have everything” we’ve given in to idolatry. And when we believe so passionately in one politician or one political way to the point that we want to break off our relationships with others simply because they hold on to another view, or when we lift up patriotism of our country as the highest virtue above love for one another, then we’ve created an idol out of our political views and out of our country.
Take note, when it comes to idolatry, the danger is not the idol itself but the relationship and attitude we have towards that idol. The danger is in us, it is in our perspective. The first commandment in the Ten Commandments is “I am the Lord your God and you shall have no other gods before me.” And the two greatest commandments are “to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength” and “to love your neighbor as yourself.”
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