As the Church has become increasingly entangled in the pursuit of politics, the Gospel has become tarnished and often abandoned as the primary focus of the Body of Christ. — From Jesus Untangled — Crucifying Our Politics to Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb back cover
Jesus Untangled author Keith Giles recently shared with Together LA that unity in the Church in Los Angeles is more critical than even other big cities simply because of “the breadth of diversity and the collision of cultures that are represented.” He makes the case that his book is a “prophetic call for the Church to awaken from the ‘American Dream’ and to return to Her first love.”
Our interview (transcript below) with Giles drew some rather pointed answers from him about the state of affairs for Christians and their politics today.
Together LA: What parts of your book address unity?
Keith Giles: The entire theme of the book is about the dangers of putting politics at the center of our faith; whether as individuals or as the church. Unity itself isn’t the goal. It’s the byproduct of placing Jesus at the center and following Him. The book certainly does examine how divisive politics can be to the Body of Christ, so as we untangle our faith and crucify our politics, we begin to see our brothers and sisters as they truly are, without seeing them through a political filter.
One reason we need to untangle our faith from politics is that if we are more “American” than “Christian” then we’ve become compromised by our nationality. AS I point out in the book: You can’t convert a culture if that culture has already converted you. We need to abandon our politics and seek first the Kingdom of God.
TLA: A lot of people place much of their focus on political solutions to issues of social injustice. I know your book addresses this head-on. What would you say to these people in a nutshell?
Giles: First of all, there’s big difference between politics and justice. In the book I point out that people like MLK and William Wilberforce weren’t practicing the same sort of politics we’re being pulled into today. MLK and Wilberforce both fought for the rights of the oppressed. They weren’t looking to pass laws that gave their party a political advantage over others. They were both willing to lay their own lives on the line to see justice done. Wilberforce even wrote a book where he urged Christians not to become entangled with politics but to transform the culture with the Gospel, which is really what Jesus told us to do in the first place. In fact, it’s really the only way to bring transformation into our world. Politics can’t change hearts, only Jesus can do that.
TLA: How is Jesus Untangled pertinent to people living in Los Angeles or any other metropolis?
Giles: I think unity is more critical in a place like LA, just because the breadth of diversity and the collision of cultures that are represented. More than, say any another large city like Houston or Nashville for example.
For Christians, unity is extremely important – or at least it should be. Because, Jesus said our unity would be a sign that everyone would know that He was the Messiah who was sent by the Father. If we are divided politically (or any other way) we’re denying that Jesus is who He says He is.
TLA: What needs to be done as Christians and as a Christian community to advance this idea of unity in the Church (with a capital “C”)?
Giles: We have to find what unites us and focus on that as much as possible. According to the New Testament, our unity is only found in Christ.
Paul says, “For we all are one in Christ Jesus our Lord” [Gal. 3:28]. Notice he doesn’t say “we are all one in our doctrines”, or “our opinions” or “our political views”. In those things all we have is division. But if we remain in Christ, then we experience unity.
So, whenever Christians argue about politics or divide over political views, it’s because they’ve allowed something else to eclipse Jesus in their heart.
As I point out in my book, “What do you get when you mix religion and politics? You get politics.”
People in first century Corinth had a similar problem. They were dividing over which Apostle was their favorite and Paul rebuked them for that. Yet today Christians feel it’s ok to divide over their favorite political candidate or party. That’s in violation of what Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians.
TLA: What do pastors and churches (small “c”) need to do for unity in the city?
Giles: Whenever we make anything other than Jesus our center, we have division in the church, and between churches. So, if within a local church our center is an issue or a doctrine, then we will experience division. If between churches the focus is anything other than Jesus, then we will experience division.
TLA: What obstacles are there to unity?
Giles: I think what many fail to realize is that politics is another form of tribalism. This creates an “us vs them” mentality where we spend our time and energy searching for everything that is wrong about “them” and right about “us”. We lump everyone who is not in our tribe into a single amorphous collective where “all Liberals are stupid” or “all Conservatives are racist”, when this is certainly not the case. But the more we demonize “them” the more we can justify almost anything we say or do because, hey, look how evil they are! Soon, we start to believe that they are beyond redemption. Which, of course, is exactly the opposite of what the Gospel teaches us.