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Left/Right Labeling Endangers Civil Discourse

Everybody should know their place and keep their place, including God.

This perspective is an unfortunate result of the Enlightenment worldview, which distinguished between the sacred and the secular and formed the basis of our modern, Western worldview.

It asserts that the affairs of this world and those of heaven are separate spheres governed by separate entities.

God governs the spiritual realm (forgiving some people of their sins, judging others for theirs, getting people into heaven, sending people to hell) while humans govern the worldly realm (controlling the economy, gaining and using political power, educating our youth, allocating natural resources).

Most Christians realize that this Deist arrangement really won’t work and, the truth is, the Bible has much more to say about the governance of this world than it does about what’s going on up in heaven.

Yet, we have a hard time translating that guidance into action. We can’t agree on what things are proper and what things aren’t. We can’t even have a civil conversation about it, much less a Christian conversation.

Part of the problem is that the Enlightenment mindset places everything on a political continuum between left and right, liberal and conservative.

On any economic issue, for instance, there are liberal positions, conservative positions and the seemingly disappearing moderate position.

This holds true with the environment, international relations, war and peace and every other issue.

Unfortunately, Christians use the same continuum in theology, separating ourselves into camps while also imposing the left/right, liberal/conservative continuum on the Bible.

In our society, there is little distinction between a theological conservative and a political conservative, a theological liberal and a political liberal.

If I know a Christian’s theological views, I can tell you their political views with great accuracy; if I know their political affiliation, I can tell you their theology with great accuracy as well.

The fact that a conservative senator recently chose to announce his candidacy for the presidency at a major conservative Christian university illustrates this.

The word “conservative” in “conservative Christian university” does double duty by referring both to political and theological views because, in fact, they are one and the same.

The same is true on the left, although they prefer to keep the two spheres completely separate.

As a result, some things that ought to be discussed in the church and among Christians based on the biblical witness are not because people immediately place that discussion on the left/right continuum and then stake out their positions based on their political views.

As soon as that happens, we are not engaging in a conversation but in a contest. We identify which team each person belongs to and instead of seeking to understand and learn from one another, we seek to win.

This is what happens when we assume that the only alternatives available to us politically, theologically or in any other area are on the left/right, liberal/conservative continuum.

The biblical worldview, however, operates apart from that.

Efforts to take the Bible and place it within that continuum will distort the biblical narrative and cause us to judge it according to that continuum.

Our interpretations of the Bible will be shaped not by the biblical worldview but by the political continuum worldview.

The result is that any discussion of poverty, for instance, which is a major biblical theme, will be judged according to our political tribe.

We will be for or against poverty initiatives not according to a truly biblical worldview but according to where we place the proposal on the left/right continuum.

The Christian Left will cobble together a bunch of Bible verses supporting their position, and the Christian Right will do the same; both will call their collections of verses “the biblical worldview.”

They will then proceed to publicly criticize the opposing “biblical” position, which are simply political positions that have been baptized with biblical language.

There are not two spheres, the worldly and the heavenly, the material and the spiritual; nor are there two sets of rulers with authority over their respective spheres.

There is one sphere that encompasses both heaven and earth, the material and the spiritual.

Jesus stands outside of our political/theological worldview and the left/right continuum through which we view global affairs. He calls us as his followers to stand outside of them as well.

As ruler of heaven and earth (see Matthew 28:18), Jesus is concerned with and engaged in the affairs of this world.

As his followers, we must be also. But on his terms and through the lens of his worldview, not ours.

When dealing with the difficult, complex issues we face today, we must learn to look at them not according to our allegiance to our political or theological tribes but according to our allegiance to the one we call Lord.

Larry Eubanks is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Frederick, Maryland. A longer version of this article first appeared on his website and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @EubanksLarry.