So, I learned a new psychological term this week; Fundamental Attribution Error which is to assume that someone’s behavior is directly linked to their character. In other words, the reason that person behaves or acts that way is an indication of who they are in the inside.
Let me give you an illustration: You invite some friends over for dinner at 6 PM but they don’t show up until 6:25. So now, you’re a little annoyed because they knew what time they were supposed to arrive and you’ve been waiting and now the food is cold so in your mind you think, “I know what kind of people they are, the irresponsible kind and we can’t be friends with those kind of people.”
But what might have actually happened was that the babysitter showed up a little late or their kid went a little nuts and they had to calm them down or perhaps they received an urgent call from work as they were walking out the door which ultimately caused them to be late to dinner.
In other words, their lateness may not be indicative of their character.
During a political season – especially the current political season we find ourselves in – we have been sucked into this cognitive bias and here is what it has sounded like.
- You know why people vote Democrat – because they are cheating, corrupt socialists, all of them
- You know why people vote Republican – because they are heartless racists, all of them.
And politicians and media know this about us and so they use political rhetoric to feed it and it grabs us by the nose and leads us into saying and believing all kinds of silly things that just aren’t true.
To make it worse, this kind of thinking has crept into our churches and people have directly linked someone’s political actions to their spiritual character.
Just read social media posts and both liberal and conservative Christians ask the question “How can you be a Christian if you vote for that person?”
Now, if you do not hear me say anything else today, please hear this.
As Christians, we do the world a huge disfavor when we wrap our political ideologies with the teachings of Jesus because Jesus did not come to be a footnote to a political platform.
Jesus came to reverse the order of things and to usher in a new kind of kingdom. And when we edit, parse, and filter Jesus to fit a party platform, we rob the world of the message that changed the world.
If you are a follower of Jesus, you must put your faith filter ahead of your political filter.
Now I am not saying this is easy. In fact, Early Christians lost their lives over this. They refused to be unconditionally loyal to the emperors, even the good ones and that was a threat the empire.
But in doing so, they were able to share the message of Jesus and move His kingdom forward.
Let’s listen to our text to see how: Galatians 3:26-29
What was so baffling to the Roman Empire was that a group of people from all sorts of backgrounds and social statuses voluntarily came together to worship a crucified God. Why would they do that?
You see, Roman culture was organized around citizenship, where there was a clear distinction between those who had status and power and those who did not. So, to the Romans Christianity made no sense.
But the message of Jesus was clear, “I’ve come to establish a new kind of kingdom and everyone is invited to be a part of it.” And this kingdom Jesus ushered in was disruptive to cultural norms.
He begins with religious structure, He says that in Christ, “there is neither Jew nor Gentile”
- The Jews would have thought, “You’re telling me that I have to invite those dirty gentiles into my home, I don’t think so?”
- The Gentiles would have thought, “I gotta do stuff with those Jews that have pushed us away our entire lives, that’s not gonna happen.”
But Paul is saying, “Those days are over. There’s a new kingdom with a new king and what has been a source of conflict and tension, is over. Because all have sinned and fallen short. All find salvation the same way. So, what used to divide you has the potential to unite you.
Next Paul challenges the economy. He says, in Christ, “there is neither slave nor free”
- The slave would have thought, “You’re telling me that God views me with the same dignity he views my master? That’s crazy!”
- The master would have thought, “You’re telling me that God views my slaves the way he views me? Come on man!” Everyone knows that some people are born to rule and some were born to be ruled over, it’s just common sense. It’s the way the world works.
But Paul says, “There’s a new system where slaves and masters, rich and poor, citizens and non-citizens come together as equals.”
Then it gets worse, He says that in Christ, “there is neither male nor female”.
Now, slavery in the ancient world was not the same as slavery in the United States. Slavery in the United States was driven by the color of your skin. But in the ancient world, everybody was a potential slave to somebody.
- You miss your house payment, they come for your house and your daughter.
- You miss your horse payment, they come for your horse and your son.
In a culture where everyone has the potential to become somebody else’s slave, women were particularly vulnerable because they had no social standing. They were not given respect or dignity because they were property to be used to pay off debts - unless she came from a wealthy household.
And Paul comes along and says, “In this new kingdom, there is a new value system which levels the playing field where men and women, slaves and masters are given the same respect and dignity.”
This is the upside-down Kingdom that Jesus introduced and invited us to be a part of.
Years after Paul was executed, the Roman empire was beginning to fray and so they tried to figure out what was wrong and they concluded that the god’s are angry because they aren’t receiving the sacrifices they are accustomed to and the reason is because those Christians refused to worship other gods.
So, an edict goes out to all the governors to arrest Christians and force them to make sacrifices to the gods and to the Emperor – who is considered a god.
Well, this guy named Pliny the Younger – a governor in an area of the Roman Empire – realizes that it’s his responsibility to put down the growth of the church.
But he didn’t fully understand the threat Christians were posing to the Empire nor did he understand what he was expected to do about it so he writes a letter back to get further clarification but before he sends it, he decides to launch his own investigation to see what makes these Christians so dangerous.
Here’s what he discovered:
First, they meet on a certain day of the week before dawn to celebrate and worship Jesus. And during worship, they would sing and the reason they would sing is because most people couldn’t read, and they had nothing they could read. So, they learned their theology through music.
That does not sound too dangerous.
Next, he learned that they called each other brothers and sisters, even though they weren’t related, and they would share a meal together that represented their crucified God.
Sure, that sounds a little odd, but not really a threat.
Finally, he learned that while they were together, they would make promises to one another; that they would be honest and not steal from one another or charge too much when it comes to trading, that they would treat each other with respect and dignity. And if someone is counting on you, you would not let them down. In other words, they were living out what Paul had instructed.
Now let me tell you what’s amazing about this. In Pagan religions, there is no moral or ethical responsibility because the gods didn’t care how you treated other people. They just wanted a sacrifice.
But all of a sudden, there’s this new cult and they feel that somehow in their worship of their God, there is a moral and ethical component as if they feel accountable to God for how they treat each other and how they treat the people in their community.
And in a culture that worships wealth, strength, and climbing up a social ladder – this made no sense and to an empire that was slowly fading away, it felt like a threat.
Although the early church didn’t have territory, military, authority, or political standing they had a unifying message that was built around two ideas – love God and love each other.
The threat to the Empire was that this movement with this unifying message was connecting with all sorts of people and it was spreading like a virus – from Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth – just as Jesus predicted when he ushered in this kingdom.
And it was this unifying message that shaped Western civilization – that there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, and I think Paul would add Democrat, Republican, libertarian or green parties . . . for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
And if those who came before us, that lived in a world that we can’t even imagine, were able to find common ground with each other at the foot of the cross, we have no excuse.
Their culturally disruptive unity shocked the world and eventually their message would change the world.
I understand that some of you are passionate about your candidate, or your political party and their stances on certain issues. I recognize that it may be impossible for you to understand how a Jesus follower could possibly have a different view on a specific political or social issue than you have.
But let us do what the early church did – let’s love one other – let’s treat each other with respect and dignity. We can disagree politically, but we can also love unconditionally.
And then let us, together, fall at the feet of Jesus who came to live among us, to die for us, to conquer death for us, and to usher in a kingdom that would unify us.
This is the message of the church, this is the message the world needs to hear from the church.