It was a completely unexpected victory that stunned the political world. After all the votes were counted, shockwaves permeated through the media, the mainstream and the social, as everyone tried to come to grips with what had just happened.
No, I’m not describing the general election on November 8, 2016, that placed Donald Trump in the office of the presidency. I’m describing the primary election in New York’s 14th Congressional District when 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez defeated Joe Crowley. Crowley has been in politics since the late 1980’s, floated as the future leader of Congressional Democrats. This primary was a big deal, to put it lightly.
But I’m not here to talk about how Ocasio-Cortez won this election. I’ll leave that to political pundits. What I am interested in is something I learned about Ocasio-Cortez shortly after she won. Just like most people, I had never heard of her before this election. To be honest, I didn’t know about the 14th Congressional District or who represented the people who lived there.
What I did find out was that Ocasio-Cortez is religious and that it is her faith that guides her policy. In an article in American Magazine written by Ocasio-Cortez, I read these words:
“Discussions of reforming our criminal justice system demand us to ask philosophical and moral questions. What should be the ultimate goal of sentencing and incarceration? Is it punishment? Rehabilitation? Forgiveness? For Catholics, these questions tie directly to the heart of our faith.”
Do you see what she said there? “…Our faith.” Ocasio-Cortez’s religious conviction lead to political implications.
But she isn’t alone.
Mike Pence, long before he was the vice president, was a radio host in Indiana, a congressman, and eventually a governor. If you pay attention very long, you will hear him repeat one statement over and over again. “I’m a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican-in that order.”
Pence says his religious conviction leads him to be a conservative. Ocasio-Cortez is a progressive Catholic. They both can be right. Faith isn’t the sole property of the left or the right. In this hyper-partisan world, it’s critical to remember that the way of Jesus is the Kingdom of God which isn’t American, Conservative, Liberal or any of the political ideologies that people claim and are labeled. This is because, in the Kingdom of God, the political banners boldly claim three words: Jesus is Lord.
In the book of Philippians, we find a passage with these words:
…at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord…
Where else do you find language like this? The Roman Empire.
In 90AD, Domitian ascended to rule the Roman Empire. He was cruel and arrogant. He demanded god status, sending statues all over the empire, establishing feast days in his honor. Citizens were expected to bow before his statues which led to two choices persecution or worship. The question wasn’t even a question. Caesar Is Lord was the only acceptable political statement.
Into this context, a letter was written on the island of Patmos by a persecuted Christian named John. Full of imagery that was clear to its intended audience, the book of Revelation painted Caesar and the Roman Empire as metaphorical dragons and beasts with no real claim to divinity or power. Instead, like other first century Christians, John was claiming Jesus is Lord and to claim that flew in the face of the powerful Roman Empire.
Christians in the first century chose to greet each other with the phrase Jesus is Lord. Of course, anyone who said it committed treason and placed themselves, their family, and church in danger. It’s no wonder that in the letter to the church in Corinth, Paul wrote: “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.”
The book of Revelation invited Christians to imagine a world where the only politics that mattered was Jesus high and lifted up (again, imagery ripped from Caesar and assigned to Jesus). But this wasn’t the first time imagination was expected of the followers of Jesus.
Jesus’s most famous teaching, The Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew and Luke calls Christians to a radical way of living, and in that teaching, we find this prayer:
“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
His Kingdom. His will. On earth, as it is in heaven.
That’s revolutionary. That’s treasonous. That kind of language could get someone killed. And, it did. The words of Jesus came up against the power of the Roman Empire to be silenced on a cross.
But, with the resurrection as their assurance, the disciples didn’t give up, and the church radically grew. Tens turned to hundreds. Hundreds became thousands. Before long, a movement grew with one mantra: Jesus is Lord.
It was political. It was revolutionary. It got people killed.
Jesus is Lord was a declaration of allegiance. It claimed allegiance to the way of Jesus: grace, mercy, forgiveness, peace, and compassion.
Jesus is Lord was a declaration of contempt to the way of the Roman Empire: greed, power, control, and retribution.
Jesus is Lord is about the Kingdom of God and nothing else.
You may vote Republican or Democrat. You may see yourself as a liberal or a conservative. Perhaps you describe yourself as a Christian, conservative, Republican-in that order. Or maybe you see yourself as a Christian, progressive, Democrat-in that order.
Either way, we should all take a much closer to look where our real allegiance lies. Action matters and there is only one political bumper sticker we should place on our cars: Jesus is Lord.
Better yet, forget the bumper stickers altogether. Let’s go live like Jesus is Lord and be people of grace, mercy, forgiveness, peace, and compassion.
And hopefully, that statement, and living like that, will get us all in a little more trouble.