There has been little rest for the politically weary since the 2012 election. A nation in full-time campaign mode, seeking constantly to win new converts to one’s side, has made little time for cooperation.
Perhaps Christians are coming to recognize through this depressing political reality that we, too, are exhausted worshippers trapped in a liturgy of litigiousness: a people dominated by a year-long, near-doxological celebration of election victories or legislative counterattacks.

Not long after President Obama’s November re-election, the nation was confronted by what should have been occasions for deep grieving and reflection, rather than political expediency: the latest “ground zeros” for the gun control and abortion debates, respectively – Sandy Hook in December 2012 and Kermit Gosnell’s trial in March 2013.

In the same manner, the George Zimmerman trial began in June, was decided in July and did little to forward the national conversation on race other than to bring agreement that more conversations were necessary.

Later in the month, the Supreme Court strengthened the case for gay marriage and weakened the case for voting rights.

Throw in the endless legal challenges to Obamacare, and the recent government shutdown should be seen as little more than the fitting benediction to a year of political worship.

This unholy liturgy has sadly revealed what consumes Christians or, more starkly, what we love and worship.

Everyday choices and reflexive habits – the radio stations we listen to, the cable news channels we frequent, the social media conversations we engage – form us, particularly the more we do them.

Even the calendar becomes distorted where the rhythm of “ordinary time” is interrupted by the hopefulness of mid-terms, rather than Advent.

These habits eventually constrain our ability to collaborate, limit our capacity to imagine new possibilities into the collective brokenness, shrink our empathy for one another and, consequently, our eschatological hope.

In the middle of this year’s liturgy, former civil rights activist and Baptist preacher Will Campbell died in May. Perhaps now, more than ever, we could use a healthy dose of his apocalypticism.

In the mid-’60s, Campbell warned that supposed societal milestones can too easily “become a source of pride instead of a source of penitence,” making them millstones around our necks, particularly “when the uniform announcing them is red, white and blue alpaca and not coarse sackcloth.”

Campbell was referring specifically to legislative victories in civil rights cases, many of which he had a hand in securing.

As he assessed the state of racial relations in the church in the mid-’60s, he was left searching for evidence of the promised progress, supposedly guaranteed by the milestones.

Nearly 50 years after Campbell penned that warning, perhaps we should consider again whether the alleged political milestones are actually millstones drowning us.

Maybe these milestones actually lay the foundation of a subterranean kingdom built upon either Christian despair or triumphalism once all parties finally sink to rock bottom.

It is true that no sectarian withdrawal or quietism will address these urgent matters and, frankly, all of these aforementioned issues are too important to throw up our hands and retreat to our prayer closets.

But when our prayers are finally voiced, too often they bear the marks of hearts, minds and souls so shaped by liturgies of litigiousness that they are unrecognizable to God.

Too often, our prayers echo the Pharisee’s about the tax collector: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people” (Luke 19.11) – particularly Tea Partiers or Socialists.

Each contentious issue or event reveals our collective lack of wisdom and charity, or even the ability to grieve – all the things that seemingly make us true worshippers.

We relish the opportunity to rant or gloat through social media and destroy relationships along the way. In the depths of our drowned kingdom, ironically, we claim the shallowest of victories.

Hailing the end of all things over our government’s actions, while forgetting the beginning and ending in whom all things are created and hold together, can fool some into thinking the only work to be done is all up to us.

If the courts and politicians are truly gods and have the final say over how everyone is to relate to one another – as our chosen liturgies already seem to reveal – then let us devise other congregational activities for our truly worshipless Sundays.

Fashioning a millstone or two around our necks might actually be a worthwhile use of our time.

At least that way the world would receive the witness of a people whose notion of responsibility to and for their neighbor is that they would rather die than continue this rather boring cycle of lovelessness and self-righteous taunts.

That’s what I think Brother Will might say. After all, a gentle dose of the apocalypse never hurt anyone.

Justin Randall Phillips earned a doctorate in Christian ethics from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif. He lives in Jackson, Tenn. You can follow him on Twitter @jrphillips5.

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