Margaret Thatcher's recent passing provided a stark reminder of the highly polarized nature of our political culture. To those on the right she was (and is) a patron saint, one of the great heroes of the late twentieth century. To those on the left she was (and is) a demon, a villain who callously trampled the working class and the poor. Love or hate her, the Iron Lady evoked strong emotions in just about everyone.
Granted, the same could be said about many politicians present and past, a fact that helps underscore the peril of entangling the church as a body in the political process. In politics, anyone who votes against us is an opponent to be fought. We are continually trained to view our neighbors in simplistic terms as allies or enemies. Politicians who take the "right" stances are our heroes, whether they really deserve our respect or not. Politicians on the "wrong" side are the embodiment of evil, again regardless of what they are really like. A politicized pulpit can quickly become a forum that dehumanizes friend and foe alike by reducing them to two-dimensional caricatures.
Lost in the melee is the fact that we are all human beings who bear the image of (and are equally loved by) God, that we are all complex, gloriously messy three-dimensional persons whose lives cannot be reduced to a label. Forgotten is Jesus' instruction that the Republican is my neighbor as well as the Democrat, and the Apostle Paul's reminder that even the most righteous among us is not superior to anyone else.
That's not to say that Christians living in a democratic society can (or should) avoid politics entirely, but if ever there was a time for followers of Christ to remember the command to be "in the world but not of it," the political process provides it. Whenever we find ourselves claiming that we are "loving" our neighbors by passing laws that force them to do what we believe to be the right thing, it is perhaps time to release our death-grip on the reins of power and remind ourselves what our real mission is supposed to be.
And whenever we begin to see our political leaders as larger-than-life icons (good or bad), it couldn't hurt to pause and refocus until we can once again see them as human beings.