Should Christians pull back from politics? Given the growing polarization and divisive tone of politics, I understand why Christians might want to distance themselves from the whole project. It seems that no matter how graciously we engage, we risk being misunderstood as taking sides with a “Radical Right” or a “Radical Left.”
It’s not surprising to hear the old fundamentalist line, “Just preach the gospel.” I feel for those who want to avoid what appears to be a sure way to create misunderstanding or to get people mad at you.
But is this fear itself wrongly motivated? Is backing out of political engagement a responsible option for obedient Christians? Is it possibly contradiction of our identity as salt to the earth and light to the world?
This was the topic of a recent post by Russell Moore. I like the way he summarized evangelical engagement on pro-life concerns as a model for other areas of engagement.
“What I’m calling for in our approach to political engagement is what we’re already doing in one area: the pro-life movement. Evangelicals in the abortion debate have demonstrated convictional kindness in a holistic ethic of caring both for vulnerable unborn children and for the women who are damaged by abortion. The pro-life movement has engaged in a multi-pronged strategy that addresses, simultaneously, the need for laws to outlaw abortion, care for women in crisis pregnancies, adoption and foster care for children who need families, ministry to women (and men) who’ve been scarred by abortion, cultivating a culture that persuades others about why we ought to value human life, and the proclamation of the gospel to those whose consciences bear the guilt of abortion.”
“That’s the reason the pro-life movement continues to resonate, with growing numbers, among young Christians. It’s very clearly not a singularly ‘political’ issue, but an issue that demands political, ecclesial, and cultural reform and persuasion.”
Being maligned or falsely charged should not lead Christians to retreat but be viewed (in principle) as an opportunity in the vein of I Peter 3:14-17; 4:19 –
“… if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear their threat; do not be frightened.’ But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. ….So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you.”
Moore does a good job outlining the nature of the calling for engagement,
“We engage politically because we love our neighbors, we care about human flourishing. But we do so at multiple fronts. We engage on Capitol Hill (as I do), on issues ranging from stopping the abortion industry, to protecting religious liberty, to speaking out for human rights for the persecuted overseas. We cultivate churches that see the holistic nature of the kingdom of God and who shape consciences of people to live as citizens. But we always do that with a focus that we are not prosecuting attorneys but defense attorneys. We are seeking, ultimately, to point people to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
A false argument
Some leaders use a false argument disguised as a biblical case against political engagement. They ask, “Where do you see Jesus or the apostles getting involved in politics?”
Not only is this an argument from apparent silence, it overlooks the fact that those who lived during the periods of history represented in the Bible were not part of democratic forms of government. We are simply not living in the same political situation as Jesus or the apostles. This is part of what makes our function a little more complicated. We are part of a participatory system where we have opportunity to influence the formation of laws and policies for the common good.
It’s careless and misleading to use this kind of argument from apparent silence to negate a calling to responsible citizenship.
So as we pursue a common good with others and each one brings his or her beliefs, morals and values to the discussion, robust and respectful debate is often necessary. We must not shy from engagement or allow others to marginalize our voice.
Yet we should not approach engagement as an effort to win culture wars. Such language (and the demeanor that often accompanies it) is not fitting to responsible Christian participation in a representative form of democracy. But neither should we become passive when called to engage.
Let’s be as informed as possible and speak the truth with boldness while being considerate and kind toward opponents.
At the end of the day (or process), some of the laws might conflict with our beliefs, morals and values. If those laws try to force us to violate our beliefs, we will find far more explicit application from Scripture on how to respond.