Ah. Politics. To some, it is an eight-letter four-letter word. To others, it is the much-sought after fulcrum that today’s power-hungry Archimedes-types need in order to finally move the world. Like it or not, we are all impacted by and (inevitably) impact politics in some form or fashion. It’s important then, as Christians, that we learn how to approach this area of life as God would have us to.
Last week, I read a helpful little book entitled One Nation Under God: A Christian Hope for American Politics by Bruce Ashford and Chris Pappalardo. In just 142 pages, the authors provide a wealth of clear, biblical ideas that nudge all believers, whether politically disengaged or politically over-engaged, in the right direction.
The authors write, “Politics is not an evil arena to be avoided. Neither is it our only avenue for impacting society. The reality is much more complex, and oddly enough, much more promising.” I actually finished this book feeling something that, as a Christian looking at the political arena, I haven’t felt in a while: Christian hope.
While I whole-heartedly recommend the entire book to you, I want to summarize/quote parts of chapter 6. This chapter offers several ways that we can think about and engage politics as Christians in an increasingly “post-Christian” America. Let me invite you to think on these things:
- Seek the Good of the City
The authors, drawing from both the Old and New Testaments, argue that we should each have a distinct Judeo-Christian approach to citizenship. For instance, even though Israel was surrounded on all sides by a pagan nation known as Babylon, Jeremiah told them (29:5-7) to, “Build houses and dwell in them, plant gardens and eat their fruit…And seek the peace of the city…and pray to the LORD for it…”
As believers we must remember that we, like Israel in captivity, are alien residents of our nation. We are indeed residents – and should firmly (even proudly) plant our feet in the American soil. Yet, we are also aliens – who have our eyes fixed on another land. Our job, then, is to pray and work in such a way that we can give those around us a “preview of Christ’s future reign of peace and justice.”
- Live Realistically Between the Times
Having established our role as “alien residents,” Ashford and Pappalardo quickly remind us “to be realistic in our expectations.” We should not presume more from politics and the political life than it can actually produce. They write, “Investing politics with majestic hopes will only lead to crushing disappointments.” In short, when we go to vote or donate to a candidate, we must be sure to check our gut expectations carefully. Yes, we are called, like Adam, to care for and tend “the garden” of this earth (not just the biological one, but even the political one too). And yet this overgrown garden will not be fully tamed until Jesus redeems it, making a new heavens and new earth. Hence, we must maintain this balanced perspective.
- Be Shaped for Public Righteousness and Civility
The authors argue that “churches should teach their members a commitment to civility and public politeness.” In short, they are asking that all-too-important question, “What good is it if we win the argument and, by our tone or speech, lose our neighbors?”
Christians should guard their speech and attitude in every area of life, but especially in politics. It is the one area where too often people (even self-proclaimed Christian people) get a pass for a lack of tact or are even applauded for poor manners. As they write, “Verbal incivility signals to a watching world that we are like everybody else, that we are ideologues whose primary goal is to gain power at any cost.” As Christians that is not our goal and, therefore, should not be our signal to others.
- Take a Longer and Broader View
Wherever we see government lacking, believers rightly want to see change. The problem, as they write, is that too often, “we want to see change now!” As a result, we put too much hope in short-term political activism. We need, instead, a longer, broader view that can bring more sustained impact to our nation. Too often, we see the next election as the only way to bring change. But, isn’t it true that politics is (at least in many ways) “downstream from culture?” In other words, what happens in the next election more often reflects the culture than it does direct it.
Therefore, as Christians, we should be willing and ready to “invest in every aspect of American culture – art, science, education, economics, business, sports, and family.” As we impact culture in these numerous other categories, we may be surprised how it eventually impacts the one significant category (of politics.) We need the long-term perseverance of a marathoner, not the short-term burst of a sprinter.
- Choose Between “Thick and Thin”
By “thick and thin” they are speaking of how we speak. They appeal for Christians to adopt a spectrum of vocabulary for political dialogue. On the one hand, most of us are familiar with basic theology and its accompanying “Christianese.” But, many of those around us are not motivated or interested in what the Bible has to say. They write, “When engaging in discussion about a certain political issue, we must discern whether it is advantageous to use patently Christian terms (aka thick dialogue) and when to use more ‘neutral’ ones” (aka thin dialogue). The authors are quick to point out, “our arguments should always be based in Christian thought, even if they are not always communicated publicly in explicitly Christian terms.”
For example, when talking with our atheist uncle, instead of discussing the pro-life platform from the biblical angle (that the child is made in God’s image) we might start by appealing to a common assumption or shared ideal (that the mother who aborts her child will suffer lifelong psychological effects.) As the authors conclude, we “always approach the public square fully clothed (in biblical ideas); but we need not, for that same reason, wear our loudest suit.”
As the authors conclude “Engaging in the public square, like all worthwhile endeavors, is not an easy venture. In fact, the pattern of wisdom and virtue outlined here will be impossible for us under our own power.” Hence, the gospel must drive our every act.