7 Ways the Church Can Better Approach Politics
What words come to mind when you hear the word "politics?"
Here are a few that come to mine:
Divided. Not working. Polar opposites. Social media outrage. Scandal. Resign. Blue states. Red states. Tax cuts. Welfare. Immigrant. Wall. North Korea. Buttons. Bigger buttons. Russia. The media. Fake news. Barf.
Regardless of your political affiliation, these are sad times in America. What's even more saddening is that so often the word "church" or "Christian" can get stuck in the cycle of words listed above. Some in the church would navigate these political times by cuddling up to the left, or making deals with the right. But in the middle of all the madness, there is this beautiful thing called "biblical Christianity." From that level-headed perspective, how can Christians more faithfully navigate the crazy political waters at hand? Here are some thoughts.
1. Defy Partisan Politics.
If you typically vote Democrat, you can't possibly be vocally pro-life at the same time, right? Well, if you're a Christian, why not? And, if you typically vote Republican, you can't possibly be welcoming to refugees and immigrants, right? Well, if you're a Christian, why not? I know I'm painting in broad generalities that verge on stereotypes, but my point is this: Faithfulness to Christ will very often mean that we will not fit into a partisan box. We will be true to Christ above all else, and that will mean that those obtuse elephants (or donkeys) in the room that do not fit the Christian ethic will need to be called out. That leads me to my next point.
2. Never Give Up Moral Ground for Political Ground
Back in the nineties when former President Clinton's intern affair (no pun intended) went public, the repeated cry of many political conservatives was, "Character matters in public office!" I completely agree with that statement. I'm not sure what happened since then, but apparently character does not matter anymore - or at least it can be ignored so long as the man with your agenda gets into office. I believe the church does a huge disservice to herself when she publicly supports candidates with questionable integrity. A few months ago, when Roy Moore was running for office amid allegations of past sexual misconduct, I was appalled to hear some Christians stand by him, and even try to justify his behavior, all in the name of securing what they perceived to be an advantageous political seat. I was even more appalled as I listened to Moore invoke the name of God the night before the election. When the church turns a blind eye to outrageous actions in the name of pragmatism, I truly believe that this does more damage to the church than secularism ever could. Characters matters, even if it means you will lose.
3. Listen Instead of Lash Out
It's really hard for someone to be consistently angry with you when you consistently listen and respond with gentleness and respect. Behind all the social media rage and hashtag hysteria are people - people you may disagree with, but still people who deserve to be heard. I'm pretty sure that most people do not experience dramatic conversions (either spiritually or politically) as the direct result of heated Twitter or Facebook banter. However, many, many people change their minds, or at least experience the kindness of Christ, through patient dialogue with a person who, while not eager to agree on everything, is still very eager to listen. I truly hope that in the future the church will respond to her new place as a minority in the culture by showing the world what it looks like to love deeply those with whom we disagree.
4. A Renewed Appreciation for the Separation Between Church and State
I love the separation between church and state. It's a legit deal, because it means the state has no business telling me how to run the church, and the church does not have to mess with trying to run the state (which, last time I checked, was not part of the Great Commission in Matthew 28, and last time I checked, has worked out well about zero times in history). There really are Christians who would love to see America run as a theocratic nation. That scares me. There's also folks on the secular side of things who would like to see the government bully the church into silence. That concerns me. Hence, the separation. However, rightly understood, the separation is not one that should involve silence. While church and state are separate, the church has a prophetic responsibility to remind the state of its duties, limits, and moral responsibilities. It does so only with words, and never with force. The state, on the other hand, bears the responsibility of providing the church (and any other religious group) with the freedom to worship and practice religion - all of which serves to foster virtue and self-sacrifice in a way that government institutions cannot (this symbiosis only works, of course, when the state is morally sane enough to recognize virtue, and the church preaches and teaches in such a way that virtue develops).
5. Invest In Better Institutions
I'm thankful for the institution of government. Even on a bad day in America, by and large we still have basic needs met like food, water, infrastructure, and law. I'm not saying that these benefits are enjoyed by all people at all times in equal measure, but if you've ever been to a part of the world where the government holds these things together with a shoelace and a hairpin, you know what I mean. With that said, I'm not confident in the institution of government in comparison with other more basic, primal institutions - namely, marriage and family. The home is the place where virtue is taught and intact. Ideally, it's the place where boys are taught to be men who love and lay down their lives instead of adolescents who add fuel to the fire of #metoo. The family has endured the rise and collapse of every revolution and regime. Put simply, when we feel powerless to affect change from above, we always have the opportunity to incite change from below, simply by our faithfulness to one another as husband and wife, parent and child, brother and sister. Our hope for the future is not first in better legislation, but rather in well-catechized children who love God's word and the world God sent his Son to save.
6. Dig Deep into Your Local Church
The church can willingly and easily do what politics so often cannot. Think of it this way - if you're living from pay check to pay check, then lose your job and experience a medical emergency without insurance, would you rather get help through a government agency that is at the mercy of a budget dictated by political jiu jitsu each year, OR, would you rather be served by a group of people who do so entirely on the basis of the command of Jesus Christ to "love the least of these?" Many people do serve the poor in government agencies with integrity and conviction, but there's just more opportunity for good when such service comes from churches and non-profits who do what they do out of the love of God and not a paycheck. When a local church has it's head on straight, it becomes a launchpad for mercy work, and not only that, the grace that God pours out from pulpit, font, and altar each Lord's day is an instigator of good works. You can't legislate an ounce of this stuff, but the gospel does liberate ordinary people to do an abundance of good from. But unless we dig deep into our local church communities, there's no doubt that we'll become ineffective, hypocritical, and especially prone to cutting political corners.
7. Repent and Believe the Good News.
The solution to just about everything in life starts with the daily call to repent and believe the good news of the gospel. The nature of our sin is that we "fear, love, and trust" in anything and everything other than God. Politics can be a tempting idol. It can also turn and devour you in a moment. But not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We serve a King who did not fit with anyone's politics, and in the end it got him killed. And yet, he's also the one to whom every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess - yes, even President Trump, former Secretary Clinton, and every other leader the human race has ever known.
Pastor John Rasmussen - Our Savior Lutheran Church - South