Engaging Politics in a Grown-Up, Non-Judgy Way
Christians can show Christ to the world in the way that we respond to authority. Rather than bucking the system, sticking it to the man, insulting or talking back, Christians are taught in the Bible to respond to authority with honor. This starts with honoring God, who holds authority over the whole universe, including our very own thoughts, words, behaviors and bodies. We are not our own; we have been bought with a price.
One of the ways we honor God is in the way we respond to those He has put in authority over us. Whether we agree or disagree with our authorities, showing honor and respect is presented in the Bible as a non-negotiable. In showing honor and respect, we also honor and respect God, who, in His own wisdom and for his own purposes, ordains who will lead and who will follow. This “honor” principle touches virtually every realm of society. It includes children honoring their parents, congregants honoring their elders and pastors, students honoring their teachers, employees honoring their bosses, and spouses honoring each other. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ,” Paul writes to husbands and wives.
The Bible also says Christians should honor, respect, pray for, and obey authorities in positions of government. During a heated political season like the one we are in now, this can be challenging for all of us. And yet, because politics are so heated, the season we are in now presents Christians with a unique opportunity to live counter-culture to the typical partisan spin and vitriol.
Biblically, Christians have a civic duty to honor their national, state and local officials. As long we aren’t being coerced to sin against God, following Jesus includes submitting to and praying for all of our public authorities. When this happens, the citizens of God’s kingdom will be known as the most cooperative and refreshing citizens of earthly kingdoms, no matter who is in charge. This was true in biblical times, and it can be true now.
New Testament Christians were routinely marginalized, persecuted and even put to death by the Roman state. Even in a hostile, anti-Christian climate, honoring, respecting, cooperating with, and praying for Roman officials was part of being a disciple. The Apostle Peter, who would later be executed by Rome for his Christian faith, said that in all circumstances, Christians must honor the king (1 Peter 2:17). The Apostle Paul, who would also be martyred by decree of the Roman Caesar, said that every Christian must submit to and pray for governing authorities (Romans 13:1).
Today, it is sometimes hard to find Christians who embrace this line of thinking. Instead, many have been drawn in to partisan spin and rhetoric. In so doing, these well-intended but misguided Christians can become more like the world than like Jesus. Here are a few thoughts about how we can retreat from the spin and rhetoric, and instead return to more of a New Testament approach:
DON’T LABEL OR SMEAR;
INSTEAD, HUMBLE YOURSELF
Right-leaning Christians fall prey to dishonoring our current president. He identifies as Christian, yet gets labeled as patently anti-Christian. He identifies as a social Democrat, yet gets labeled as a Socialist. He claims to champion the poor and under-served, yet gets labeled as a crook who takes “other people’s money” and uses it to enable laziness. And yet, strangely, some of his most outspoken critics now support another presidential candidate: a billionaire who strategically used bankruptcy laws to improve his casino business with “other people’s money.”
Similarly, left-leaning Christians have shown disrespect to our previous president. Words like “Murica” and “Strategery” are now part of the American lexicon, but not for honoring reasons. Rather, such words are used to belittle, embarrass and caricature this president and Yale graduate as a bumbling idiot. Left-leaning Christians can also engage in rhetoric that labels right-leaning authorities as anti-poor, anti-woman, anti-immigrant, and so on. Many of these same Christians dismiss the wisdom of proven, work-based poverty solutions that foster independence and self-respect. In the name of “choice” and “rights” and protecting the vulnerable, choice and rights are denied to millions of vulnerable, voiceless boys and girls in the womb.
I probably just made everyone angry. But I suppose that’s the point, isn’t it? Right, left, or neither, we should address the logs in our own eye before we presume to address the specks in someone else’s.
SHOW RESPECT FOR AUTHORITIES
WITH WHOM YOU DISAGREE
Examples fill the Scriptures. In spite of being put in prison for crimes he didn’t commit, Joseph treated for Pharaoh and the Egyptian guards with honor. Daniel and his three friends spoke respectfully to Babylon’s evil King Nebuchadnezzar. David blessed and prayed for King Saul, even though Saul wanted to kill David. When David had the opportunity to defeat Saul with his sword, he resisted the temptation. Instead, he entrusted himself, and the ways that king Saul had injured him, to God who judges justly. David wouldn’t even speak negatively about Saul. Why? Because God, for reasons only God knew, wanted Saul to be king for a time. Out of respect for God, David gave respect to Saul.
These are great models for us to consider as we engage political discussions, and as we think about how to relate to authorities we don’t agree with.
ENGAGE THE POLITICAL PROCESS
IN A GROWN-UP, NON-JUDGY WAY
Amid a heated political campaign in 1774, John Wesley wrote the following in his Journal:
I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them:
1. To vote…for the person they judged most worthy,
2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against, and
3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.
I have nothing to add to this.
REMEMBER THAT JESUS’ KINGDOM
IS NOT OF THIS WORLD
Jesus came to fulfill every part of Scripture. Not one scratch of the law will go unfulfilled by Jesus. How conservative of Him. And yet, as Jesus demonstrates, the more conservative we are in our beliefs about Scripture, the more liberal we will be in the ways that we love. Jesus fulfilled the law by feeding the hungry, identifying with the poor, empowering women, reaching out cross-racially, and welcoming and eating with sinners. How progressive of him.
And get this. Jesus brought Simon, an anti-government Zealot, and Matthew, a government employee, into his group of twelve disciples. Of the four gospel writers, Matthew alone points out this fact, signaling that loyalty to Jesus transcends all other loyalties, including political ones. Even Simon and Matthew, two people on polar opposite political extremes, can live and love in community together. Why? Because instead of creating dividing walls, Jesus breaks down dividing walls and prays that his followers—from the political left and the political right—will live as one. In this, we show the world that we are his disciples.
THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION
In consideration of Matthew and Simon living in community together under Jesus, we should wrestle with the following question:
For whom do I feel greater affection —
people who agree with my politics but don’t share my faith,
or people who share my faith but don’t agree with my politics?
If it’s the former instead of the latter, we may be rendering unto Caesar what belongs to God. And that can’t be a good thing.
The way that we answer to this question will, in many ways, determine what kind of honor—or what kind of dishonor—we will give to those in authority over us.
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