On Becoming More Christian, Not Less, In Our Politics
If you’re on social media or are watching the news for more than twelve seconds, you’re sure to spot some sort of rant about a political figure. It has become our habit to mock and insult those authority figures we disagree with.
While we can (and should) feel strongly about different political and social issues, as Christians, we’re called to respond to authority with respect. Rather than bucking the system, sticking it to the man, insulting, or despairing, 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 every earthly kingdom.
One of the chief ways we honor God is in how 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.
ARE GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS THE EXCEPTION?
The Bible also says Christians should honor, respect, pray for and obey authorities in positions of government. This can be challenging for us, especially during a heated political season like the one that is ramping up right now. And yet, because politics are so heated, the season we are in presents Christians with a unique opportunity to live counter-culturally 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, citizens of God’s kingdom will be known as the most 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 this 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 every Christian must submit to and pray for governing authorities (Romans 13:1).
In today’s political climate, it is hard to find Christians who embrace this line of thinking. Instead, many have been drawn into partisan spin and rhetoric. In so doing, these well-intended but misguided Christians have 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:
1. DON’T LABEL OR SMEAR; INSTEAD, HUMBLE YOURSELF
Right-leaning Christians fall prey to dishonoring our last president. He identified as Christian, yet was labeled as patently anti-Christian. He identified as a social Democrat, yet got labeled as a Socialist. He claimed to champion the poor and underserved, yet got labeled as a crook who takes “other people’s money” and uses it to enable laziness.
Similarly, left-leaning Christians have shown disrespect to the president before him. Words like “Murica” and “Strategery” became part of the American lexicon, but not for honoring reasons. Rather, such words were used to belittle, embarrass and caricature this president and Yale graduate as a bumbling idiot.
Left-leaning Christians can also engage in inflammatory and unfair rhetoric that labels right-leaning authorities as anti-poor, anti-woman, anti-immigrant and so on.
Christians on both the left and the right have expressed concern about the gross character flaws, and some of the policies, of our current President as well. This is fine and appropriate, unless of course concerns give way to name-calling and personal insults. Not even the young man David, when King Saul sought personally to destroy him, fell into this trap. Although David had two opportunities to finish Saul off, he would not assassinate him, either in his person or his character. In his own words, he dared not harm “the Lord’s anointed.”
Right, left, or neither, we should address the logs in our own eye before we presume to address the specks in someone else’s.
2. 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 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, as I mention above. When David had the opportunity to destroy Saul, 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.
3. ENGAGE THE POLITICAL PROCESS IN A GROWN-UP, NON-JUDGMENTAL 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.”
Another thing you can do is organize. With the rise of Facebook groups and hashtag movements, there is no shortage of opportunity to engage in causes you believe in.
But activism that’s limited to social media, or “slacktivism,” isn’t enough. If you really want to make a difference, you need to also figure out how you are going to donate your time, financial contributions, and professional skills to leave the world better and, so far as it depends on you, make government intervention and involvement less necessary.
4. REMEMBER JESUS’ KINGDOM IS NOT OF THIS WORLD
Jesus came to fulfill every part of Scripture. Not one word of God’s just and true 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 we love. Jesus fulfilled the law by feeding the hungry, identifying with the poor, empowering women, reaching out cross-culturally (as a white, English speaking man in North America, I’m especially thankful for this), 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 disciples. Of the four Gospel writers, Matthew alone points out this fact, signaling that loyalties to Jesus transcend all other loyalties, including political ones.
Even Simon and Matthew, two people on polar opposite political extremes, were able to 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.
5. ASK YOURSELF 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, and with whom to I feel most kindred?
1. People who agree my politics but don’t share my faith? Or …
2. People who share my faith but don’t agree with my politics?
If it’s the first instead of the second, we are rendering unto Caesar what belongs to God. And that can’t be a good thing.
The way we answer 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. It will also reveal whom and what it is that we truly follow.
Will we be disciples of a partisan platform, or will we be disciples of Jesus, who is King of kings and whose kingdom is not of this world? I pray it will be the latter, not the former.
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