Photo Above: (Tracy Arm Fjord) (Sawyer Glacier) Alaska. Photographer: Peter Mulligan
Politics and Christian Character
This is going to sound melodramatic but as we come to a close to an end in the election cycle I believe the saddest and most concerning thing about this election is not the candidates that have come forth as our leading choices to lead the future of American democracy. It is not the fiery dumbed down rhetoric that have come from the Candidates, the media, and people of this country. It is not the scandals that have plagued the candidates. It is a bigger issue in my mind that so many of us Christians have not represented Christ well once again to so many people. How, so? I believe many of us have done this in at least three ways.
1. We have missed the mark because we have not argued in a godly way.
In the Apostle Peter’s 1st letter to the early church He provides a framework to the early church to answer people’s questions about their faith. He tells the church to do it “with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”
If we take this passage along with Paul’s letter to Galatians on the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and his letter to the Corinthians discussing love, I believe we have a pretty good framework for elementary Christian behavior. This elementary Christian behavior extends to how we should argue.
We need to argue with kindness, civility, humility, truth, intelligence, and love. To argue with humility and truth is to always check our biases, make sure we are deeply informed, truly try to understand the other side of the argument, and to always consider the very best arguments from both sides. To argue with love is to care deeply about the person you are arguing with.
Having a lack of civility, kindness, and love shows a person’s resistance to the deep work of the Spirit of God. The fruit of the spirit is not personality based, nor is it reserved for the pastorate, but it is for every Christian.
We should not be known for angry political ranting. When we argue out of anger and spite we completely lose our effectiveness. We fail to imitate one of the most beautiful characteristics of Jesus which is humility. Ranting hardens people’s stances against you. It is difficult for people to receive arguments from unpleasant sources. I once heard apologist Ravi Zacharias mention an Indian proverb “there is no point in giving a man a rose to smell after you’ve cut off his nose.” People will always remember how you treat them and what you represent.
We are in a politically divisive climate. However, elections and politics should never be a reason to give into our fleshly state. If the news is having an effect on our Christian character we are probably not making a practice of abiding in Christ and are losing sight of God’s gospel mission. Paul tells the Roman church “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” In his letter to the church of Galatia Paul says “For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” Perhaps, one of the most useful things some of us can do is go on a news diet and replace the news with scripture reading, meditation, and prayer.
2. We have missed the mark as Christians when we show more passion for politics than for Christ and the gospel mission.
John Calvin once said “man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.” What are idols? Idols aren’t just gold and silver statues. Idols represent anything we put in place over God, even good things. Tim Keller defines an idol is “anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.”
Many Christians have an idolatrous relationship with politics. How can we know if politics is our idol? It may be as simple as identifying if you are more passionate about politics than Jesus. Examine your words, thoughts, and passions. Are they for the person of Jesus or mostly for the cause of morality? In the book of Revelation Jesus speaks to the Ephesian church about their patient endurance and faithful works, but then warns them and says “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first (for me).”
Why is it so easy for politics to become an idol? Alfred Atler once said “It is easier to fight for one’s principles than to live up to them.” Politics provide us a way to feel righteous, because we feel we are fighting for something righteous (and we may possibly be). It feels good to tells others our opinions as well.
However, living out the Christian life requires much more skin in the game than blasting articles out on Facebook and just opposing something. It is hard and uncomfortable. It is all consuming, as Jesus tells us we must lose our life in order to find it. We have to disciple people. We have to love people. We need to bear each other’s burdens. We have to read our Bibles. We have to pray. We have to worship. We have to love our enemies. We have to care for the poor and broken hearted. We have to continually check our hearts for sin and allow the Spirit to change us. Of course, all of these things should be want to’s not have to’s. However, the point remains that living as a Christian is hard. Ranting about politics is easy.
Let me rewind really quickly to around 2,000 years ago at the time of the early church. We see that the early church existed under Roman rule. Rome was not a moral place. Romans were brutal. Romans were known to shut down any form of rebellion with intense violence. In the third servile war a large band of slaves led by Spartacus rebelled and took up arms against the Roman government. The rebellion was crushed and the result was around six thousand people were crucified on the roadside from Capua to Rome as a warning sign to all. Gladiator games were common. Perhaps around 30% to 40% of the population in Rome were slaves at the time of Christ. Infanticide was common. It was not uncommon for people to throw their newly born babies in the trash. Rome also wasn’t a place for known for Christian sexual values.
What is my point here? My point is that, Rome was a disgusting place morally. Yet, despite all of this disgusting behavior we see the Apostle Paul has a singular focus for the gospel to go forward. Paul isn’t sidetracked with politics, combating moral issues of the government or people, or creating a Christian nation. Paul is focused on the gospel because he understood redemption and change comes from having a new heart.
His urgency for the gospel is incredible and something we can learn from. In Galatians 4:19 we see Paul’s urgency and mission “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.” In his letter to the Romans when he is talking about His fellow Jews he says “I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, 4 the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.”
Once again and finally we see this same passion in Paul’s letter to the Philippian church “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
3. We have missed the mark when we aligned Christianity with partisan politics.
Religion has long been part of the national conversation when it comes to political candidates. For quite some time many Christians have attached themselves to one party in our nation. Many may disagree with me on this point, but I don’t see this as wise or fruitful at all. I believe over time some negative things have arrived because of this:
-It has led us to conveniently to dismiss or gloss over the sins of one party candidate over the other. This has led to accusations of hypocrisy among Christian values.
-It has led to some degree of group think among Christians. It seems many Christians world views have been shaped strongly by party lines and have at times failed to see valid Christian positions coming from the other side on less clear issues. I strongly believe there are also some issues that we have just been flat out wrong on as well and have failed to see due to years of ingrained partisanship thinking.
-It has on many occasions led to the division and demonization of the opposition. Christians haven’t been exempt from this type of mean spirited talk. Taking sides can easily appeal to our fleshly nature. It’s easier to think in absolutes. One candidate is evil and the other good. It is far too easy to not see opposing candidates as real people who just disagree with you. However, we often don’t take the higher road and see things in a deeper more objective light. This takes work. We as Christians haven’t handled nuanced or complex truth well at all. The stats tell us we are not only uninformed about how government works, but we are also pretty uninformed on essential Christian truths.
-We have been pandered to quite easily. Politicians rarely keep their promises. Our pursuit of legislative righteousness hasn’t led to a moral regeneration in our nation anyways. This honestly doesn’t make us look wise and furthers the argument that the Christian is simple minded.
-We dilute the message of the gospel by the power of association. When we talk about “God’s candidate” or when a party is thought to be very closely associated with Christian thought, unbelievers start to think Jesus is somehow like this character. Regardless if this is fair, I believe this happens and it is tragic.
My overall point is that I think it is wiser to for Christians to be issues people, not partisan people. We may end up voting for the same candidates, or generally side with one party over the other, but let us be wise in how we approach and communicate about candidates and issues in election cycles. In the book of Mathew Jesus tells his followers “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” If the world hates us for our clear Biblical positions, that is understandable and is nothing to be ashamed of. But let not the world hate us for the wrong things. Playing favoritism with candidates, dismissing and glossing over sins of one candidate but not the other taints the people of God.
Regardless of what happens in the election we as Christians need to put things in proper perspective. We don’t live in a perfect country but we are lucky to live in a democracy where Presidents come and go every four to eight years. We are lucky to be able to vote and get involved with the process. We are incredibly fortunate to be live in a country where we can practice our faith without persecution. We have been incredibly fortunate to live in a time of incredible economic prosperity, technological advancement, and great medicine.
Let’s also keep in mind that our primary mission has not changed. Let’s not lose sight of our mission which is to tell the world about God’s sacrificial redeeming love. My hope is that we can be as passionate about this as our politics. My hope is also that we will also have wisdom in how we conduct ourselves politically. The world is watching us. Let us be leaders in civility and love.
Finally, whatever happens we are commanded to pray for our leaders “that we may lead a quiet and peaceful life.” as the Apostle Paul writes. Let us replace criticism and complaining with prayer.