Few would dispute that power corrupts. The kind of power wielded by elected and appointed officials, activists, special interests, and bureaucrats often results in a special kind of corruption called “politics.” In America, the People are empowered by our founding documents in a way unique in history. Our power as citizens can corrupt us as well if we aren’t vigilant. How do we take the power of the citizen and the power of the Scriptures and engage politics and culture without a corrupt spirit? It isn’t easy and takes tremendous diligence.
I have worked in or around the public policy scene since 1995 and have frequently struggled with the role a Christian plays in the political process. There is, unfortunately, a growing divide within the Christian community on the roles of pragmatism and purism. Schisms within the Church on such issues highlight the heart-issues involved in public policy. We must learn to maintain unity as a Body even as we approach public policy diversely. I still have much to learn but here are some things I’ve taken away from the process so far:
- Too often, there is very little difference between “Christians” in politics and everyone else. The fact is, every true Christ-follower still has a human nature to wrestle with (Romans 7:13-25, Gen. 3). It’s easy to get cynical about people who claim to have a relationship with God but don’t walk in it. It’s even easier to get cynical about non-believers in the political class. But I’ve learned that the way to effectiveness is to be realistic about what to expect from people and care about them unconditionally. Like any work environment, I can speak Truth to them without crossing professional lines of appropriateness. I’m not going to argue them into the Kingdom or out-anger or out-hate anyone into the Kingdom. Don’t let other people’s base human nature ruin you. We must appeal to them as Christ-followers first, and fellow citizens second.
- Those Christians who are often the most respected as “Culture Warriors” and truth tellers are often a cancer in the Body of Christ. Many believers measure value in other’s rhetoric by how passionate, angry, and aggressive he/she is on issues. The degree to which you can be righteously indignant is now somehow the spiritual Gold Standard. I have learned over the last number of years that being more angry or aggressive than the opposition, even if you are right on the issue, is worthless. Romans 13 begins by telling us to submit to government authority, goes on to discuss love for our neighbor and respect for each other’s liberty, and wraps up in chapter 14, verse 10 by asking why we judge and show contempt for our brother. It’s one example of many in the Scriptures that we are to respect authority, each other’s liberty, and love each other in spite of a different tack on an issue of policy or daily living. Too often Christians cannibalize each other for disagreeing on public policy and condemn themselves in the process by violating the command to love the Brethren. They are living examples of I Corinthians, verses one through three: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.”
- Love and meekness is not weakness. Sounds cliché but it is a Biblical Truth. Too often Christians lack self control. We do a great job of pretending to be innocent as doves but we are often inept at practicing wisdom (Matt 10:16). After a while you can sense very quickly when someone has just enough knowledge to be dangerous. They are usually loud, but lack the wisdom to know how to harness their zeal with wisdom, prudence, and persuasiveness. Their proclamation of Truth is made worthless by a lack of love. The worst damage comes in that it seduces people who are equally frustrated (and rightfully so!) with the political class and want to follow the lead of someone who articulates that frustration. Someone can tell you they tell the Truth, that they fear God, and point to influence or success as proof of God’s blessing and still be doing a tremendous disservice to the Kingdom. Lots of talk and action without love and meekness is antithetical to God’s plan for His Church.
- Politics is different than Church. The Scriptures outline concrete ways to resolve conflict (Matt. 18), handle Church discipline, and treat those who claim to be believers but do the Kingdom harm. The Scriptures’ treatment of government isn’t the same. It addresses it in principle (often telling us to submit to authority) but leaves room for Christ-followers’ varied perspectives on the State. This should lead us to respect fellow Christ-followers who seem to have a sincere faith but don’t engage the political scene the way we do. There are times when I disagree with the strategy or policy positions of my fellow believers at the capitol. The important thing is how I respond. I believe the Scriptures make it clear that the “Fruits of the Spirit” are far more important than scoring political points (Galatians 5:22-26). Although I struggle with this every legislative session, I try hard to keep in mind the following: How does vitriol or slander of other believers align with the fruit of the Spirit? How does strife over political strategy benefit the Kingdom?
- It is our duty to engage in American politics as American Believers. Our system of government demands participation to work. Our Founding Fathers implemented a system that respects the Judeo-Christian worldview and our Republic requires the participation of citizens to function. Without our participation, our rights and freedoms given to us by God and affirmed by our founding documents are in danger. We must exercise this stewardship, however, within the framework of the Spirit and not our base human nature.
- Christians have a responsibility to find organizations and vehicles for advocacy that respect a Biblical worldview. As we seek to align ourselves with individuals, donate money, or advocate for an interest group; we must ask ourselves if they have a reputation for love and wisdom or anger and vitriol. There is no shortage of “faith-based” organizations and individuals just as secular and humanistic in their approach to public policy as those they oppose. Watch an organization or a pundit for a time before you lend them your resources and support. Pray for discernment.
I’m NOT suggesting that the Christian citizen/activist/lobbyist needs to be a smiley square that comes to the capitol with baked goods every day and says things like, “Gee whiz, Senator, that bigoted affront to religious liberty you’re sponsoring sounds swell! I love you!” I’m simply saying we agree to disagree as believers on the details so that our enemies will know us by our love for one another. I’m saying we focus on the non-believer’s story more than on his/her outward behavior. I’m saying we work hard (we’ll frequently fail but that’s OK!) to develop a reputation as people who care, not as a people who condescend. I’ll aggressively do my job as well as I can in subcommittee meetings and in the rotunda of the capitol as a lobbyist, but I may buy my opposition lunch and listen to their concerns afterward. They are lost and hurting as we once were and maybe still are. I’m ultimately suggesting that we check our hearts.
In summary, what good is speaking Truth to principalities if the King is not honored? What good is espousing a “Biblical worldview” if we don’t love our neighbor and our brother? What good is demanding respect and a voice in the public square if we seek it without humility and meekness? What good is dogma and rhetoric if it lacks prudence and wisdom?
We need to speak Truth without apology, in love. We need to participate in the Republic we have been blessed with, wisely. And we must avoid and pray for those who claim to serve the King but slander and cannibalize His people.
Christ-followers must engage in the Republic having developed a reputation as having a loving and quiet strength. Although counter-intuitive and juxtaposed with our sinful nature, our achieving this type of advocacy as true ambassadors of Christ would quickly rebuild a culture that respects life, liberty, and the pursuit of God; the Author of happiness.