So I had an interesting (and somewhat heated) conversation with a couple of co-workers today about Christians in politics.
Remember that rule of etiquette someone somewhere in the distant past of our childhood told us are the taboo topics for polite conversation? Yes, religion and politics.
Anyway, one friend put forth the argument that the “Church should be the Church” and that Christ rejected all forms of political power and political expectations, and therefore shouldn’t we as followers of Christ remove ourselves from the political arena? He said that the Great Commission and the call to serve is not fulfilled in ballots or legislation, but in serving one another and being the Church. He also posed the question “Is it possible for a Christian to remain in political office without compromising Christian values or faith?” He seemed to answer “No,” in so many words.
I am still wrestling with this, but think I generally agree with his statements, but not his rhetorical framework, and surely not his final conclusion.
I do agree that Christ did reject political power. It was not his intention to assume an earthly kingship, by any means. I do believe however, that it was His intention—through humility, love and sacrifice—to establish a greater kingdom (“All authority on heaven and earth has been given to me…”) By dying on the cross he (among many other greater things) also overturned popular cultural ideas concerning power. His example as a Servant King surely teaches us to serve one another, and not for any kind of political ambition or gain.
My friend also said “serving one another” and “being the Church” is what we are called to. Also, I agree. But I think I differ with him in that I think it is possible to be part of the Church and step into the political arena.
The best example I can think of off the top of my head is William Wilberforce. I know I’ve blogged about the man before, but his biography was probably one of the most fascinating books I read in the past year. All this man wanted to do was retreat into his garden and reflect on God and his creation within the safe realm of a humble botanist. Circumstances, conversations with certain friends and ultimately the call of God led him to be a part of British politics. As many of you know either from history or from the film Amazing Grace, his battle for votes and legislation eventually led—albeit circuitously—to the abolition of slavery, a universally agreed social evil. And Wilberforce pursued abolition, fueled by a personal conviction which was unequivocally grounded in Scripture. Wilberforce deeply believed in the intrinsic value of people created in the image of God, the dignity that comes with that, and the call to love people. For Wilberforce in his place and time and circumstance, “loving people” meant doing something about the millions of people around the world who suffer physical slavery. For Wilberforce, the kingdom values of freedom from oppression and defense of the poor and needy were translated into action, mostly in a political arena.
I’ve found that many Christians don’t fully understand the issues regarding politics. It is boiled down to morality voting (vote no for abortion, no to same-sex marriage) and that’s pretty much as far as most average American Christians take their voting. And because this simplistic view prevails, many Christians simply retreat from engaging thoughtfully with these issues, never considering that there might actually be an appropriate, biblically-based, strategic response to issues like poverty, war, environmental problems, not even counting stem-cell research, abortion and same-sex marriage, the issues that a majority of American Christians seem more comfortable debating and voting on, whether or not they are well-informed.
I’m not proposing a “social gospel” that focuses on “doing.” I’m talking about how kingdom values translate holistically into how we participate in culture and engage with the people around us. Christians talk all the time about “being in not of the world” but very few actually make this a holistic lifestyle. The Church—when genuine and true—has historically been radically opposed to assumed cultural values, by being an alternative community that promotes God’s kingdom and embodies Christ’s love and example through love and service.
I find it hard to believe that God means for us to retreat from the political arena, simply for fear that we might compromise our values in the dog-eat-dog atmosphere of modern politics. Does the common person struggle less with temptations of power? True, power can heal and restore as easily as it can corrupt. But to me, that is simply not a sufficient argument for overall Christian withdrawal from politics. If anything, it’s a statement of how much more followers of Christ should at least thoughtfully engage these issues and participate when necessary. Ideas will continue to shape the destiny of this world…
I really enjoyed the conversation. Since graduating, I feel like my brain muscles have severely atrophied. So this was a good exercise for my deteriorating brain.
Any thoughts on this issue? I don’t claim to have a well-defined stance on any of this, but it certainly is a heated topic!