“Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”
Let's assume, for a minute, that all Christians want roughly the same things in the world. For instance, Christians would like there to be peace, we would like the poor to be cared for, we would like people to accept the gift of salvation and commit to following Jesus, we would like to be able to follow Jesus without persecution, we would like single moms to be supported and encouraged, we would like kids to grow up in healthy homes, we would like racism to be a distant memory, and so on. Most (certainly not all) Christians would agree on these big, but simply things. All of these things have political implications.
Some pastors have suggested that addressing politics is a bad idea. Honestly, I don't know how you can preach the Bible and not address political issues. For example, the abortion issue is closely connected to poverty, single moms, and even race. Furthermore, the sanctity of life is clear throughout Scripture. Healthy families have close ties to issues regarding same sex marriage, poverty, and the economy in general. Being able to live out ones faith is very closely connected to things like religious liberty (1st amendment), tax code, and even the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). The reality is, a person's religious convictions are closely tied to how they vote in an election, or at least they should be voting (yes, I think there is a right way to vote). Yet, Christians are divided regarding what the government should and should not be doing as well as how those things should be done.
This post isn't about giving all the answers, but perhaps it can give a little framework for thinking through political issues from a Christian perspective.
I don't think I am capable of counting the number of times I have heard the name of Jesus used in promoting a particular political agenda. Quite frankly, it is a little annoying. For one person to invoke Jesus is to suggest that their agenda is of God and anyone who disagrees is clearly anti-Jesus. This is not only annoying, it is irresponsible on multiple levels. First, Jesus didn't tell us his political views. Actually, the most political thing he said was "give to Caesar what is Caesar's". Of course that is quoted repeatedly and used in ways that Jesus could not possibly have intended (Mark 12). Take some time and read the entire account, it sounds more like Jesus was avoiding politics. Considering his context and the fact that many Jews expected a political Messiah, it makes perfect sense for him to do exactly that. This should not be understood as being prescriptive for believers today. As a matter of fact, politics and governance is spoken of many times throughout Scripture. Paul talks about it in Romans 13 (a key passage), God uses people in political positions to advance his purposes repeatedly in the Old Testament (Daniel and Joseph are good examples), and Acts records the disciples fighting for religious liberty on a few occasions.
So, if politics and faith are not so easily separated, how should a Christian approach political issues? Here are a couple of principles:
It has been the habit of some Christians to take commands in Scripture given to the people of God (The church) and apply them to government. For example, Christians are to minister to the poor, the oppressed, the down and out. This is not a command given to the government, at least not in the New Testament. In the Old Testament, Israel was a theocracy and there was no distinction between the people of God and the nation of Israel. Since that is not the case anymore, we must be careful about applying Old Testament commands for Israel to the United States. What some Christians have done is voted for people who would implement government programs to do the things the church is commanded to do. Often times the justification goes like this, "the church isn't doing it, so I guess the government has to do it." This is shirking ones own responsibility. As part of the church, each individual Christian needs to take responsibility in this area. Be part of the solutions, help the church succeed where you think it has failed by getting involved and fixing the problem.
Anger towards injustice is appropriate, but being mean spirited is not. For example, it is perfectly reasonable and good to appose same sex marriage because it is contrary to Scripture, it goes against natural law, or even because it is not the role of government to legitimize same sex marriage. However, to be unloving and mean spirited toward people who practice homosexuality or support same sex marriage is not acceptable, that is sin.
This is similar to the first bullet point. A good example of this is the border crisis now facing the United State on our southern boarder. The government has a responsibility to enforce laws that protect Americans (Romans 13). That would include enforcing the border and the immigration laws. However, the church should (and is) ministering to those who are here, even if they are illegal. Those two things are not contrary. When the roles get confused, things go wacky in a hurry.
Many people, especially Christians, hold beliefs they are unwilling to talk about because they fear losing their job, being labeled in some way, or general persecution. Some times Christians quote the second greatest command as justification for not saying anything. This stems either from a misunderstanding of what Biblical love is, or it is cowardice. Read 1 Corinthians 13, but don't stop after the first couple verses, love rejoices in truth, but not in evil. Yes, it is kind and it does all the nice things we like to think about, but it also confronts, corrects, and speaks truth. Choose your words carefully, but speak truth without fear of the consequences.
Christians don't always agree on how to address issues, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be involved in politics. Scripture addresses many, many political issues and what it has to say should not be ignored. It is important to have a theology of politics. Fighting for justice very often requires political engagement. Those Christians that live in the United States are very privileged in their freedom to exercise their faith as they see fit, but this freedom will be taken away if Christians do not engage. Though the landscape has changed and will continue to change, at this point, the United States is still a beacon of light, a city on a hill. The good the church can do around the world is closely connected to the freedom with which it can operate and the resources it has both financially and politically. If we do not fight for those things, we will loose that freedom and those resources will dwindle.
John Byrne is a pastor who has been spouting off his opinions his entire life (just ask his mom). This little blog is his venue for continuing in this tradition.