On Being Christian and Political

During the 2016 presidential election, Christians in the U.S. could not escape talk of the relationship between then candidate Donald Trump and Evangelicalism. In the past, such conversations have tended to settle down once the election hullabaloo came to an end. Firmly in year two of Trump’s administration, however, the dialogue and debate about Christianity’s relationship to politics has not gone away.

Last week, Jonathan Merritt and Kirsten Powers released the first episode of their podcast, The Faith Angle, which is designed to help listeners understand what’s going on in the world of religion.* Much of the felt need for this podcast arose in response to the quandary surrounding the President’s interactions with several prominent Christian leaders. So far, the gist of the podcast appears to be an attempt to help people get religion and understand how it affects people’s thinking politically and socially.

For believers, this nearly constant amusement with the issues by those who are both inside and outside the Christian community should evoke a practical question; how should Christians approach politics?

Many balk at this question because discussions involving politics only seem to generate discord, creating more heat than light. While an understandable reaction, life in a democratic society makes it nearly impossible to avoid the subject of politics. We’re stuck in a system that requires our involvement in order for it to be successful. Christians––who are commanded to care about the well-being of their neighbors––ought not shirk the responsibility of being thoughtfully engaged in the political sphere.

Given the various ideologies and worldviews that swirl around politics, it can be difficult to figure out to wade into the waters without alienating people. Disagreement has become nearly equivalent to violence with words perceived as bullets and daggers. There’s no question that discourse has devolved in the chaotic.

A number of Christians don’t (and rightfully don’t) want to join a social conversation in which they’re only going to be perceived as bigoted and violent, especially since we’re supposed to be known by our love.

Yet, there are (at least) two principles or doctrines of the Christian faith that should enable believers to enter the fray in a way that’s productive for all involved.

1. The Fall

The first is the doctrine of the Fall of humanity. Whatever one may think theologically or otherwise about the nature and extent of the Fall, one principle of the doctrine stands out and has massive implications for political engagement, and that is: no body’s perfect.

Even the people who want nothing to do with Christian faith can agree with that basic proposition. Since it’s an essential doctrine for Christians, then Christians should be the quickest to admit their shortcomings and embody humility in their discussions about political and social issues.

The fact is that, no matter how intelligent or well-educated may be, there’s simply no way to know everything there is to know about any given issue let alone have the wisdom to understand how to create a policy that completely addresses every nuance. So, no Christian should expect perfection.

Instead, Christians ought to be a slow-to-speak, quick-to-listen and slow-to-become-angry sort of people. Such an attitude mitigates, if perhaps not partisanship itself, then at least the bitter, tribalistic partisanship that’s so prevalent in today’s culture.

A spirit of humility, on the other hand, should grant us the ability to listen and learn even from those on the other side of the political and ideological spectrum.

2. Love

An understanding of the Fall might lead one to cynicism, but that’s not where the story ends in Christianity. Jesus proved Himself to be a God who pursued His fallen creation.

None of today’s ideological camps can be any more separated than God was from His creation. Even so, Christ would enter the world and even die for them while they were still dead-set against Him.

After God reconciled Himself to those enemies, He intended that sort of love––love that’s willing to enter the presence of its sworn enemies––to become part and parcel of Christian witness.

In a culture that so eagerly and readily rushes to retreat into its myriad bubbles and ignore any interaction with opposing viewpoints, Christians should be focusing on the work of entering “enemy” territory.

If love compelled the God of the universe to live and walk among a people who never would have had a single inkling of giving Him a second thought, then Christians, as imperfect people ourselves, ought to be able to cross those dividing lines.

We should readily be willing and able to have real conversations with real people who have real disagreements with how we think and believe.

While the Fall may prevent us from ever successfully establishing a lasting peace, that doesn’t mean we cannot or ought not seek to fulfill the blessed calling of peace-making.

After all, this strife-filled nation could stand to have a little more peace.

*I recommend giving the show a listen.