[This is my second post in a series of blogs I’m working on regarding political involvement, the mission of the church, and the marriage debate currently taking place in our state.]
If you’re not keeping track, 2012 is a Presidential Election year in the United States of America. In terms of politics, it’s our national equivalent to the Olympic Games. It happens every four years, national pride and opinion reach a fever pitch, and fate is decided for many who have worked tirelessly for years to reach a certain point of influence or expertise [cue the Olympic theme song as the camera slides over to the smiling yet ever-so-contemplative face of Bob Costas].
We’re only in April, but depending on where you live and what issues are on the docket for your state or region, the campaign energy is already beginning to rise on local and national levels. The issue of politics and political involvement will continue to heat up for everyone engaged in American culture in a year like 2012.
Over the last number of weeks I have been thinking and praying not only about certain political issues, but the role of Christians, pastors, and churches in the political landscape. What is the appropriate level of political action or activism for individual Christians and churches?
Let me say what I’m getting at, and then work to prove my point. I believe Christians should be responsible citizens, which means being active and engaged in their political climate on a local, state, and national level. However, I think when the line between “being active” and engaging in “activism” is crossed, Christians lose sight of their primary mission.
Let me explain.
Being active means “being engaged in action.” Christians should be interested, educated, engaged, and responsible citizens of the country they reside in. Their first and greatest level of engagement should be through prayer. Christians should pray for their nation, fellow-citizens, leaders, lawmakers, judges, military personnel, and everyone else for whom God gives them a burden. Prayer is the first and most powerful political strategy for the Christian.
The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.
Beyond prayer, I believe being a responsible citizen means that Christians should vote. Intrinsic to the right and responsibility of voting is being aware and educated on the issues and candidates that one is voting on. This takes engagement, interest, and awareness of how the political landscape is forming and being formed.
Christians should also serve. This may mean running for office, serving on the school board, helping at a community center, coaching in local athletic leagues, volunteering on community committees, or any other opportunities that come your way. We should engage, not simply the issues being debated in culture, but the actual people who make up our culture. Jesus said that Christians will be “salt and light.” Salt and light are only as effective as they are connected to what they desire to influence.
What about activism? What level of political activism is appropriate in the Christian life?
An activist is someone who engages in activism. Activism is defined as “a policy of taking direct and often militant action to achieve an end.” Should Christians be political activists? This is really something that one needs to pray about, seeking godly biblical counsel, and looking at every side of the issue.
With that stated, and this is simply my opinion, but I believe that while Christians should be politically active, they should be very wary of militant political activism.
Because the mission that Jesus Christ gave his followers (Christians) is a gospel-centered mission. It is “to make disciples” of Jesus. This is done through preaching the gospel to all people, and living the gospel (that we are saved by Jesus’ work, not by our own works) within our culture. Biblically and historically speaking, the gospel advances through prayer, communicating God’s word, and redemptive relational engagement in people’s lives (see Jesus).
For those Christians bent on political activism as a means to “advancing God’s kingdom in culture,” my challenge for you is to find a biblical example of where legislation changed someone’s heart. People’s lives are not transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ through the laws you pass. They’re transformed, by work of the Holy Spirit, the grace and initiative of God, through Jesus, by the lives we live as salt and light.
The gospel advances through the lives we live, not the laws we pass. That is a biblical and historical reality.
Should Christians be politically active? Yes. But I think we should save our activism for the mission of the gospel.