“We just need to preach the gospel and stay away from politics …”
Um, no. That is ridiculous. Now, let me qualify what I mean …
We don’t need to be involved in partisan politics. We don’t need to try and promote one party over another or just give blind allegiance to individual politicians or political parties. We DO NOT need to think that temporal power can protect us nor do we need to manipulate our way to have a seat at the table through compromise or through engaging in power plays. We should not be involved in politics as a way to exert control, but rather, as a way to express witness. There are lots of aspects of “politics” that we should not engage in. But … there are aspects of politics that we SHOULD be involved in and they are in front of us right now.
America is in the midst of a massive spiritual and theological discussion. Where does our hope lie? What kind of people are we to be? How do we treat people who are vulnerable? How do we protect our own citizens while showing concern for others? Does the Bible have anything to say to how we live, how we organize life together, how our communities are shaped and formed, and how we govern ourselves? Politics comes from the Greek word, polis, which involves members of a community, the city, and groupings of citizens together. So, politics, in its best form, just involves how we live life together. Our system of government is a democratic republic, which means that we all have a say in how we shape and form the lives we live together. And, all of us can participate in what our life together looks like in determining what values, ideas, goals, and aspirations shape our life together.
Right now, there is an opening in the American mind to think about and discern HOW we live life together and what values are important. As evangelicals, we talk a lot about religious liberty and our freedoms being taken away, but the reality is that there is a wide open door for Christians to speak into the collective consciousness of America if we will find new ways to do it. People are listening and asking questions. What does the church have to say to the issues of the day? Questions and conflicts are arising in our culture right now related to race, immigrants, refugees, and how we incorporate people who are different into communities together. Do we have anything to say on those issues? Our nation lacks guidance and every day on the news, evangelicals are being interviewed and are being asked what WE think about these things and why we support or oppose the candidates we do. Why do we say what we say?
The church is to be salt and light. We aren’t to dominate, but we are to season, preserve, and illuminate. This world is not our home and I have no faith whatsoever that we are going to solve our problems through politicians. BUT, we live in the world’s greatest representative democracy. We are literally invited in to speak on issues and policies and things that affect people’s lives. Why aren’t we training our young people to enter this field and give witness to who Jesus is and what Scripture says? We don’t have kings and emperors here – not yet, anyway. We can speak. Why don’t we? Why don’t we get trained and equipped in helping our people participate in these very spiritual conversations about how live is to be lived here in this country?
The truth is that we either engage in the public sphere very poorly where we grab for power or we completely disengage – and I think that both errors are for the same reason. We think first about how things affect us and our “way of life.” We aren’t thinking about how we can use the power we have to be a benefit to others. IF we would engage along the lines of seeking to sacrificially benefit others, we would find that our voice would be regained. Jesus gave His life and went to the Cross. His supreme act was that of sacrificial love. We are usually motivated to protect ourselves and our “way of life.” But, that is why we don’t have power. We act in our own self-interest. If we would act on behalf of others, we would see our voice restored.
Isaiah 58:6-12 lays out the blueprint for all of this:
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
What if our witness was truly that we are giving our lives away on behalf of others? Our religious activity and worship should move us in the direction of the poor and those being oppressed so we can engage them with sacrificial love. First, if we are guilty then we are to change and stop oppressing others. Then, we are to sacrificially love others to the point that it changes their situation. The result will be that ancient ruins and foundations will be rebuilt and raised up. The way to “restore” America is not through grabbing power for ourselves. It is through engaging in sacrificial love and witness to Christ’s concern for those who are being ground down under the wheel of oppression, whether by their own sin or the sins of others – and even the sins of society.
When we live out the commands of Proverbs 31:8-9 through our witness in the public sphere –Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly;defend the rights of the poor and needy – then we will find that our voice is restored. Why would we not do that?
So, what are some ways that we can engage in advocacy for others?
- Be educated on issues affecting your community, especially among widows, orphans, the poor, and sojourners – see Zechariah 7:8-10.
- Build relationships with people from different backgrounds, races, cultures, and socio-economic status. Ask them about their lives and the issues they struggle with.
- Study what the Bible says about how society flourishes and how churches can advocate for the benefit of all.
- Train your people to witness in the public sphere. How can people from your church engage the political sphere in a way that brings Biblical truth to bear of societal problems.
- Give away power – seek to advocate for those who cannot speak for themselves. Use your platform to benefit others instead of accrue more benefit for yourself.
- Meet with, call, and send emails/letters to elected officials.
- Write OpEds, papers, and raise awareness on social media so that others can speak into the political process.
- Have meetings and events where you talk about issues and help people develop a Biblical perspective on the issue.
I help churches develop Biblical perspectives on ministering to and advocating for immigrants and refugees. We start with Biblical teaching on the issue and then look at what is happening in our society. Then, we talk about what we can do in mission, ministry, and standing in the gap on behalf of immigrants and refugees. We have seen a great amount of change in people’s hearts and level of engagement on the issue of immigration. What if we applied this approach to other Biblical issues as well? What if we took on the burdens of others and carried them for them? What if we listened, cared, and laid our life down to serve people? What would our voice be?
The church cannot influence America if it is captive to the idea that our political involvement primarily exists to benefit ourselves. Until we engage to fight for others, defend the weak, the poor, and the needy, and spend ourselves on behalf of those who are oppressed, we will never have a voice in this country again. Power is a fading currency. We have trafficked in it to long. It is time that we lay our lives down for others and tell a better story.
Evangelicals often only want to engage politically in areas that we care about. If we care, we engage. But, we should care about what God cares about, let Scripture shape us, and not just care about what we determine affects us or benefits our “way of life.” If we speak out on behalf of others and call for and embody “justice, mercy, and humility with God,” I think we will be shocked at how our witness will grow.
We SHOULD be involved in politics – just for the right reasons and in the right way, not to coerce and control to get our way or to reconstruct society for our own benefit, but to serve others and provide a biblical witness of salt and light of the Kingdom Come. Anyone telling you that the church has lost its voice in our culture and that we have lost the freedom to speak and witness is completely wrong. Just look around. Evangelicals are being talked about and asked what we think constantly. What are we saying?