Looking at the political headlines recently, it could be easy to give in to dismay, disgust, or discouragement. There is certainly good reason for these feelings.
It’s disgusting when we see politicians pointing to Joseph’s relationship with Mary to excuse allegations of an older man abusing a teenage girl. It’s dismaying when it appears that the character of those who we select as leaders takes a back seat to political power and maintaining majorities. It’s discouraging when some argue that we must ignore serious charges of abuse and vote anyway, that we must automatically vilify those who make such allegations because they may endanger a political victory, or, on the other hand, that we must automatically believe serious allegations against someone who is running for office.
Political opportunism and raw power grabs make it difficult to believe that any bit of righteousness or morality has any traction in the political world.
The danger in giving way to these emotions is that we can be tempted to respond by disengaging entirely from the world of politics out of a desire to maintain purity and a solid gospel witness. We want to be able to say to a watching world that character matters, that the gospel has good news for the abused and the powerful, and that we refuse to be sullied by a political world seemingly bent on acquiring and maintaining power at all costs. The temptation is to say, “A pox on all your houses,” as we load in the car to drive to our church worship services.
It’s easy to pull away from politics in times like these. But it is in times like these that we must press in and refuse to disengage.
It’s easy to pull away from politics in times like these. But it is in times like these that we must press in and refuse to disengage. Let me remind us about a few things:
- Politics matter. The decisions made in the legislative halls of the federal and state governments affects real people—those that are our neighbors whom Jesus calls us to love as we love ourselves. As a recent example, an attempt to remove the adoption tax credit from tax law was defeated due to the actions of committed Christians. This matters for families who are called to adopt the least of those among us yet face thousands of dollars and a legal system that makes adoption difficult. Numerous other examples abound of policies, laws, and court decisions that have a direct impact on our neighbors.
- There are principled ways to engage in politics. These ways honor God, testify to the power of the gospel, and own the reality of sinfulness and brokenness in this world. Many in politics today exhibit these qualities—men and women who carry the light of Christ in the political debates and halls of power. They are bearing the torch of forebearers like Wilberforce, Lincoln, and many others
- There is biblical instruction for the political world. In the same way, we find instruction for our homes, marriages, businesses, and lives. God is sovereign and rules in the affairs of men. In Daniel 4, Nebuchadnezzer learned that lesson dramatically as God drove him away from his kingdom so that “the living may know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men” (Dan. 4:17). Romans 13:1 reminds us that we are to be subject to the governing authorities because “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” How can we disengage from something our God has instituted? Why should we huddle in our churches or theological tribes and ignore the “political” when God works through politics to accomplish his will? We are not called to disengage from the “dirtiness” of this world as we follow Christ. Instead, we are to be light and speak the truth of the gospel to that very “dirtiness.”
Let’s not forget that politics does matter and that it can be engaged in redemptively. I’ve seen this over and over in the court cases and legislative issues I’ve worked on as a religious liberty attorney for the past 18 years. I’ve seen God move in ways that are unexplainable as faithful men and women proclaim his justice and righteousness in the political world.
So, during these days when we are tempted to wash our hands of politics, let us, instead, press in to maintain a faithful witness, call evil what it is, proclaim righteousness, work for justice, and engage—all for the glory of the God who loved us enough to send his Son to die for us, even when we were in our sin.