Light Magazine Commentary Articles  Politics

Shining a Light for God’s Glory

A purple state perspective, part 3 of 3

politically divided country

The Big Sort: Ministering in a Politically Divided Country

America is politically and culturally divided, and the evidence is seen in the disappearance of purple states and the emergence of clearly defined red and blue regions of the country. This creates unique challenges in each state, especially for Christians seeking wisdom in political engagement. For example, a discussion with your neighbor in Alabama about pro-life issues will be different than a similar conversation between co-workers in New York. As believers, it’s beneficial to understand our particular location and the different contexts where our brothers and sisters in Christ are living out the gospel. To help us, we’ve asked Baptist leaders in Democratic, Republican, and swing states to share what’s been valuable to them as they’ve sought to build bridges and esteem the gospel while engaging in the public square. May their experiences encourage you as you seek to be a source of hope in troubled times.

Red State Perspective
Blue State Perspective

Purple State Perspective

I was preaching through the Sermon on the Mount when the opportunity came to write this article. Initially, I felt no inclination to enter this discussion, but something nagging inside me said that I needed to pray before saying no. Almost immediately, the Lord brought to my mind the previous week’s sermon on salt and light and how it pertains to our politically polarized climate.

Salt, light, and good works

There are multiple sermons and Bible studies centered around what it means to be salt and light. Salt preserves, flavors, heals, and creates thirst. Light shines and makes it possible for us to see. But we often pass over two key details in this Matthew 5 passage. 

  • First, salt must maintain its purity if it is to fulfill its purpose. 
  • Second, the light must place itself where it can shine if it is to serve its purpose. A city on a hill will be seen. Don’t hide your light under a basket, but let it shine.

Too many Christians have understood this to mean that we engage the culture by public preaching, nagging, sign-carrying, and Facebook posting on political positions and politicians. This kind of light rarely shines; it instigates. 

To be sure, there is a time for these kinds of public discourse, at least when they are rational and calmly stated. However, the typical bluster rarely changes anyone’s mind. It tends to harden positions and create greater resistance. People rarely hear logic in short, pithy, powerful statements; they simply close their ears and develop their own statements.

Instead, Jesus says, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” It is not our powerful arguments or our political acumen that most often change others. Change is fostered when they see our good works.

A community-minded Church

Before the 20th century, the Church ministered to the poor, addicted, and suffering of our society. Gradually over that century, the government began to be the safety net for the downtrodden. The Church slowly surrendered this ground to the government, and with this, lost the privilege of giving practical hope to hurting people. Government influence grew; Church influence declined.

In the late 20th century, I thought we had only hampered our ability to shine the gospel into the lives of hurting people. I was wrong. We also hindered our ability to shine the gospel into the lives of the culture at large. 

A parallel to Jesus’ statement, “no one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket,” is akin in our day to, “no one lights a lamp and puts it inside a church building.” If the Church is not involved in the community, she cannot be salt and light in the community. When the Church is doing the “good works” of the gospel in the community, then her light shines and gives glory to God.

In a purple state like Wisconsin and a blue state like Minnesota, I don’t believe the Church can effectively be salt and light until our communities can see our good works. How do we do this? We hold to the teachings of Jesus and serve our communities. When they see our love for people and our willingness to sacrificially serve, our actions will love out loud, and then, in time, they might have ears to hear Jesus’ words.

Our ultimate hope

Our cultural decay will not be reversed by whoever is elected this November. Put the political signs in your front yard, support your candidate, and calmly share your positions on issues. But remember that if you’re the kind of guy who shouts at the kids for walking on your yard; the kind of woman who shuts the door at the high school band student selling candy bars; the kind of person who posts long, angry diatribes on Facebook, or who never volunteers to minister to those in need, then you may be doing more harm than good.

Too many people believe our cultural decay can be reversed in “the most critical election of our time.” That is simply not true. My hope is not in a politician; my hope is in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I will vote my biblical convictions this fall, but before I do, I will let my little light shine into the community and pray that others will see my “good works and give glory to [my] Father in heaven.”

politically divided country

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