By / Jun 30

Here are five recent Supreme Court rulings you should know about. The decisions made by the U.S. Supreme Court often directly affect Southern Baptist pastors and churches and the people they serve. That’s why every year the ERLC actively engages in the judicial process on issues that hold immense importance for our churches and the gospel.

But the court also issues rulings in cases that, while they aren’t directly related to the issues we work on, intersect with or are related to topics of concern for Southern Baptists. Here are five recent Supreme Court rulings from the most recent term. 

Students for Fair Admission v. Harvard and Students for Fair Admission v. UNC 

On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling on two cases brought by Students for Fair Admissions, Inc (SFFA). The cases—SFFA v. UNC and SFFA v. President and Fellows of Harvardaddressed the consideration of race in college admissions. The court was asked to consider whether institutions of higher education can use race as a factor in admissions, and whether Harvard College was violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act by penalizing Asian American applicants, engaging in racial balancing, overemphasizing race, and rejecting workable race-neutral alternatives.

The court ruled that colleges and universities can no longer take race into consideration as an express factor in admissions, a landmark decision that overturns long-standing precedent. In the 1978 case, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, the court considered a quota system in place at the University of California and established the constitutionality of affirmative action programs 

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said that for too long universities have “concluded, wrongly, that the touchstone of an individual’s identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned but the color of their skin. Our constitutional history does not tolerate that choice.”

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the only Black woman on the court, wrote that the majority had “detached itself from this country’s actual past and present experiences.” But Justice Clarence Thomas, the only Black man on the court, said, “While I am painfully aware of the social and economic ravages which have befallen my race and all who suffer discrimination, I hold out enduring hope that this country will live up to its principles so clearly enunciated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States: that all men are created equal, are equal citizens, and must be treated equally before the law.”

United States v. Texas

In United States v. Texas, the Supreme Court ruled that Texas and Louisiana lacked Article III standing to challenge immigration-enforcement guidelines issued by the Secretary of Homeland Security. These guidelines were issued in a memorandum by the Department of Homeland Security to the Acting Director of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) instructing ICE officials to prioritize the removal of noncitizens who pose a threat to national security, public safety, or border security.

The purpose of these guidelines was to provide a framework for ICE to exercise prosecutorial discretion in immigration enforcement and to promote consistency and transparency in the enforcement of immigration laws. The Biden administration also argued that these guidelines were necessary to prioritize limited resources and focus on individuals who pose a greater risk to the country. However, Texas and Louisiana challenged the legality of these guidelines, arguing that they restrained ICE agents from fully enforcing immigration laws. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled that Texas and Louisiana lacked standing to challenge these rules, reinforcing the federal government’s unique role in setting immigration policy.

Gonzalez v. Google and Twitter v. Taamneh 

On May 18, the Supreme Court issued opinions in two related cases, Gonzalez v. Google and Twitter v. Taamneh. In the Taamneh case, the court unanimously ruled that the plaintiffs’ allegations were insufficient to establish that the defendants (Twitter, Google, and Facebook) aided and abetted ISIS in carrying out the relevant attack. 

In both cases the plaintiffs made arguments related to the application of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and the Anti-Terrorism Act. Additionally, in the Gonzalez v. Google case, the plaintiffs argued that Google, through its subsidiary YouTube, aided, abetted, and conspired with ISIS by allowing the terrorist group to use its platform to spread propaganda and recruit members. The plaintiffs claimed that Google’s algorithms and revenue-sharing practices contributed to the spread of ISIS content on YouTube, and that Google should be held liable for the deaths of their family members in an ISIS attack in Jordan in 2016. In the Twitter v. Taamneh case, the plaintiffs alleged that Twitter, Google, and Facebook aided and abetted ISIS in carrying out an attack in Istanbul in 2017. The plaintiffs claimed that the defendants provided material support to ISIS by allowing the group to use their platforms to spread propaganda and recruit members.

The court unanimously ruled in the Taamneh case that the plaintiffs’ allegations were insufficient to establish that the defendants aided and abetted ISIS in carrying out the attack. Based on that ruling, the court declined to address the issues raised about the application of Section 230 protection from liability for aiding terrorists in the Gonzalez v. Google case and remanded it back to the lower courts.

Haaland v. Brackeen 

In the case of Haaland v. Brackeen, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 to reject challenges to the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), a federal statute that aims to protect the future of Tribal Nations (i.e., the 574 federally recognized Indian Nations) and promote the best interests of Native American children. The case was brought by a birth mother, foster and adoptive parents, and the state of Texas, who claimed that the ICWA exceeds federal authority, infringes state sovereignty, and discriminates on the basis of race. 

The ICWA is a federal law that was passed in 1978 to protect the well-being and best interests of Native American children and families. The law aims to uphold family integrity and stability and to keep Native children connected to their community and culture. ICWA establishes minimum federal standards for the removal of Native children from their families and placement of such children in homes that reflect the unique values of Native culture.  

The Supreme Court rejected these challenges and upheld the ICWA, a victory for the Biden administration and several Native American tribes that defended the law. The majority opinion authored by Justice Amy Coney Barrett said the court “declines to disturb the Fifth Circuit’s conclusion that ICWA is consistent with” Congress’s authority under the Constitution in Article I. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito were the only justices to dissent. 

Moore v. Harper 

The case of Moore v. Harper involved the controversial independent state legislature theory (ISL). This theory arose from the redistricting of North Carolina’s districts by the North Carolina legislature following the 2020 census, which the state courts found to be too artificial and partisan, and an extreme case of gerrymandering in favor of the Republican Party. ISL asserts that only the state legislature itself has the power to set the rules for making state laws that apply to federal elections, from drawing congressional district lines to determining the who-what-when-where of casting a ballot. 

The Supreme Court of North Carolina granted a rehearing in the underlying case, which prompted the justices to request additional briefing on whether they still had the power to rule in Moore. On June 27, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the “independent state legislature theory” in a 6-3 decision, affirming the lower court’s ruling that the congressional map violated the state constitution and dismissing the plaintiffs’ lawsuits. The case was decided in an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts, with Justice Brett Kavanaugh filing a concurring opinion, and Justice Thomas dissenting. The case was one of the most high-profile cases the Supreme Court has taken up in recent years, with former federal judge Michael Luttig calling it the “single most important case on American democracy—and for American democracy—in the nation’s history.”

By / Nov 11

In this episode, Lindsay and Brent talk about the results of the midterms and how Christians can think about them. They also discuss the temptation toward discouragement, the path forward, and the hope believers have. 

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  • Dobbs Resource Page | The release of the Dobbs decision marks a true turning point in the pro-life movement, a moment that Christians, advocates and many others have worked toward tirelessly for 50 years. Let us rejoice that we live in a nation where past injustices can still be corrected, as we also roll our sleeves up to save preborn lives, serve vulnerable mothers, and support families in our communities. To get more resources on this case, visit ERLC.com/Dobbs.
  • Sexual Ethics Resource Page | Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the constant stream of entertainment and messages that challenge the Bible’s teachings on sexual ethics? It often feels like we’re walking through uncharted territory. But no matter what we face in our ever-shifting culture, God’s design for human sexuality has never changed. The ERLC’s new sexual ethics resource page is full of helpful articles, videos, and explainers that will equip you to navigate these important issues with truth and grace. Get these free resources at ERLC.com/sexualethics.
By / Nov 7

The 2022 midterms elections are tomorrow, and in the last days and weeks, Americans have increasingly turned their focus to politics. Voter turnout for the last midterm election in 2018 was 49% of the eligible population, the highest for a midterm election in 100 years, according to Pew Research. Some election officials are predicting that this year’s numbers will be equally high. 

Elections are an important avenue for Americans to register their opinions about the direction of the nation and their local communities. How should Christians think about elections and how should we engage this moment? I’d like to provide three answers to equip and inform believers as they make their way to the ballot bot.  

Be informed, not ignorant

I know, we are all busy. Our lives are consumed by family responsibilities, professional requirements, and our preoccupation with social media. I’ll admit, adding “candidate research” on top of that doesn’t sound appealing. But the reality is, our vote is important, and we should want to know who we are voting for and exactly why that candidate deserves to receive our vote.

Samuel Adams put it like this in 1781, “Let each citizen remember at the moment he is offering his vote that he is not making a present or a compliment to please an individual – or at least that he ought not so to do; but that he is executing one of the most solemn trusts in human society.” So how does one get informed to be able to approach Election Day as a “solemn trust”?

Being informed means getting inquisitive. But how? I’d suggest your local newspaper, first and foremost. The reporting there is likely based on the issues affecting people in your area. Second, a great site to visit for some unbiased analysis is the Cook Political Report. Finally, if you’re looking for something that really dives into the history of states and districts, the go-to resource for journalists is The Almanac of American Politics.

All of these resources, and others like them, can help you research positions and policies, give you handles for examining a candidate’s record (especially if they have a history in public service), and, ultimately, help you determine whether the individual exhibits enough of an alignment with your principles to merit your vote. 

As we do this, we should realize that not every determination we make is going to be an easy call. There are going to be some political races where there isn’t a clear indication as to who deserves our support. That can be frustrating, especially operating in a culture that wants clear, binary choices. But that isn’t the world in which we reside. While it can be tempting to withdraw entirely from the political space, we aren’t called to that. Instead, we must wisely process the information we collect and move forward.

Be discerning about politics, not dogmatic

As we are doing our research and gleaning the necessary information to make an informed choice, we should be on guard against false reports and misleading details, particularly from entities that are spreading them on purpose.

We all are tempted to read sources or believe social media posts that only serve to reaffirm our political beliefs. That’s the type of behavior that political advertisers and Twitter bots feast upon. As such, we are merely turned into the talking heads that we see on cable news, parroting the talking points we’ve just been fed. We should resist this.

I would suggest, instead of being discipled by our favored media outlets, we take it upon ourselves to collect information from a number of different sources. Do you watch MSNBC all the time? Ok, pick up The Wall Street Journal, too. Do you follow all the writers at The Federalist on social media? Take the time to peruse what the folks at The Atlantic are writing about, as well. Do you listen to Fox News Radio on your drive in the afternoon? Occasionally flip on PBS Newshour once you get home from that drive. And vice versa.

All the outlets I just listed tend to focus on national issues. I would submit that local matters and candidates for offices closer to home are just as, if not more, important for your life than nearly everything that comes out of Washington, D.C. So pick up the local newspaper, scan what reporters across your home state are covering, and try to listen to some locally-produced programs and podcasts. There are a number of critical issues in our communities that deserve our attention, but they are flying under the radar because all of us are devoting far too much attention to the latest procedural vote on Capitol Hill.

Let’s commit ourselves to being good stewards of information by keeping a discerning eye on what we come across. From there, we can be helpful voices as we actually engage with our neighbors.

Dialogue without dehumanizing

After we have taken the time to research the candidates for federal and local office and any ballot measures, what should we do with the information? In other words, if we’re given the opportunity, how do we helpfully engage people around us?

Unfortunately, there’s too few who are leading well in this regard right now, especially online. Instead, there are numerous examples where individuals are trying to rhetorically “own” their opponents and demean any hint of opposing viewpoints. While that may be appealing in our current cultural moment, that’s not how a Christian should view his or her interactions with others. Ephesians 4:29 reminds us that we’re called to a higher standard: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

Seek to persuade, not pulverize. All around us, whether on the political left or right, activists are trying to drive their opponents out of the public square. Online mobs attack their partisan adversaries. Political leaders completely dismiss their rivals. In lieu of mimicking that behavior, I would hope my words about current political issues bring a greater sense of clarity and perspective. Does that mean there won’t be disagreement? Of course not. Well-meaning people can disagree without seeking to dehumanize one another. That is the type of heart we should display in both our personal interactions and our public pronouncements.

Here’s the added benefit: This type of healthy engagement on the personal level helps strengthen the public square. Much like the streams that form the headwaters of rivers, our conversations with friends, colleagues, fellow church-goers, and social acquaintances knit stronger social bonds in our communities. It helps build up what former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes called the “free trade in ideas.”

Moreover, there are some scriptural underpinnings to this too. Though in a different context, the call to “come and let us reason together” (Isa. 1:18) stands out as well as what Paul tells us in Romans, “live at peace with everyone” (12:12). These are helpful reminders and framings for the posture we should take as believers. By inviting someone to sit down and talk through an issue (with the hope of finding common ground), you are respecting their status as one made in God’s image and, in our current context, reaffirming the notion that our American experiment is a shared project that’s better undertaken together than apart.

Overall, we must keep perspective. All that is mentioned above is advice for this particular season. Yes, we should stay abreast of the political developments of the day, but we cannot let it consume our lives. Politics and the policy decisions being made by our leaders are important in our society, but they are not eternal. The things of God are (2 Cor. 4:18). We must be mindful of that as we engage in this space. Doing so will ensure we remain informed and charitable toward those who are casting ballots alongside us.

By / Nov 4

In this episode, Lindsay and Hannah Daniel discuss the midterm elections and what to watch for. They also talk about the vicious attack on Paul Pelosi and what it reveals about our political climate. 

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  • Dobbs Resource Page | The release of the Dobbs decision marks a true turning point in the pro-life movement, a moment that Christians, advocates and many others have worked toward tirelessly for 50 years. Let us rejoice that we live in a nation where past injustices can still be corrected, as we also roll our sleeves up to save preborn lives, serve vulnerable mothers, and support families in our communities. To get more resources on this case, visit ERLC.com/Dobbs.
  • Sexual Ethics Resource Page | Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the constant stream of entertainment and messages that challenge the Bible’s teachings on sexual ethics? It often feels like we’re walking through uncharted territory. But no matter what we face in our ever-shifting culture, God’s design for human sexuality has never changed. The ERLC’s new sexual ethics resource page is full of helpful articles, videos, and explainers that will equip you to navigate these important issues with truth and grace. Get these free resources at ERLC.com/sexualethics.
By / Nov 1

“I don’t think the average Christian is nearly political enough.”

For Christians paying any attention to political developments in the United States, these words may seem ill-conceived at best, or just plain crazy. Just think, in 21st-century America, the term “evangelical” has been so co-opted by politics that it describes a demographic increasingly viewed as a voting bloc more than a religious community. We might better wonder if we’ve gotten too political. But for Patrick Schreiner, associate professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and author of the new book Political Gospel: Public Witness in a Politically Crazy World, these words aren’t crazy at all, nor are they ill-conceived. They’re tethered to the main argument of his book, that “Christianity is political“—a reality, it seems, we’ve come to collectively overlook.

Rather than viewing Christianity and politics as two wholly different spheres that sour when mixed, Schreiner argues that “[Christianity] and politics are . . . completely and wholly overlapping.” And because they’re so intertwined, Christian discipleship would do well to “not separate what God has joined together,” so to speak (Matt. 19:6). But, lest we misunderstand Schreiner’s aim, Political Gospel “is not an argument for one party over another,” nor is it “a manual for policies,” nor even “an argument for a third way;” instead the book “offers a framework” that leaves readers “recognizing Christianity is quite political, but maybe not in the way [they] think.” 

Christianity is political

“It has become a truism,” Schreiner writes, “to state that Jesus didn’t come with a political message. As the common trope goes, though Israel expected a warrior-king to come riding on a white horse to overthrow Rome, he came with a spiritual message about their hearts. Jesus simply wants a relationship with you.” 

Have you ever heard someone make this statement? Have you ever made it yourself? 

“The problem is,” he continues, “this is a half-truth. Jesus made a political announcement. He declared himself to be King. We have one ruler to whom we are loyal . . . he is the King of kings.” With this, Schreiner drives the stake of his argument firmly into the ground—”Christianity is political.” In fact, he argues that “the whole biblical storyline,” and “all the vocabulary of salvation,” even, “can be put under the banner of politics.” He goes on: “The substance of Christian hope at its foundation is political. Thus, Jesus was not merely urging a revolution in personal values. He was not aloof to political concerns; it was the very purpose of his coming.”

Politics defined

Over the years, our working definition of politics has become skewed and is now assumed to mean something more akin to partisanship. And partisanship, “the wheeling and dealing along party lines” or the “endorsement of candidates by pastors” is not what Schreiner argues for. He’s also not advocating for “the merging of church and state.” Instead, he means “politics in terms of public life, the ordering of society, enacting justice, and the arranging of common goods.” And because “God is sovereign over the whole world,” not just “the inner reaches of the human heart,” the gospel has significant political implications. 

Politics in its proper place

But Schreiner is “not merely suggesting Christianity has political implications.” He argues that “Christianity is itself a politic. It is an all-encompassing vision of the world and human life…meant to be enacted in the church, showcased to our neighbors, and spread to the world.” If that’s the case, then Schreiner is right: Christians should indeed be more political. But to what degree, and in what way?

In Political Gospel, the charge is for readers to put politics in its proper place, which requires that we “recover the true political nature of our message” and reassert our allegiance to the “King of kings,” letting his vision of the world and its proper ordering shape our public and private lives. And while we are called to be more political not less, the model of Christian political engagement put forth by the New Testament, as Schreiner argues, is surprisingly paradoxical. 

The paradox

The way in which we understand Jesus’ message to be political and the way we apply and enact his message in our current political environment consists of a series of paradoxes, as it did for Jesus and the first-century church. We are to embody what Schreiner calls “the way of the kingdom” and “the way of the dove;” “the way of subversion” and “the way of submission;” “the way of the lion” and “the way of the lamb.” It is these tensions—these paradoxes—that are to mark our thinking and our ethic as “political disciples” of the King of kings.

Way of the kingdom, way of the dove

“When Jesus stepped onto the scene, his first words were fully political: ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel’ (Mark 1:15). Gospel. Kingdom. Believe. All of these are politically loaded terms.” With these words, Jesus announced that the kingdom of God was officially breaking into the Roman world of his day and, therefore, rivaling its political order. And he went further, calling people “to enter this new polis (city)” by transferring their allegiance, and enacting the kingdom’s dominance, for example, by disarming one of Rome’s “mascots” (the exorcism of legion, Mark 5:1–20). In his life, Jesus “proclaimed, presented, and performed a new public, social, and political reality”—he “was the bearer of a new political regime.” And he was crucified for it.

But, though “Jesus proclaimed the way of the kingdom he “enacted it as the way of the dove.” He was not “an anarchist, revolutionary, or social reformer.” And he didn’t bring the kingdom by way of “the sword.” Instead, the political ethics of Jesus were marked by persuasion, servanthood, mercy, peacemaking, meekness, love, and submission. They are what Schreiner calls “the ethics of the dove.”

Way of subversion, way of submission

In observing the life and ministry of Paul, we encounter the subversive nature of the gospel message—a message that “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). As he traveled from city to city, Paul constantly had “political accusations” levied against him: he was accused of “subverting the Roman Empire,” “acting contrary to Caesar’s decrees,” and disturbing “the Pax Romana,” or peace of Rome. And why were these charges raised against him and his companions? Because Paul proclaimed the gospel of God’s in-breaking kingdom and established “political assemblies” (i.e., churches) all over the Roman Empire whose members pledged allegiance to a King not named Caesar. 

But like Jesus, “Paul proclaimed the way of subversion [yet] did so in the way of submission.” Paul is accused of being “an agitator, a plague, a leader of a rebellion, and someone who desecrated the temple,” but maintains that he is innocent of these charges. Rather than leading rebellions, Paul subverts the Roman Empire while submitting to it. 

Way of the lion, way of the lamb

In the book of Revelation, we read of Jesus as the King of kings, the one whose throne “stands above every earthly throne,” whose coming will mark the fall of every other empire. At his return, the “city of God” will finally supplant the “city of man” and “complete the redemption of the redeemed.” We will join him in the city whose “gates will never be shut” (Rev. 21:25). One day “The Lion will return and [conquer] all other kingdoms.” 

But what are we to do in the meantime? Should we try to hurry the kingdom by taking up the way of power? To conquer the city of man by legislating our King’s victory now? Schreiner says no, “We are called to conquer. But the way we conquer shocks us.” The way of the lion must be “embodied in the way of a slain lamb.” We are to conquer by being in Christ, by bearing witness to Christ, and by waiting on Christ faithfully. “In many ways, we are to continue in normal everyday Christian responsibilities looking forward to Christ’s return.”

Our public political witness

In Political Gospel, the charge is not for readers to make politics ultimate but to put politics in its proper place. Too often the church has chosen one of two ways—either partisanizing or privatizing our “politic”—that either overlook or refuse to see the political nature of our message, both of which reveal and result in “malformed political discipleship.” On the side of partisanism, our political discipleship “comes from talking heads on cable news” instead of from “reflections on the implications of our faith for public life.” Here, our partisan loyalties are prized over loyalty to Christ. On the other hand, we can also privatize our faith, refusing to see “how the gospel should shape our public habits [and] stances.” Here, we become “politically quietistic or innocuous,” with nothing to offer a society in dire need of our “political gospel.” Both approaches reveal a misplaced politic and a counterproductive or ineffective public witness.

But how we “behave” politically—how we “respond to the government,” how we interact on social media, how we speak of our elected officials, how we think—”is part of [our] witness.” And, currently, our public witness is floundering. The time is ripe for us to bring “our political lives in conformity with Christ.”

“The gospel is political, but it is political in a way no one expects.” And followers of the way are political, but should engage in politics in a way no one expects. But, like every generation, we face a political choice. “Will we follow the cross in our political engagement or our own ideas? Will we let fear drive our decisions, or trust God? Will we submit to his way, or carve out our own paths?” In Political Gospel, Patrick Schreiner helps readers answer these questions, offering a new paradigm from which to think. True to his aim, readers will leave convinced not only that “Christianity is quite political” but that Christians themselves are not “nearly political enough.”

By / Oct 26

I’ve been following politics almost as long as I’ve known how to read. My family didn’t have a television, so we got three newspapers every day. I loved scampering down to the end of our driveway every day and bringing them back to the house where I’d read the news. I was one of those nerds who read Time and Newsweek and U.S News and World Report in middle and high school and who subscribed to The National Review with my own money. 

Most people (thankfully) don’t follow politics as closely as I do and most people don’t treat every election night like it’s the Super Bowl. But all of us have an interest in who shapes our communities and our country. And increasingly, in an age of social media and nonstop cable news, politics is all around us every day. 

In our particularly polarized age, election days are often moments of great euphoria or times of tremendous despair for many, depending on whether or not a particular candidate or party was victorious. I’ve seen (and sometimes experienced) these scenarios many times in my life. In light of the upcoming midterm elections on Nov. 8, which determines who controls the U.S. House and Senate, it’s important to remind ourselves how we should think about politics as believers and how we can help other people work through whatever they may be feeling as the results set in. 

First, regardless of who wins, we should thank God for the privilege of living in a country where we have some say in who holds power. Our system of government is far from perfect. We’ve not fully lived up to the ideals in our founding documents. And in shameful times of our history, the choice to vote has not been held by everyone. But today, while politics can be frustrating and annoying and play to our worst instincts, we have an opportunity to have some small part in choosing who makes leadership decisions. There are many people around the world who don’t enjoy such freedoms, who have zero control over who rules over them, and who have little input on the laws they are required to obey. So, gratitude should be our first instinct after an election. 

Second, we should recognize that while politics is important, parties ultimately rise and fall. Movements come and go. Coalitions form and are broken up. I’m old enough to remember several moments when it seemed Democrats would hold power indefinitely. And then two years later, Republicans swept into office. And I’m old enough to remember moments when it seemed Republicans were permanently ascendant, only to suffer huge defeats in the next election cycle. We shouldn’t rise too high or sink too low with a single election. History shows us that in our durable democracy, voting patterns shift, events happen, and things don’t stay the same. 

Third, while I believe engagement in politics is an important exercise of Christian stewardship in our representative republic, politics is not everything. For someone like me who enjoys keeping abreast of political trends, enjoys reading American history, and looks forward to election days, it is important for us to continually root our joy and hope not in the next vote, but in what we know never changes: the Kingdom of God. Too often, Christians are tempted to put all their faith in the temporal. But while politics can be a useful vehicle in bringing our faith to bear on our communities, it is just that, a vehicle. Politics can easily seduce the soul into being an all-consuming endeavor, with religious fervor. As Christians who believe that all governments on this earth, even governments we love, are temporal, we should hold our politics loosely. Who wins matters and has serious implications, but what matters most is not what is happening in Washington, D.C., but what is happening in our local churches every Sunday. 

That truth brings me to my final reflection for election season: Christ is Lord over all. Kingdoms rise and fall. Leaders come and go. Movements ebb and flow. But we belong to a King and a Kingdom without end (Heb. 12:28). So whether you are exulting in victory or are tempted to despair, remember that Christ reigns over all, and nothing happens that is outside of his purposes. 

By / Aug 9

From the morning the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the discussion about abortion and the pro-life movement has been evolving constantly. Our country is having conversations and debates about legislation at the state level, criminalization of women, contraceptives, privacy, and so much more. These are discussions that are sure to affect many college campuses this fall as students return. As debate from activists on both sides begins again in this post-Roe context, how should a Christian college student approach these conversations?  

For many of them, they are walking into a spiritually dark and secular place. The Christian position in defense of the preborn is likely to be a minority position on many campuses, subject to intense challenges. They are going to be questioned on what they believe about abortion, whose “side” they are on, and how they can justify being on the “wrong side.”

This is not necessarily new. College students have conversations like this all the time. Sometimes they go well, and sometimes not so much. What is new, however, is the intensity, passion, and assumptions behind these conversations.

For the Christian, the answer to the question of how to engage is simple and revolutionary at the same time: speak the truth in love. Christians on campus need to approach these conversations in such a way that Christ is glorified.

Here are three thingsChristians on college campuses should remember when they approach these conversations. 

1. Our identity should not be found in policy or activism, rather it should be found in the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

The first thing college students need to remember is that our identity ought to be found in Christ. Typically, when we engage in conversation it is because we are passionate about what we are talking about. If you find yourself engaging in political conversations, then you probably find that immigration, gun control, or any other political issues are important to you and flow from your worldview. In essence there is nothing wrong with being passionate about these issues and discussing them. However, Scripture teaches that the love of God should be our priority (Matt. 22:37). Therefore, if we exalt Christ more in our own lives, then having political conversations may become seemingly less imperative in comparison to having gospel conversations.

The reality is that we talk about what we care about (Col. 3:2). So, anytime we engage in political conversations, we must first remember what our priorities are. As believers, our priority is to fulfill the Great Commission and share the gospel of Christ with all people. We know that political ideologies do not dictate eternity, but faith in Christ does. We can have hope and assurance that God is sovereign, and we can have hope regardless of the political issues we talk about. Our identity is found in an event on a cross over 2,000 years ago, not whatever is trending in the news.

2. Our goal should not be to prove somebody wrong, but to represent Christ.

The second thing to remember is that we need to stay humble. Far too often conversations about politics become more about ego than anything else. If we are being honest, we know that most of the time neither party in a conversation will change their mind, so the purpose of these conversations ends up being to prove who is smarter or more knowledgeable. As college students, it is important to remember that we are young and have much to learn. We do not know everything about every topic and should not act or talk as if we do. Therefore, our goal in a conversation should never be about exalting ourselves, rather it should always be about exalting Christ.

It is crucial to remember that if you profess that you are a Christian, then you are an ambassador for Christ. (2 Cor. 5:20). We represent Christ in every conversation we have. Think about how Jesus throughout the Gospels showed humility through the washing of feet. Let us, in the same way, be humble and treat people with kindness even in difficult conversations in which we may disagree. Let us not be argumentative, arrogant, hateful with our speech, or demeaning. Rather, let us be an accurate representation of Christ’s humility through being fair minded, open to listen, and wise with our words. 

This is not to say that we equivocate between harmful and unjust beliefs, or that we treat all perspectives as equally valid. But we do treat those who hold those views with respect and dignity as those who are made in the image of God. Before we represent a political party, activist group, or any other organization, we are first and foremost ambassadors for Christ. That is something that should be handled with reverence. 

3. Our conversations should always point back to the gospel.

The final thing to remember is that regardless of the subject of our conversation, it ought to point back to the gospel as we are able. Most of the time on a college campus, when a Christian’s worldview is challenged, you can expect it to be from someone who does not believe in Christ. Therefore, that makes these conversations all the more important.

Think about what we have talked about thus far: our identity is found in Christ, and our goal in any conversation should not be to prove somebody right, but to represent Christ. All of this points to the fact that as Christians, political conversations with nonbelievers are a perfect opportunity that ought to be taken advantage of. 

Political conversations give you the opportunity to be salt and light (Matt.5:13-16). You can show somebody what the love of Christ looks like in a time when they are least expecting it. You can demonstrate what it means to have hope in the midst of a dark and fallen world. These things speak volumes to somebody who is lost and in need of Savior.

I believe in the providence of God, which means that I do not believe in accidents. Thus, I think that every conversation we have with somebody was intentionally designed. As college students, we have a decision to make: Are we going to use these conversations for our own personal ambitions, or are we going to use these conversations to bring glory and praise to the name of Jesus Christ? Do not shy away from difficult conversations. The Holy Spirit is with you and will guide you (Luke 12:11-12). We are called to obedience and to be a witness for the sake of the gospel.

By / Jul 28

Responsible citizenship is a steadily mounting challenge for Americans. Rampant isolation leaves us disconnected from our neighbors. Social crises leave us feeling powerless and perplexed. Digital screens and social media increasingly mediate these realities, often compounding our confusion.

Few citizens have a coherent vision for civic engagement, especially engagement in such an alienating and disorienting cultural moment. Amidst unrest and uncertainty, David C. Innes calls Christians to examine the first principles and foundations of civic and political responsibilities with his book Christ and the Kingdoms of Men: Foundations of Political Life. Innes is a professor of politics at King’s College and has written extensively on the intersection of political philosophy and theology. He is also a teaching elder at Trinity Church in Long Island. Innes’ positions as professor and elder have fostered an obvious skill for guiding laypeople and leaders toward thoughtful engagement with matters of politics in an accessible way.

Christ and the Kingdoms of Men is an introduction to “fundamental questions and challenges of political life.” Innes intends to speak directly to citizenship and political activity from a Christian perspective, drawing resources from theology, philosophy, and political theory. In doing so, he hopes to offer a grounded, coherent, and intentional understanding of politics that an average citizen can practically apply.

Kingdom-centered principles

Political questions and activities often touch on essential questions about human life. Innes sets out to help readers connect practical civic questions to the foundational ideas that undergird them and equip them to reflect and critically respond thoughtfully.

Innes draws from the kingdom narrative of Scripture to ground his ideas of social and political life. The themes of creation, fall, and redemption reveal an intelligently ordered world where humans made in God’s image are called to cultivate society. Sin and evil are pervasive and must be restrained. The hope of restoration lies in Jesus’ redemptive work and ultimate return. Within these foundational realities lie resources for discernment, analysis, and application regarding questions of justice, morality, social relations, legitimate authority, and other essential political matters.

Innes contends that government provides a public good and, within its exercise of legitimate authority, essentially merits obedience. He examines the purpose of government from Romans 13:1-7, outlining wh­at it means for governments to “punish evil and promote good.” Additionally, Innes deals with various “problems” of political life and governance. For example, he examines the tensions between the social need for governance and the reality that sinful people govern. Then, he explores how various modern traditions have sought to square these tensions. The book closes with practical application for citizens and civic leaders and an appeal to pursue the common good through politics.

Christ and the Kingdoms of Men presents a clear and convictional offering for how to think about political activity and governance. Innes models how to think critically about these issues by fleshing out his theological and philosophical rationales for the reader. This feature alone makes the book worth reading, as it challenges reactive and ad hoc means of thinking about politics that are often modeled in the public square and absorbed by Christians. By calling readers back to first principle questions of, for instance, cosmology and anthropology, Innes encourages deep reflection and intentionality in considering complex issues of politics and governance. Instead of offering simple answers and position statements, Innes provides tools to analyze and dissect practical civics matters.

Principles in the public square

Innes also helpfully recognizes the universal and contextual challenges of governance. Rather than offering idealistic principles, Innes engages by applying those principles amidst the complexities of political engagement. For instance, Innes acknowledges that any government in a Western context will have to navigate the barriers that individualism erects to constructive citizenship. He then demonstrates the resources biblical themes like the imago Dei offer to those seeking political solutions in an atomized society. By raising these challenges and showing how to think theologically about solutions, Innes exposes readers to realistic wrestling with tensions and complexities in political engagement.

In painting a thoughtful and dynamic picture of politics, Innes likewise calls for a more holistic engagement with the political sphere. For example, in his section on faithful citizenship and statesmanship, Innes contends that citizenship goes beyond voting. Concern for the common good will lead citizens to regular civic engagement, not just on voting day. Here, Innes challenges the temptation to fix political energy exclusively on elections to neglect further engagement like organizing or governmental participation.

At moments in the book, Innes’ explanations or prescriptions can oversimplify some issues. For example, Innes speaks of spheres like government or the market as essentially distinct without going in-depth on the manifold ways these spheres function. This presentation is liable to reduce the interdependent and complex nature of such spheres within, for example, a globalized economic system that transcends borders yet is deeply interwoven with states. In an introductory book, this is a reasonable limitation. However, Innes also articulates distinct and potentially wooden boundaries around what the governmental functions of praising good and punishing evil can mean. These hard limitations potentially obscure the actual scope of various spheres. They also limit the potential application of how Christians could apply Innes’ broad and valuable principles in genuinely prudential circumstances that might fall outside his stated boundaries.

Innes’ work is appropriate for use in both academic spaces and by local church leaders and laypeople. Innes recommends further reading at the end of each chapter, which is helpful for those looking to pair the book alongside other political theology books and books from related disciplines. For one, Innes’ prescriptions on various prudential matters of society and politics are worth comparing to different traditions and perspectives. Likewise, works from other related disciplines like political science or economics would complement Innes primarily theological reflections. Furthermore, as an introductory level book that covers a wide ground, Christ and the Kingdoms of Men is necessarily cursory on several of the dense topics it covers. The recommended resources, along with reflection questions and keywords, give the book a useful format for teaching.

Christ and the Kingdoms of Men displays that Scripture holds immense resources for understanding our role in civic life. Furthermore, David C. Innes presents how Christians can unearth insight and analysis from those biblical resources. As the church navigates an often confounding and chaotic public square, Christians must be equipped to apply essential principles to various political and civic issues. Whether readers agree or disagree with Innes’ perspectives on the many issues he examines, they will find the topics he tackles worth deep reflection and consideration. Furthermore, readers will find a demonstration of thoughtful and intentional biblical analysis on politics and governance, a valuable resource in our present moment. 

By / May 29

Most political operatives worth their salt will tell you, in just about any recent election, the number one motivating factor for voters is fear. Usually, this manifests itself in proclamations that the opposition (usually called “our enemies”) want to take away something from you: a right, a deeply held value, a cultural icon. And we are told that the only proper response is to elect “a fighter.” 

Conveniently, the campaign talking to you at that given moment has the candidate who should be your preferred combatant. The candidates themselves will often play into this hype machine by telling everyone they can that “this is the most important election of our lifetime” or “we’re the last line of defense before our nation is forever changed.” Voters are left in a state of hyper-motivation for what they have now been conditioned to believe is an existential war. 

Here’s the problem: We like it. Great campaigns make voters feel as though they’re part of a movement. Something more than just themselves. But in this social media era, where all of us are made to feel part of a performance––in order to get likes, retweets, and shares––we are not content to just cast a vote. We want a role to play in the battle, and so we do our part on behalf of our preferred candidate by flaming, dragging, or canceling our opponents online.

 All of this should cause reflection for Christians. I know a good number of Christians who may not agree with the tactics, but do agree with the purposes. Unfortunately, there’s not much basis in Scripture for an ends-justify-the-means application of Christian ethics to voting (or any activity for that matter). But we have to understand that, in many ways, we are, as well as our neighbors, being manipulated by very sophisticated, technologically savvy campaigns. 

Instead of aligning with the hope we have in a risen King, these efforts are actually causing us to look elsewhere for help. Tempting us to, at least temporarily for the purposes of an election, place our faith in an earthly prince who will fight for whatever policy preference we might have.

How Christians Can Think About Election Season

So what is an appropriate way to process all that is thrown our way in an election season? Others may take a different approach but, as a Christian who is a Southern Baptist, I would start here: 

First, in Matthew 5, Jesus is sitting with his disciples, surrounded by a throng of interested onlookers, and he issues this charge: “You are to be the salt of the earth . . . (and) the light of the world.” Salt was—and still is—a valuable element at the time for any number of reasons, including its attractive qualities. It not only enhances the taste of food but it also literally draws water to it (think of when your salt shaker gets clumpy in humid temperatures). I believe Jesus had this aspect in mind when discussing this. He wants his followers to be unique in a fallen world in order to pique the curiosity of those around us so that a channel can be created for the Living Water (John 7) to flow. 

Much is the same for being a light. Ships need beacons in order to navigate in the dark. What better illustration could there be for helping those around us see not us, but the reason for the hope inside of us (1 Pet. 3:15). 

Finally, I would submit that Article 15 of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 outlines some helpful guidance for us navigating this space. Our convention specifically envisions Christians working for the good of the social order. A predecessor of mine stated it this way: “Believers in union with Christ will share His priorities.”1https://www.baptistpress.com/resource-library/news/baptist-faith-and-message-article-15-the-christian-and-the-social-order/ That’s something we all should affirm. Far too often, the reality is, we try to compartmentalize our political views away from the gospel and other areas of our life (a point that Josh Wester highlights in his article for this issue). But I think, deep down, we know that’s incorrect. The gospel should inform all aspects of our lives, even the candidates we support and what we do at the ballot box. Some will read that and say that’s too basic and a dodge from real life scenarios that have and will continue to play out in elections. 

But, I think the power of the gospel is its simplicity (1 Cor. 1:18-31). This simple message of Christ’s resurrection has the power to transform lives and structure our political witness. When we declare that “Jesus is Lord,” we are acknowledging that neither political party is. Our political activity is demonstrated through the fulfillment of the Great Commission’s (“Go and make disciples”) recognition of Jesus’ authority and the Great Commands’ (“Love God and love neighbor”) imperative to promote true human flourishing.

Christians entering the public square do the most politically powerful thing they can when they remember that politics is not ultimate, because we serve a King whose kingdom is coming and where all things will be made right. We don’t withdraw, but we also don’t twist our souls in service to temporary political realities. It is in our witnessing to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ and all the moral implications of that moment in history for our life that we exercise our true political power.

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    https://www.baptistpress.com/resource-library/news/baptist-faith-and-message-article-15-the-christian-and-the-social-order/