By / Feb 7

“The Nations Belong to God: A Christian Guide for Political Engagement” is a resource written to help Christians facing an election year. This guide is a starting point for Christians to think about how to engage the political processes around them.

Download the Guide

Every election is about getting the most votes—whether it is at the local level directly from voters or at the presidential level in the Electoral College.

Anxiety and animosity are a driving force behind a number of candidacies. Think of how many times you have heard an office seeker paint the next election as a battle between “us vs. them” or deploy dehumanizing language against opponents, specific groups, or the media.

Why are election years so difficult?

During election season, there is a tendency to reduce complex issues to soundbites. As a consequence, voters are not required to think deeply about problems and solutions. Instead of substantively engaging, voters are asked to become partisan automatons or polarized performers.

  • So how do we see through the political gamesmanship and grift?
  • What can be done to think more deeply how to steward our votes instead of falling into the lazy “binary choice” framework?
  • Most importantly, how can we honor God as we engage in political decisions on Election Day—or any other day?

What is a Christian Guide for Political Engagement?

This guide titled “The Nations Belong to God,” patterned off the ancient model of a catechism, is a starting point for Christians thinking about how to engage the political processes around them. It is not the end of doctrine or teaching on any of these subjects, but a place to begin, a call to consider anew what it means for us to declare, “Jesus is Lord.” 

Though this political catechism was written to help Christians facing an election year, and in a time when there is a growing sense of fear, polarization, vitriol, and apathy about the current landscape of politics, it is also a guide to how life should be lived every other day besides a Tuesday in November every four years. Our political participation should not be boiled down to a vote cast on one day, important as that vote may be.

Politics is about life in community with others, and those relationships exist even when candidates aren’t vying for our votes, donations, and attention. 

Brent Leatherwood, ERLC President

In the face of an election year sure to be filled with angst, division, and fearmongering, the teachings of Jesus will be all the more important for a witness that is bold and hopeful. The hope flowing from a confidence that no matter who occupies the White House, Congress, or seats of power, our citizenship lies in heaven, and our work as ambassadors continues.

Download the Guide

By / Jan 31

When things seem dark, we must remember that God is in control. That may sound like one of the most obvious and simple truths of Christianity. But oftentimes, we can forget it or overlook it, especially when it comes to the topic of politics. 

When we look around our world, it is easy to see why the Bible refers to Satan as the “god of this world” who “has blinded the minds of the unbelievers” (2 Cor. 4:4). There are so many things we can point to in our society right now and think to ourselves, “This is not how things are supposed to be.” If we’re honest, pushing back against the darkness can seem futile.

But here’s what we must etch into the deepest recesses of our heart: God is in absolute control over everything—over this world, governments, candidates, platforms, and parties. Nothing is happening that God is not using in his sovereignty to bring about his will (Gen. 50:20).

God is in control of the nations. They belong to him. Why? Because the earth is the Lord’s (Psa. 24:1). No matter where we go, what happens, or who is ruling, everything is underneath God’s ultimate sovereignty.

What it means to be political

Consider Israel when it was exiled into Babylon. Israel could have feared that it would be overtaken and stamped out of existence. But what does God say to do while they are in exile? 

“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jer. 29:4–7).

God says for Israel to get rooted:to build houses, plant gardens, and build families. In other words, while in exile—in a state of things where they are not in control—God calls them back to his original plan and creation mandate. Israel’s seeking of Babylon’s welfare was going to look extremely ordinary. It was not going to be revolutionary. It was going to look like what God intended from the very beginning: be fruitful, multiply, steward the world around you. 

The picture in Jeremiah comes closer to what it means to be “political” than volunteering for your local political organization. As we’ll explore in this volume, politics is how we arrange ourselves in society for the sake of justice and mutual benefit. In this way, politics is very ordinary. It consists of the small, daily actions of citizens stewarding the parts of creation order that are meant to be honored: life, family, and engagement in society. Keep in mind that this command was given by Jeremiah to Israel while the Israelites were in exile, meaning they were not the ones in charge, politically speaking.

But in exile, guess what? Babylon still belonged to God, as all other nations do. Babylon exists in a world created by God, so the world or political systems cannot rewrite God’s creation order. In a way, Israel was to tell Babylon the truth of living in a world created by God. Babylon was not free to do whatever it wanted or to claim authority that did not belong to it. Jesus says the same thing in a different way in Matthew 22. He says to render to God what belongs to God and to render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. The implication of this is that Caesar can claim some authority, but it cannot claim ultimate authority. Caesar is under God’s sovereign rule.

The same is true of the nations today. But that brings us to an important consideration: What are Christians to do while in their own earthly nations? Should we expect to always be on the losing side? Or the winning side? Christians are not promised total victory or total defeat as history progresses. We’re called to be faithful and to speak the truth, in season and out of season (2 Tim. 4:2).

We’re to be engaged. We’re to be citizens, but citizens who understand that their primary citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20). In the same way that Jeremiah called Israel to seek the welfare of the city, we, too, are to seek the welfare of the United States, Tanzania, Uzbekistan, or any nation where we reside with the type of love that God meant for us to give—not an ultimate love, but a love born of gratitude for the place where God has providentially placed us (Acts 17:26). 

Metaphorically speaking, every country in the world is some type of Babylon. That is not meant to be a pejorative about our country; it is to recognize that while politics is not everything, it is not insignificant, either. We should be paying more attention to politics than we often are. Politics has real-life implications for the world we live in and the conditions of society that our neighbors encounter. If we are to love our neighbors, paying attention to and being involved in politics is just one way to do that. In doing so, we want to avoid the extremes of either political obsession or political apathy.

Politics is a calling to be engaged within a world that belongs to God, not ultimately to princes, presidents, or prime ministers.

What might Christian political engagement look like, especially in a presidential election year? Download “The Nations Belong to God: A Christian Guide to Political Engagement” to find help and hope as you seek to bring the gospel to your community. 

By / Sep 26

I have been involved for several years now with an organization that seeks to reduce the political polarization that seems to be growing in our society. The group is called Braver Angels. It specializes in hosting conversations between people on opposite sides of the political spectrum. One of the notable things I’ve observed is that prior to these conversations, the participants tend to have an extremely low opinion of the people with whom they disagree. They assume they are probably bad people. They can’t imagine they would ever be friends with them. After they spend several hours together with a moderator who works to keep the conversation constructive, things seem to change. They don’t come to a place of agreement. That’s not the goal of Braver Angels. But they do seem to gain a new appreciation for their conversation partners as people. And that is the goal. Genuine conversation, as opposed to the series of battles we constantly stage on television and on social media, helps to rebuild connections.  

Unfortunately, the rest of the world is very different from a Braver Angels workshop. We have a long way to go to cultivate civic virtue in which we view each other as friends and countrymen with political differences instead of as opposing armies occupying the same land. Instead, we have become comfortable dismissing entire groups of people. Worse, rather than merely dismissing them, we are building them up into demonic figures. The truth is that human beings are those made in God’s image who are afflicted with sin, rather than demons. The appropriate spirit to take toward them is one of sympathy and patience rather than war. 

This phenomenon of demonization has unfortunately reached virtually every part of the American political community and into many churches. Whether it is Q-Anon conspiracies, the dismissal of “soy-boys” and “snowflakes,” the blowtorch rhetoric of President Trump, or even something like President Biden’s prime-time jeremiad against “MAGA Republicans,” American political discourse has moved in the direction of villainization as a preferred mode.

Serving the Lord of the Beatitudes

But Christians serve the Lord of the Beatitudes. Within those passages in Matthew 5:2-12, we see the praise of meekness, mercy, and long-suffering in the face of trials. Further in the chapter, Jesus counsels reconciliation, turning the other cheek, and loving enemies. There is a worthwhile and longstanding debate on the degree to which these teachings apply to individuals over against our broader political lives. But it would be strange indeed if we were to believe there is no connection. Let us accept that Martin Luther was correct in seeing those commands directed toward individuals, the kind of person formed by obeying them will not be one who is quick to anger, who lacks empathy, who cultivates strife, and who inflicts damage with no regard for the need to make peace again in its aftermath.

One of the major deliverances of Christian teaching in the Bible has to do with the problem of sin. It is not something that can be conquered habit by habit such as by extinguishing drug use or overeating, though it is highly laudable to do so. The problem of sin is far greater than committing more good acts than bad acts or even eliminating bad acts. Sin is something that is universal in its application to human beings. Every person is afflicted by a sinful will that ultimately, without God’s help, cannot avoid seeking to remove every obstacle to the fulfillment of our desires. If we accept that the situation of the sinful creature is applicable to all of us (which is certainly the teaching of the Bible and the consistent message of the church), then it should be easy for us also to believe that humility is utterly essential. We must always be aware of the innate battle we are all fighting. We must be wary that at the moment when we most greatly revel in our own rectitude, we may be in tremendous danger of surrendering to sin.

When politics fails in its social role, war rears its head. However, we in the United States do not live in a society where politics and civil government no longer function. Our courts still operate. Our legislatures still meet. Governors and other executives carry on their work. There have been some tremendous tests, such as the COVID pandemic, the financial crisis of 2008, and terrorist attacks such as 9/11. It would be a lie to say that our response to any of the crises we have faced has been truly satisfying. Instead, we have seen sinful human beings struggling to manage the public interest, their self-interest, the constant influence of political opportunism, and our general failure to be omniscient even in a world of rapidly expanding information.  

To fail to acknowledge the problems of human sinfulness and limitation will be to amplify our growing sense of unease. What we must all do, from the highest technocrat, to the most powerful policymaker, to the corporate analyst, to the blue collar worker, to the church member, to the father or mother, is to be humble in our recognition of what we can really know and what we can really do. With greater humility will come greater room for love and understanding. The way to keep political violence at bay is to remember who we are and that the only king who will not disappoint (whether a person or a movement) is Jesus Christ, himself.

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 / Feb 28

On March 1, President Biden will deliver his first State of the Union address. The U.S. Constitution (Article II, Section 3, clause 1) requires that the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” The State of the Union (SOTU) gives the president the opportunity to report to Congress and the American people on the current condition of the United States and provides a policy vision for the upcoming legislative year.

State of the Union addresses are typically delivered during the first two months of the year, and it’s unusual for a president to be invited by the Speaker of the House to deliver this speech in March as is the case this year.

Without a doubt, a large part of the speech will likely be dedicated to articulating the President’s views about the ongoing war in Ukraine, the largest foreign policy crisis of Biden’s term thus far. Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine fundamentally challenges the post-Cold War world-order and presents a host of questions and unknowns for the United States and its NATO allies. Biden will be tasked with communicating a clear plan to address all of this and offering a compelling vision of why this matters to the American people.

Amidst these overarching issues of the war in Ukraine, record-breaking inflation, and a pandemic that continues to take American lives, Biden hasn’t been able to push forward his broad policy agenda. Democratic leadership had hoped to use a procedural tool known as budget reconciliation to pass the “Build Back Better” package that contained a number of Democratic priorities. However, moderate Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have signaled their unwillingness to support this package as it currently exists. We anticipate portions of the President’s remarks to give some support to this liberal package. 

Beyond that, we anticipate President Biden to speak on the issue of abortion. On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Schumer brought the Women’s Health Protection Act to the Senate floor for a vote. While it failed to pass the Senate, this legislation is the most pro-abortion bill to ever pass the House of Representatives. It is a deeply disturbing bill and it would be concerning for this bill to be highlighted as an achievement in the President’s address. 

While we have many strongdisagreements with Biden, such as on the issue of abortion, we also see areas of potential cooperation and bipartisanship, where positive policies could be pursued by Congress and the administration. In this deeply divided Congress and with a stalled agenda, Biden ought to use this address to direct his administration’s and Congress’ focus away from areas of extreme partisanship and toward areas of potential bipartisan agreement. Three areas where we’d like to see him do that are on immigration reform, refugee resettlement, and countering China. We highlight these areas because they have been clearly addressed by the Southern Baptist Convention through resolutions passed at the convention’s annual meeting over the years. 

Immigration reform

Though immigration reform was a key promise in Biden’s campaign, little has been done on the issue since he took office. At the beginning of his presidency, he signed a number of immigration-related executive orders and sent his sweeping “U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021” to Congress. However, that bill has not moved forward, and few efforts have been made to gain Republican support. 

Though there are areas of sharp disagreement between the two parties on the area of immigration, there are also significant areas of agreement that should be explored. There is bipartisan support for a permanent, legislative solution for Dreamers, such as the “Dream Act.” Other proposals to reform our asylum system and border security could receive bipartisan support as well through legislation such as the “Bipartisan Border Solutions Act.” And just recently, Republican Congresswoman Salazar (FL) introduced her “Dignity Act” which could prove to be a starting point for negotiations toward a legalization effort between the two parties. 

While none of these pieces of legislation are perfect, they demonstrate that ample ground exists where the two parties could come together and legislate reasonable solutions to these important challenges. In his address, Biden should encourage the two parties to find common ground on this issue and pass bipartisan, commonsense solutions on areas of agreement rather than using these vulnerable immigrants as political pawns and continuing to fail to address these issues that affect human lives.

Refugees

After resettling a record-low number of refugees in fiscal year 2021, Biden set an ambitious goal of resettling 125,000 refugees in fiscal year 2022. Despite this admirable goal, the United States has only resettled 4,362 refugees this fiscal year as of Jan. 31, and is on track to resettle well below that target. 

Under the previous administration, refugee resettlement was largely halted, and many resettlement organizations were forced to close offices and significantly reduce operations. The resettlement pipeline overseas and the resettlement program in the United States were both further decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Seriously restarting the refugee resettlement program and reclaiming the United States’ position as a beacon of hope for those seeking refuge is not as simple as flipping a switch and increasing the number of refugees we are willing to accept. Government agencies that handle refugee resettlement and resettlement organizations need serious direction and support to be able to adequately serve these vulnerable populations.

This is also partly due to the resettlement of tens of thousands of vulnerable Afghans who were brought to the United States using humanitarian parole, rather than the formal refugee process, due to the urgency of their evacuation. Resettlement agencies have swiftly jumped in to provide resettlement services to these Afghans despite facing considerable challenges.

Biden must keep the United States’ promises to the Afghan people, particularly those who assisted our troops. He should direct his administration to expedite processing through the refugee resettlement program of Afghans still stuck in third countries or in vulnerable situations overseas and should urge Congress to provide resettlement agencies with the resources they need to fully rebuild. 

China

A third area we’d like to see discussed in President Biden’s State of the Union address is how he plans to bolster the United States’ policies countering China. Though the Biden administration ultimately claimed the passage of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act at the end of last year as a victory, reporting suggests that they were working behind the scenes to delay and dilute the bill. Similarly, the administration diplomatically boycotted the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing but failed to effectively use their power to help persuade other countries to follow suit.

Throughout the first year of his presidency, the horrendous human rights abuses and genocide of the Uyghur people in China have at times been deprioritized to economic or climate concerns. More must be done to counter China morally. President Biden should use his State of the Union address to lay out plans to do just that. The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act was passed with broad, bipartisan support, and President Biden should encourage Congress to continue this cooperation to further hold China accountable for its abuses.

President Biden certainly has a difficult task at hand to bring the country together amidst the ongoing challenges in the world. Our hope is that he will pursue these policy areas where compromises can be made and divisions can be overcome, rather than pursuing divisive and extreme policies. Ultimately, Christians do not put their faith in any one leader but trust God and pray that he gives President Biden wisdom as he leads our nation during these difficult times.