Christians in politics and culture

PRO: Christians should lead in affairs of the state

Russell Moore, leader of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and its Ethics and Liberty Commission, made headlines Oct. 21 by suggesting that Christians should step back from the political front lines and avoid becoming “mascots for any political faction.”

Christians, as well as other politicians, have recently come under fire for not supporting certain issues such as the legalization of gay marriage. Instead of fighting in the political arena for what Evangelicals believe in, Moore suggested that they should avoid being involved in culture wars.

Moore is correct in his view that Evangelicals should be “kind, winsome and empathetic” toward those who might not believe the same things. But to suggest that Christians should avoid politics altogether seems to be a foolish, and potentially dangerous, non sequitur.

Americans have been blessed with a radically different government than the first century church fathers. Citizens in the United States are able to express their opinions and choose their civic leaders without reaching for torches and pitchforks. America was designed as a federal republic to ensure that all people have representation in the government.

The importance of informed citizens taking an active role in democratic government cannot be overstated. Alexis de Tocqueville wrote plainly of this in his seminal work “Democracy in America,” which analyzed the unique political philosophy and practice in the fledgling United States.

“…Local assemblies of citizens constitute the strength of free nations,” he wrote. “Town-meetings are to liberty what primary schools are to science — they bring it within the people’s reach, they teach men how to use and how to enjoy it. A nation may establish a system of free government, but without the spirit of municipal institutions, it cannot have the spirit of liberty.”

As Moore said, Christians should be involved in their communities, but politics are an integral part of those communities. How much damage would Christians do by pretending that loving their neighbors and doing their civic duty are mutually exclusive concepts?

Is Moore really suggesting that Christians cannot engage in political debates and hold their ground without becoming caustic and dogmatic? His goals could be better achieved by engaging others in political discussion from a position of mutual respect.

The apostle James was not speaking of politics when he wrote in James 1:19 that every person should be “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” Nevertheless, his rule should apply to every area of the Christian life, including civic involvement. How much good could be accomplished if Christians exemplify integrity and respect in the realm of governance?

Passionate debate is inevitable when people have a shared influence and interest in their government. It is important to realize that those with differing opinions have serious reasons for believing the way they do. Perhaps it would be better to stop and listen to why someone supports or opposes a piece of legislation and seek an acceptable compromise instead of shouting them down with dogmatic partisanship.

Obviously there are some areas where biblical values prevent compromise — abortion and gay marriage are chief among them. Should Christians then hold their tongues and not vote to avoid offending anyone? Of course not. Christians should explain why they cannot support such things — for more reasons than simply, “The Bible says so” — while still showing empathy and respect to those who disagree.

As with all things, there is a balance to be desired. Moore should encourage Christians to have firm convictions while demonstrating humility, respect and love for others. Laws reflect the values of the society that writes them. Maybe instead of withdrawing from politics until they “fix” society, Christians should try to engage in politics while simultaneously demonstrating the love of Christ in their communities. – Greg Leasure and Omar Adams

CON: Christians are more effective in community

In his recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, Russell Moore, leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, boldly stated that it is time for evangelicals to pull back from politics and culture. As head of one of the country’s largest evangelical activist groups that has long been on the forefront of fighting America’s culture wars, the comments were certainly unexpected.

Now, after more than three decades of activism, Moore plans to take a less aggressive approach on social issues and political involvement, supporting what he calls “engaged communitarianism” — a middle ground between the evangelical extremes of triumphalism and complete cultural separation.

Though the announcement caused shock among many conservative Christians, I for one am in agreement with Moore. It is time that Christians stop fighting the wrong battles.

As Moore warned in his interview, Christians need to be wary of becoming “mascots for any political faction.” Jesus is not concerned with reestablishing America as a Christian nation or restoring conservative biblical values to the majority’s party platform.

In fact, the story of the early church is not a story of Christians fighting normal societal powers. When you read Acts, you find instead that Christians did not have governmental power, and they never pushed political agendas. On the contrary, most Christians were seen as enemies of the state.

No one looked to the first Christians and thought they would change the world. But they did.

Rather than fighting to legislate morality and vote issues in and out of government, the early Christians recognized that the power of Christ was most recognized through forgiveness, reconciliation and sacrificial love.

Instead of fighting our society, Christians ought to be actively serving it.

What if you took in a pregnant teen confused about her choices rather than complaining about a government that fails to protect life? What if you invited a gay neighbor over for dinner and had meaningful conversation instead of doing everything in your power to vote gay marriage down?

As in Acts 17:6-7, the world would be turned upside down by a minority more interested in showing personal love than in winning political battles.

“These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also … and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”

I am not advising that we divorce religion from politics and culture. But like the men in the New Testament, I am proclaiming that there is another king besides the transitory laws of this nation and its Congressional rulers — Jesus.

Moore, like so many others, has witnessed the upward trend of Christians who are walking away from the church because its members are weary of the culture war. And in response, Moore is not shunning politics entirely or compromising his beliefs, but he is looking beyond immediate American culture in the fight for justice.

“We must remember that we are not Americans first,” Moore said. “We belong to another kingdom.”

The church is to emphasize an allegiance to the kingdom of God over an allegiance to a single political party. If stepping back from the front lines of politics and toning down the rhetoric in the culture wars means rediscovering this truth, then I am with Moore.

The tides have changed in our nation — Christians are no longer the moral majority, but rather the prophetic minority. As such, we are not called to be sin-managers, but to be Christ-exalters.

Cliché as it may seem, the answer is Christ. The electing of politicians and the passing of new laws will never mend a broken world. And while government victories should be sought after and celebrated, the fallen world will remain fallen until Christ’s return. Like every generation before ours and every generation after, deep down, we long for Jesus.

It is time the world knew what the church stands for rather than what it stands against. – Gabriella Fuller

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