Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Religion and Politics - Too Important To Evade!
For centuries, shade tree sages have waxed eloquently regarding the perils of debating "religion and politics". Nevertheless, when one considers that the issues in question deal with one's eternal destiny, the daily governance of people and the maintenance of personal and corporate freedoms, these challenging yet important matters beg to be discussed. Therefore, considering that the nation has reached the Super Tuesday mile marker in an increasingly exciting election year, I thought it might be an appropriate time to share a few foundational principles I try to keep in mind when engaging in the political process as a follower of Jesus Christ.
Principle 1: Know what you believe.
Before issues or candidates can be evaluated, one must know what the Bible teaches and allow the truth of God's Word to guide one's stance on issues. The Scripture warns that there is a way that may seem right, but in the end it can lead to death. For that reason, understanding and discernment are vital in the evaluation of political systems and candidates. A strong grasp of the content and context of the Scriptures can enable people of faith to build a strong foundation upon which a sound and godly political philosophy can be constructed. It is not enough to rattle off a party line. One should be always be able to address one's philosophical stances from a biblical perspective and a deeply held sense of informed personal conviction.
Principle 2: Don't ascribe inerrancy or infallibility to a political party's platform.
No one political organization's platform exhaustively addresses the truth of God's Word point by point. The spectrum of issues addressed in Scripture is wide and includes instruction on everything from addressing social justice to pursuing individual holiness. The topics addressed in the Bible are often not addressed in a political party's planks at all and omissions regarding issues the Bible considers essential often occur. For this reason, Christians shouldn't expect any political machine to "scratch every ideological itch", especially when those machines primary objective is to appease and to ease the collective "itches" of an incredibly diverse population, which includes many non-Christians. American Christians must do what every US citizen does - weigh and balance a party's stances in the light of the truth and make the best choice possible from the information available as their convictions would lead.
Principle 3: Don't assume it is necessarily possible to know a person's political affiliation based on their walk with the Lord.
The reasons that people choose their particular political affiliations vary greatly, and vilifying or beatifying someone based on their choice of political party is iffy work at best. All people are shaped by their personal experience. Even people who are in total agreement theologically and may consider themselves cut from the same theological cloth may differ on issues based on how their background causes them to process certain aspects of the theology they believe. Ethnicity, gender, social background, and life experience all play a part in shaping how individuals see the world. Don't be surprised if someone who genuinely says "Amen!" next to you in church, asks, "What you talkin' 'bout" when politics enters the equation. There is unity in Christ, but not always unity in political opinion.
Principle 4: Don't expect any political leader or system to solve all of your problems.
Christians have to remember that it is in GOD that we trust, not the government. God has created governments for our help and benefit, but only the Lord can meet all of our needs! Whenever we confer faith and power that belong to God upon the government, we not only set ourselves up for disappointment, but also for the limitation or loss of our freedoms as well. While we should reasonably expect the government to serve us for numerous things, we must trust only God to meet our needs in everything!
Principle 5: PARTICIPATE!
In the United States, the preamble to our constitution begins with audacious words that apply to each of us and keep us "on the hook" with regard to the state of the Union: We the PEOPLE! The People are the engine that drives the government, not the government the people. That means people must participate in the processes of serving in government and in maintaining communities and the nation. Voting is an obvious and important way to participate in government, but it is not the only way to make things happen. We the People must serve at every level, and must have the kind of industry and initiative that does not depend on the government to move our communities forward and to keep our nation on track. That means in addition to voting, we must truly put our money where our mouths are, and I'm not merely talking about paying taxes. If someone believes that abortion is wrong, protesting is one's right, but adopting unwanted children, mentoring single teen moms, and training young dads to be responsible and faithful to one woman is much more righteous. Demonstrating against racism is one tool in promoting racial harmony, but refusing to laugh at ethnic jokes, refusing to leave a neighborhood when different ethnicities move in, and refusing to leave someone's side who is being castigated because of their heritage is a demonstration of true reconciliatory conviction. Each of us has the power in our everyday lives, in ways we often ignore due to laziness, lack of conviction or beacuse of inconvenience, to make the kinds of differences that may or may not impact the ballot box, but cannot help but impact the world in which we live.
As the political season progresses and choices must be made, please don't forget to vote with your hearts. Most importantly, don't forget to vote with your hands and feet - putting your hands to work to do good everywhere you go, and making your feet swift to go and to serve as far as your strength, your abilities and your courage will allow. For those of us who are Christians, remembering that our strength, abilities and courage are all supplied and maintained by the Lord should carry us extremely far indeed. Until next time...