There are two principles that I believe should govern our thoughts of and engagement in politics: 1) love for God and neighbor, and 2) the glory of God and the gospel. The first principle is what compels us to thoughtfully engage in politics. Jesus said,
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. Mt. 22:37-40
Who is the God we claim to love, and what matters to him?
The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty Ex. 34:6, 7
For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. 18He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Deut. 10:17, 18
Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart. Zech 7:8, 9
Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. Prov. 31:8, 9
Our God is holy, just, patient and merciful. He cares or the poor, the needy, the forgotten, the innocent, the oppressed, the victimized and the righteous. If we claim to love him, we love what he loves, we share his interests and values. Justice and mercy will matter to us, and consequently politics will merit our engagement.
And because our neighbors are those in need, and are made in the image of God we must seek their welfare. We do not share the heart of God when we seek to care for our neighbors locally, while ignoring them nationally and globally.
This first principle, love for God and neighbor, compels us to engage in social and political action. The second principle restrains us from political pride; the glory of God and the gospel.
Our hope of salvation for the world is in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ by which he propitiates the wrath of God against sinful man, expiates our sins, grants us righteousness before the Father, and renews all things in the age to come.
The gospel is helpful in that is clarifies our real enemy, establishes our identity and is the foundation of our unity. Until we can see that our enemy is not the "other" political party, that our identity is not wrapped up in an elephant or a jackass, and that Jesus did not die to unite us in a voting block for a particular candidate, we will look to the idols of politics and power to give us our sense of worth and to save us.
Many Christians simply cannot comprehend how a "true" Christian could vote for the other guy (or girl). "He supports an unjust war that's killed thousands of innocents!" or "He supports the murder of the millions of pre-born children!" Politics are more complicated than this, and it is unfortunate that many will question the salvation of another who votes the wrong way. When we think like this, and I myself have been guilty of it, we demonstrate a serious problem in our understanding of the gospel. Ken Jones points to the example of George Whitefield to illustrate this point.
Consider the case of George Whitefield, that great 18th century evangelist of the Great Awakening, and the issue of slavery. Here is a case that should reinforce the fact that what we are politically is to be viewed apart from what we are spiritually. Whitefield, from all indications, seemed to believe that the black slaves of the American colonies were men and women created in the image of God and should be respected as such. He had an overwhelming desire to educate them and to preach the Gospel of Christ to them. Yet, Whitefield used his considerable influence in an effort to bring slavery into Georgia. Some of Whitefield's contemporaries disagreed with his position, but Christians and church leaders differing on the issue of slavery was not uncommon. As an African-American, my views of Whitefield's politics may be quite critical, although I consider myself a spiritual heir to his evangelistic legacy. Ken Jones, Can Politics Save?
The gospel clarifies all of this for us, and prevents us from misunderstanding the nature of our true enemies. I love what Chris Walke said this morning during worship before he sang Derek Webb's, A King and a Kingdom. If you know the song you understand it merits a little set-up. Chris explained,
I don’t believe that anyone here really believes that Clinton or Obama or McCain or Huckabee is really our Enemy. We’re more intelligent than that. However, it is often difficult to avoid getting swept up in our passions at a time like this election year when so much inflammatory dialog is exchanged... We can easily get caught up in the Us vs. Them mentality that our political affiliation seems to promote; if you are not with us, you are against us. We can easily lose our perspective, and these days in particular when we are about to elect our country’s leader it is crucial that we do keep our perspective - a perspective based on the Bible, on the declarations and commands of Jesus, on the accomplishment of Christ risen.
If Christ is your Savior, then he has forgiven your sins and promises to declare you righteous before the Father. Does that mean you no longer sin? Of course it doesn’t. Why? Because our own wickedness - the sinful nature that we inherited from Adam - has not left us. It lives in us, and it will be a part of us until the Lord returns and raises us... Until then, that sinfulness, that wicked nature, is something we carry with us wherever we go. We bring it into our homes. It influences how we raise our children. It sleeps with us next to our wife or husband.
We cannot go to our politics to identify our enemy. For that, there are only two places we must go: the Bible, and the mirror.
I am not suggesting that there aren't right or wrong ideas and policies. I do not believe every candidate is a good choice. But our enemies are bigger than the suit seeking votes. And I want the world to see in us, the church, the character and love of the Savior more than temporal, political ideologies and party affiliation.
This past week I asked everyone I ran into on the streets, in the coffee shops, etc. if they were optimistic or pessimistic about the upcoming election and politics in America. It was split down the middle. Half were pessimistic, half were hopeful - but everyone seemed to understand that politics in the City of Man is broken, and it cannot fix itself. Something greater is needed to bring redemption. I hope they will see it in the church that is compelled by love for God and others to see justice and mercy reign, as we await the full arrival of the Kingdom we now see in the distance.
Until Jesus comes again, may love compel us to engage in, and may the gospel restrain us from trusting in politics.