We’re a little over a month past the 2008 election. Post election analysis has been very interesting, and varies greatly, depending on which pundit is talking at the time. The GOP is trying to get a realistic handle on why they lost the White House and more of Congress than they wanted to lose while at the same time trying to ease the pain of the defeat. The Democrats are trying to keep the lid on their exhuberance and enthusiasm while realizing that they are now the majority party during a time of grave economic crisis and uncertainty, knowing that their political future depends on avoiding a wrong move, or perhaps even rests on circumstances beyond their control.
Christianity in general, and evangelical conservatives in particular, have become prominent in the political landscape of this country in recent years. That a person’s Christian beliefs and convictions would have a major impact and affect on their political position is a reasonable and understandable expectation. In fact, if a person’s Christian beliefs and convictions did not affect their life, including their politics, in a major way, it would call the sincerity and depth of them into serious question. But as believers in Christ, followers of Jesus, we walk a very fine line when it comes to the way we express our political beliefs. We are called, according to scripture, to live our lives in such a way that our behavior does not call our faith, or its credibility, into question.
“For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men,” says the Apostle Peter. This sentence falls in the middle of a passage that runs from 1 Peter 2:13-17, regarding Christian submission to the governing authorities. Keeping in mind that Peter was writing about a dictatorial, autocratic civil government that would eventually turn hostile to the Christian church, and not a democracy, this instruction to be obedient was for the purpose of setting an example so that there would be no excuse to accuse the church of being intentionally prejudiced or divisive.
Paul uses the exact same instruction, and gives the very same reason in addressing the same issue in both Titus 3:1-2 and Romans 13:1-7. It was vital for the local churches, most of them small groups of believers in a sea of pagans, not to be seen as rebellious lawbreakers, but to be seen as obedient citizens. It was part of being “in but not of” the world. It also had a lot to do with opening up doors of opportunity for spreading the gospel. How much more difficult that job would be if the government authorities limited the ability of the church to preach the gospel, or if large groups of the people in any given place perceived that the Christians had some kind of bias or prejudice against them?
If conservative, evangelical Christianity has become identified too closely with one political perspective or party, doesn’t that limit its ability to have influence when the other party is in power? If we are seen as the opposition, or in some cases, the enemy, doesn’t that do exactly what Peter and Paul are warning us not do do as a church body?
Obviously, Christians should “be obedient and be ready to do whatever is good,” with regard to political issues along with everything else. But in so doing, as Paul says to Titus, we must also “slander no one, be peaceable and considerate, and show true humility toward all men.” This does not always happen. In fact, some Christians considered leaders of the conservative Christian political right wing are sometimes hostile and defensive when it comes to their political position, a stance which has caused polarization and which has not always set the kind of Christlike example that we are instructed to do.
If the Christian perspective is discounted as being purely politically motivated, and considered to be “opposition” by the new administration about to take power in Washington, the influence that it can have will be limited and ineffective. There is already a natural bias against the Christian worldview. Demonstrating a worldly hostility and opposition causes those in power to discount our view as an extremist position, and we fail not only in our obligation to be subject to rulers and authorities, but also in being salt and light in a lost world.
Demonstrating respect, being subject, being salt and light, does not mean we compromise our position. In fact, if our position is grounded in scripture and we are certain of its correctness, we should be passionate about it. But being passionate does not mean personally attacking the character of someone who holds a different position. That only diminishes our credibility and makes us look extremist, which adds to the credibility of the opposite position. Even if changing someone’s mind about something seems impossible to us, our passion can be clearly demonstrated without attacking another person’s character, especially when doing so is called out as sinful in the scripture. God may want to use our passion to change someone’s mind, and with Him, nothing is impossible.
Paul rebuked those who called the people of Crete “liars, evil brutes and lazy,” and he called their actions detestable. Though they claimed to be on God’s side, Paul said that their actions denied that they were. In a world where morals have been turned upside down, and in which our democracy has become politically polarized and divisive, Christ is still the light of the world, and Christians should not compromise their ability to be light bearers.