Why should Christians bother themselves with politics and public life? After all if the world is not our home and salvation is our chief concern, what use do we have for the realm of politics?
It’s a good question, especially when you consider how fruitless many of our public efforts have been. 40 years after Roe v. Wade and we still have high rates of abortion, prayer is no longer taught in schools, divorce rates are still high, etc. When social trends seem so disproportionately unhelpful, and when others seem to be happy when we don’t engage, what’s the use, surely we are just a “passin through.”
I’d say there are many half truths in statements like these. For instance we ought to be concerned with salvation, but the gospel is about far more than the method of salvation or even a one time experience, the gospel is concerned with bringing all our life, and community life, and even cultural life under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Here’s a helpful illustration. When a 40 year old businessman gets saved, the gospel isn’t just concerned with his devotional life and Sunday worship, instead the gospel is concerned with his home life, his work life, his relational life. The gospel is concerned with bringing all of these elements, the whole person if you will into the Christian way of life.
Another half-truth, we haven’t made much progress in our concerns therefore we should disengage. We’ve tried politics and it hasn’t worked. It’s true we have tried political engagement, but why hasn’t it worked? Well in part we haven’t developed a deeply rooted public theology, but we have also used political tactics and strategies that by their nature fail to bring about change. We have used a knight’s narrative that says we are righteous and good and those who oppose us are wicked and godless. Therefore we will go out and defeat those who oppose us through the ballet box and push for large one party majorities to advance our interests.
When you approach politics in this way, you will strengthen your opponents and you will inevitably end up in the sort of deadlock and loss of moral influence that you see today.
Are we surprised that our approach has sparked a counter-reaction? We shouldn’t be. Whenever you move from the realm of the human conscience to the realm of real politick you will pay a cost. Instead of morals people see a grab for power, and unless you can broaden the tent and influence culture with additional messengers you will never be able to speak about shared values. This is a major stumbling block for the church, because so many of our core concerns are moral in nature, yet we pursue strategies in public life that diminish the very morals we seek to preserve.
Instead of rooting our view in the reality that we are all sinners, and that people by nature will set their ways apart from God, we have rooted our views in a winner takes all approach. We have failed to cultivate the sort of relationships and ideas of the common good that will bring about lasting change. We have assumed that because we are right that things will simply fall into place, and we have neglected our obligations to work with and persuade others that our norms are worth pursuing.
So what does this all mean? It means that true faith does not allow us to abandon culture and politics. If we take the claims of scripture seriously that in Jesus we have the King of kings and Lords of lords, and if we believe his kingdom isn’t just about spirituality and the life of the church, then we need to engage, but to engage we must once again root ourselves deeply in the scriptures and in our understanding of human nature. When we do these things we will start to see the sort of cultivation that is so desperately needed in our day.