I have the privilege and challenge of serving as a pastor on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, the heart of American politics. That means that a number of our members are directly involved in politics. Even those who are not cannot escape the conversation. I love that our church includes the right and left, from libertarians to socialists and everyone between, and maybe even beyond. It is a beautiful reflection that the Body of Christ is not tied to a political party.
While it can be argued that, in James Davison Hunter’s words, “Politics is always a crude simplification of public life, and the common good is always greater than its political expression,” it is also true that political engagement is important. I have encouraged our politicos to engage in their work in particularly Christian ways, working toward gospel-informed ends on both sides of the aisle. That doesn’t mean that it is an easy task. In light of passages like 1 Peter 3:14-16, how do you honor someone with whose views you profoundly disagree? Here are some thoughts to at least start the conversation:
1. Acknowledge that office is gained by God’s decree.
The clear teaching of Romans 13 is that people in authority hold their power by the ordinance of God, though the biblical principle has been skewed in the minds of many Christians. It is too easy to begin to believe that we are the ones in real power. While it is true that there is a civic and personal responsibility to engage in the political process, it is also true that Christians believe in a God who is sovereignly involved in the world He created. Resting in God’s sovereignty will shape the tone of a Christian’s political engagement.
2. Embrace the fact that all people are created in God’s image.
Christians must stand for the inherent value and dignity of all people. This is true from the womb to the tomb, and should inform Christians in political engagement. If truly believed, it will also shape the way we engage in discussion and debate. It is important to realize that neither side has a corner on biblical values, and those who disagree with you still bear God’s image.
3. Be very careful with the language you use to criticize.
See points 1&2 above. If elected officials serve under the sovereignty and at the appointment of God, and if they are human beings who bear God’s image and likeness, then they are due to be treated with dignity and love. This will show in the language used to critique and criticize. And if you ever make the jump to Hitler, you’ve probably lost any audience before they can hear your more thoughtful points.
4. Be fair and objective in presenting someone else’s views.
Restating their arguments in a way with which they would agree should be the starting point, the entry fee to political dialogue. In fact, you should work to make their argument better than they do. This shows a level of respect and love in understanding a person and their position. It also, frankly, sets things up to make better arguments overall.
5. Appeal to Scripture appropriately.
Christians bristle at being called bigots. And they should. Too often, though, Christians merely support themselves in arguments related to a secular government by quoting a Bible verse as if it is a recognized authority in that sphere. To simply quote a verse with the gusto of, “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it” might actually be bigotry. It is possible to argue for biblical and moral principles as vital to the greater good of the nation and the people who inhabit it without resorting to proof-texting arguments with references to a text that is not an assumed authority in the broader cultural context.
6. Pray for your opponents.
When the Apostle Paul commands prayer for others in 1 Timothy 2:1-4, he was not angling toward prayers of fire and damnation against people. Instead, it was for the sake of people’s salvation as they saw Christians leading a peaceful, quiet, godly, and dignified life. Surely those same adjectives should apply to Christians now as we engage in political dialogue, especially with those with whom we disagree.
7. Remember the place of Christians in this world.
John Piper has said, “The greatness of Christian exiles is not success but service. Whether we win or lose, we witness to the way of truth and beauty and joy. We don’t own culture, and we don’t rule it. We serve it with brokenhearted joy and longsuffering mercy, for the good of man and the glory of Jesus Christ.” Amen.