6 Suggestions for Christians for Engaging in Politics

[Disclaimer: I wrote this before I read Bryan Roberts’ “7 Things Christians Need to Remember About Politics.” Go read that first–it’s shorter and funnier.]

With the Republican and Democratic National Conventions having taken place over the last two weeks, we can officially say that we’re entering into election season (i.e. that time when the general public begins to pay attention).

A couple friends who pastor churches in non-DC parts of the country asked me if we feel the need to address politics at The District Church, being in the very belly of the beast (my words, not theirs). Specifically, they were asking–given the intense polarization and often-unproductive arguing that we see around us, even in the church–about the need to address how we interact with those who disagree with us.

So far, we haven’t needed to. In our church community, we have Republicans, Democrats, independents, and yes, even people who don’t care about politics; we have Hill staffers, White House staffers, activists, advocates, lobbyists, policy wonks, and more–and we’ve all come together as the body of Christ, recognizing that our allegiance is first to Jesus before any party or even country.

Even so, every four years (or every two, if you pay attention to mid-terms; or all the time, if you’re even more politically engaged), posts about politics pop up with increasing frequency on social media, eliciting often-furious back-and-forths that usually end up doing nothing more than reminding each side how right they are and how stupid the other side is.

So I figured I’d try to offer a few suggestions on how we can engage with one another on matters of politics in healthy ways.

1. Offer Grace.

As Christians, we believe that–as Brennan Manning, Dorothy Day, and numerous others have put it–all is grace. Just as God has been gracious to us in giving us so much more than we deserve, so we are also called to extend that grace to others: don’t presume that just because someone disagrees with you, they’re somehow less clever or less informed; don’t assume that just because someone’s faith doesn’t work itself out the same way as yours, they must therefore not be a Christian. God’s grace is big enough to meet all of us where we are and move us on a journey toward him–that should always be the foundation on which we build.

2. Be Humble.

With grace comes humility–the understanding that there is a God and it is not us, the recognition that there is far more that we do not know than that we do, the attitude of not thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought (Romans 12:3) but of thinking of others as better than us (Philippians 2:3). When we recognize that grace is a gift from God and that the God we serve is far bigger than any disagreements we might have–or even the greatest challenges we might face as a nation and as a world–we are free to work as hard as we can, speak as passionately as we can, and do as much as we can, to change the world for the better, all the while remembering that it does not all depend on us, and that God brings good out of even the most awful things. And so we may walk humbly with our God and interact humbly with one another.

3. Be Civil.

Rich Mouw (president of Fuller Theological Seminary) has written a tremendous book called Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World (that was republished recently), and last year did an interview with NPR about “Restoring Political Civility.” He talks often about the need for civility in discourse even as we maintain our convictions–to paraphrase: believing something strongly doesn’t mean you need to be a jerk about it, nor does getting along with people mean you have to check your beliefs at the door to find the lowest common denominator.

Grace and humility necessitate civility.

4. Work with Facts.

Jon Huntsman, Jr. (one of the Republican presidential candidates this year) said in a recent interview that one of the problems is that everyone appears to have their own facts, which means we’re not even starting from the same point!

Sadly, we live in a time when we can’t just take politicians at their word–there’s just too much spin (and even outright lying). So starting with the facts is always a good thing to do. Factcheck.org and Politifact are two non-partisan groups that do a great job running political claims and statements through the Truth-o-Meter.

Also, Ezra Klein of the Washington Post has a very helpful blog–“Wonkblog”–that keeps me up-to-date with summaries of the latest goings-on.

5. Read and (Carefully) Apply Scripture.

Of course, facts aren’t the whole picture and focusing on individual facets of policy–even if they’re true–can sometimes obscure the larger picture; and we must always view everything through the lens of Scripture and the larger narrative of God.

Just this morning, I was reading Jeremiah 22 and was reminded of the standard to which God called the kings of Judah (and, by implication and extrapolation, any political leader):

Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the immigrant, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place. (v.3)

Are you a king because you compete in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? says the Lord. (vv.15-16)

According to this standard, neither of the standard-bearers for the major parties matches up particularly well. The middle class has gotten a lot of attention, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, since the size and health of the middle class is one gauge of the health of our society.

But a better measure is the welfare of the those who have the least. Scripture is full of references to the poor, and how God is particularly concerned with their plight; for instance, “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God” (Prov. 14:31).

This is the standard to which we should be calling our leaders: doing justice and righteousness; protecting the oppressed, marginalized and vulnerable; and upholding the cause of the poor and needy–those whom Jesus referred to in Matthew 25 as “the least of these.”

[Brief aside: check out “The Line,” a new documentary from Sojourners, World Vision, Bread for the World, Oxfam America, and the Christian Community Development Association, that highlights this very issue. Trailer below.]


6. Be Prayerful

Ultimately, it comes back to God. As the people of God, it has to.

Prayer is not simply a way for us to petition God on the things we’d like to see happen, or to try to get God on our side: “Please let (insert presidential candidate) win!” or “Please keep (insert presidential candidate) from winning!”

It is also, and more importantly, the place where we come to meet with God, and to have our thoughts, our desires, and our wills, transformed by God to be more in line with who he is and what he desires–and reading and understanding Scripture is a good step toward being able to discern those things. Prayer is where we are changed, first–before that person with whom we’re disagreeing, before the policies and structures of our country, before the ossified injustices of our world. Prayer is where we grow our roots in God in order that we may bear fruit in the world.

In prayer, we are likely to be challenged to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God; to lower the accusing finger, to replace the vitriolic Facebook post with a civil one, to refrain from posting that oh-so-funny-but-not-particularly-gracious tweet; to truly love our enemies–that is, any who are opposed to us–and to seek their good.

I wonder if we could truly make this “the most important election of our lifetime,” as so many are wont to say, by showing the world that, as Christians, we are beholden not to a certain political ideology or party, nor to a particular economic or social philosophy, but that we are sons and daughters of the Most High God, who live out our faith with the love and graciousness and conviction and humility that are characteristic of our family.

That would be pretty awesome.

[Photo credits: Romney & Obama, Joe Raedle & Olivier Douliery / Getty Images; Richard Mouw, Fuller Theological Seminary website]

God at work: $100,000

This past year, I’ve had a front row seat–indeed, I’ve been fortunate to be in the thick of the action–as God’s been at work: in my life, in the lives of those around me, and in The District Church. Here are some examples:

  • God’s been at work through prayer in my small group, where we’ve prayed for jobs for four guys (including myself)–each of them is now employed; and we’ve prayed for housing for four more (including myself)–each of them now has a place to live.
  • God’s been at work in my small group period, where today we commissioned three new small groups out of the one I’d been leading. I felt blessed to have so many servant leaders in my group, and am so excited to see all of them stepping into what God has for them.
  • God’s been at work in our church, growing our small community until we’re now stretching the space we’ve been meeting in. We wanted to find a larger space but none of those options worked out, so starting on September 25, we’ll begin having two services on Sunday morning! This is such an exciting time and we believe this is a time God is calling us, to use an analogy from 2 Kings 3, to build ditches in preparation for the rain.

And most exciting of all …

Last Sunday, we commemorated the 10th anniversary of 9/11 at our church, and in his message, Aaron spoke about how “True Awakening Leads to Reform” (we’re currently doing a sermon series drawn from Habakkuk and Acts, entitled “Awaken”). He expanded on the op-ed he’d written in the Washington Post to mark the occasion, in which he’d written to the Muslim community to apologize for the ways that we as Christians had allowed our pride and prejudices to cloud our witness. And so on Sunday, as a small act of reconciliation, we took up an offering for our Muslim brothers and sisters who are suffering from the famine in the Horn of Africa–Somalia, hardest hit, is 99% Muslim. Through various other movements of the Holy Spirit, we had offers to match whatever we raised by up to 7 times. Still, we were conscious of our size–we’re only about 150–and so we were ready to be thrilled regardless of the amount raised.

I suppose I should have left this email untitled to maintain the surprise. But when all was said and done, we as a church raised almost $15,000, and with the matching donations, we were able to raise $100,000 for famine relief efforts.

$100,000!!

This was such humbling and spine-tinglingly exciting news, such an encouragement for me as a leader of a community of such amazingly generous people, and such a reminder that God is at work, doing great things even in the face of great suffering and tragedy.

May we all (continue to) see God at work in all things.

“The Calling”: Different Faiths, Common Humanity

Sojourners/God’s Politics just posted my preview of the forthcoming PBS documentary, “The Calling,” which follows the journeys of several people of different faiths who follow a calling to become professional clergy. Snip:

Both of my brothers are now pastors, and I also recently followed this “calling” into pastoral ministry, so it was fascinating for me to see and hear the stories of these seven. They include Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and Muslims. The documentary served not only to educate me in the ways of clerical training in the other great faiths, but also to emphasize our common humanity even amid our differing spiritualities.

Check out the full blog here. And the trailer here:

Do all paths lead to God?

… is a question that gets asked a lot.

Fred Clark over at slacktivist always offers insightful and grounded theology, and commenters on his blog tend to be genuinely interested in dialogue and conversation. All of which I appreciate greatly.

As I do his response to the question, “Do all paths lead to God?” Here’s a snip:

We Christians believe that one of the attributes of God is omnipresence. It’s hard to know what to make of a question about paths leading or not leading to someone who is, by definition, everywhere.

“You hem me in, behind and before,” the Psalmist says:

Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there …

That whole omnipresence thing really wreaks havoc with spatial metaphors like “all paths lead to God.” But even apart from that, the question makes no sense not just because of the nature of God, but because of the nature of paths.

Read the full post here.