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]

Want to support a young pastor?

Dear friend,

When I agreed to spend Christmas 2009 with Aaron and Amy Graham, little did I know what I was getting myself into. Aaron and I spent a lot of time together, especially as we both attended, and taught at, Urbana 2009 (InterVarsity’s triennial missions conference). We talked a lot about churches, about what we felt God was calling us to, and about what church could look like.

At the time, Aaron and Amy were thinking of planting a church in our neighborhood of Columbia Heights, and a few months later they took the plunge. I’ve been involved with The District Church since we began meeting as a small group of twelve in the Grahams’ living room, through to our public gatherings that began in September with several dozen more people.

After a couple months of discernment, prayer and a lot of time trying to figure out what God wanted to do with me, I felt led to join the staff of the church, which I did on October 31, 2010.

So here I am, the first Leadership Resident of The District Church, which, depending on how you look at it, makes me either a pioneer or a guinea pig … or some hybrid. My responsibilities for the next year and a half essentially cover the gamut of pastoral urban ministry: teaching, preaching (which I did for the first time in mid-December; see right), discipling, chaplaincy, church and community outreach in the neighborhood, and leading worship. (For more on what it means to be a Leadership Resident, you can check out the “About Us” page of our website: www.districtchurch.org.)

Due to the church’s youth and its identity as a non-denominational missional church plant, Aaron and Amy have raised support in order to live and serve full-time. I’m committing to do the same, raising support in order to enable me to serve the church and the city, the church in the city.

To that end, I’m excited to invite you to be a part of what I believe God’s doing in and through me, this church, and this city.

I hope that you will prayerfully consider joining me in helping found this new church in our nation’s capital.

Peace and grace,

Jus.

***

WHY THE DISTRICT CHURCH?

At The District Church, we want to be centered around and excelling in worship, community and justice; we want to be a church that seeks to love God, to love our neighbors, and to love the city to which God had called us. If you look on the church’s website (www.districtchurch.org), one of our first descriptors is “A Church for the City.”

This vision and passion is built upon God’s words to the Israelite people in exile in Babylon in the 6th century BC:

“Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7).

Washington, DC is a fascinating city. On the one hand, it is a city rich in culture and history, a city to which movers and shakers come from all over the world, a city that leads the country in terms of life expectancy, education and income.

And yet it is also a city with devastating poverty, a struggling public education system, and an HIV infection rate higher than many sub-Saharan African nations—it’s estimated that one in every twenty adults in DC has the infection.

People come to DC to change the country, to change the world … and yet changing the city is often overlooked. We want to be a church that seeks to make a genuine, tangible difference in the place to which we have been called.

Moreover, community is hard to find in a city whose transience is so ingrained by the political cycles; in this context, we want to be a church that provides such community to people. People may—and will—leave DC because God calls them to other things, but we don’t want people leaving DC because they couldn’t find a faith community and friends.

***

RAISING SUPPORT

I began raising support in mid-October and by the grace of God and the generosity of family and friends, I’ve already been able to raise $15,000 in support both pledged and given, both one-time and monthly.

To put this into context, I’d budgeted about $2,500 per month (or $30,000 for the year, November to November), which includes rent, utilities, health insurance, food, transportation … everything, really! So I’ve raised half of the support I need for the year, and I’m asking you to help me get the rest of the way!

TO GIVE, PLEASE FILL THIS OUT AND SEND BACK TO justin@districtchurch.org.

I/we would like to offer monthly support by donating on the 1st__ 16th__ of the month:

$500____ $250____ $100____ $50____ $25____ Other____

These contributions will be mailed__ transferred online__ automatically drafted online __

I/we would like to give a special gift of $________

Name:____________________ Phone:________________

Address:______________________

City:______________ State:___  Zip/Postcode:__________

E-mail:___________________________________

You can set up your online giving by visiting www.districtchurch.org, clicking Giving, and selecting the “Leadership Residency” fund in the drop-down menu. You may also make checks payable to “The District Church,” with “Leadership Residency” in the memo, and mail to: PO Box 3116, Washington, DC 20010.

All gifts are fully tax-deductible.

A Thanksgiving Prayer and a Reminder

Praying:

Generous Lord,

We are humbled as we think on all the gifts and blessings you have poured into our lives. Thank you for your love demonstrated in the gift of your Son and the restoration of relationship that we have through the Incarnation.

Keep us mindful of those around us, particularly those who do not have what we often take for granted. As you have been generous to us, may we also be generous to others: in thought, word and deed.

Amen.

Remembering:

Thus says the Lord: 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 alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place. (Jeremiah 22:3)

Knowing what I can't do

“The way of human beings is not in their control, mortals as they walk cannot direct their steps.”

(Jeremiah 10:23)

That’s something God is continuing to show me: that as much as I can do, there is still much that I can’t. So I’ll do what I can and entrust the rest to him. It really is my only option. And it isn’t a bad one at that.