A few weeks ago I noted on that great social media outlet, facebook, that I was not one to broadcast my political opinions via the impersonal Internet. Today, I am going to retreat from that position a bit, but I won’t be uplifting the Republican or the Democratic parties, which is the real debate I want to avoid right now. Instead, I will be highlighting the political and social nature of the church.
Let me say this, the democracy that we enjoy in the United States of America is probably the best human system that we have, but it is a human system and will pass. The thought that our democracy will create utopia is misleading, that if only we vote the “right” way, we will see the world put right. Only when the Kingdom of God is consummated will we see a great restorative political system, namely the governance of God. Until then, imperfect people, including you and me, will operate all worldly systems, even our best of systems like democracy.
When someone mentions the social nature of the church, others often gasp, and often for the right reasons. Many issues of social justice that have been taken on by various segments of the church (mainly the left side) have done so in the wrong spirit and by the wrong means, a topic I will return to presently. However, before speaking of the proper and improper social engagement of the church, I must say this. Those who gasp at the idea of social justice, or better yet, social holiness (mainly the right side), have often gone in the opposite direction, making faith all about the private and individual life, ignoring our social responsibilities altogether.
That position is so confusing to me, especially since the religious right is often so bold in the proclamation of faith. Consider this: As Christians, there should be no area of life in which we do not act as Christians. Whether it is eating, sleeping, laughing, voting, worshiping, whether it is mundane or extraordinary, we should be Christian. Anything less is falling short. Do not compromise your life by compartmentalizing your life. What we do in the public sphere should be guided by our identity in Christ, bottom line.
The Christian church in America has allowed the world to squelch its power in the subtlest of ways. The democratic process that so many a Christian American is proud of is the very system that snuffs out the light we are to allow to shine forth. It is the bushel basket of “civilized” Christian people, both of the right and the left. How is this so?
We make our social agenda all about voting. We expend all our efforts during this political season on telling people why we as Christians should, for goodness sakes, vote democratic or republican. We, in turn, hide behind our vote. We say things like, “Well, if my party does not win, then it’s the end. There is no more hope.” Let me politely say: How dare you! Neither the republican nor the democratic parties are our hope. If there is a community that is to make a difference in the world, it is the church. Do not turn your back on her. Political parties come and go, but His church endures as His very public presence to the world.
The sort of dependency that the church places on secular political parties cripples us from acting. If we expend all our efforts trying to promote our morality through our vote, then we are left saying, “Well, at least I tried. Don’t blame me,” when our party loses the race. But, is that it? Are we off the hook if the world around us, which always opposes us, wins out in the political arena of voting?
We need to ask ourselves, what is our primary identity as Christians, is it our Republican or Democratic allegiance, our Americanism, or is it our citizenship as members of the Kingdom of God. If the church has a conviction on a particular political topic, then we should not outsource our agenda to some other community. We should promote our beliefs primarily from within, taking on issues ourselves.
As James 2:14-17 points out, those things we see as injustices become our problem. If we see suffering, we not only bless the needy, but offer assistance. If we see someone involved in a situation we think is wrong, we not only point our finger; we take on the issue ourselves. We not only proclaim the truth by saying, “You are wrong.” We put hands and feet to our beliefs by saying, “Now let me carry this burden with you.” Is that not the way of Christ? What if He had come to the Earth and said, “Be better,” but did not take our injustices upon Himself? We would still be lost.
So, we speak to the would-be-mother who is considering abortion. We should not simply point our fingers and say, “You screwed up, now live with it.” No, we, as the church, are called to be God’s means of healing. We are to offer assistance for whatever is needed to bring blessing from a bad situation. We proclaim truth, “God is for life,” and then we too act as if we believe what we say. We promote life by offering the mother counseling, shelter, legal representation in an adoption process, whatever it might take; we are there until the end. Until we as the church begin to act primarily out of our community (the church), we need to keep quite on moral issues. For we are proving that we do not believe in them enough when we do not act on them as the church and instead yell at the worldly government until we are red in the face.
Should we ignore our voting privileges? No, vote away, but do not allow your vote to be your primary means of bringing justice to the world. Challenge the church both universal and local to be the hands and feet of Christ, not just His mouthpiece.
Instead, be salt and light to a lost and hurting world by being a city (a community) that lives out His good works, not through secular parties, but as the church (Matthew 5:13-16). I, for one, am glad that God’s plan is not up for a vote: We are commanded to go and to live as His people!
Now go and live as His people.