Not long ago, I had a conversation with a Christian friend of mine about the intersection of race and politics. I told him that, personally, it would be very difficult to vote for anyone who is pro-choice and does not believe the most vulnerable among us should be protected. My friend is also a pro-life Christian, yet because he is Black, I asked him if it was a difficult choice whether to vote for Barack Obama, who was ardently pro-choice but who became the first Black president.
He said it was far more difficult than I could imagine. Why? While my friend values life in the womb, he also saw immense hope in having the first Black president who might help bring justice to many people outside the womb. While he never told me how he voted, it was instructive to see how differently we approach voting even though we share common pro-life beliefs.
Why bring this up? Given how heated politics can become, it is vital we do not let differences unnecessarily divide us as Christians or prevent us from loving our neighbors with the rebellious love of Jesus that is committed to truth and justice amid our noisy world.
If all people are made in the image of God, as Jesus taught, then political activism should be concerned with the welfare of our fellow human beings. In his letter to the Israelites in Babylonian captivity, the prophet Jeremiah instructed them to build homes, plant gardens, marry and have kids, and “seek the welfare of the city” (Jeremiah 29:5-7).
In other words, they must pay attention to loving their new neighbors in Babylon! As Christians, politics is a way of loving others. Rather than voting for personal benefit, for instance, we should vote for what is in the best interest of society. Even though you most likely aren’t in a place to actively influence the politics of your country, this general idea can begin right now for you. Seek the welfare of your school. Seek the best for your friends, classmates, and teachers. Find a way to improve the lives of the people in your community. Build relationships with people who see the world differently, and care for them. Bettering the world of those you live with is what the Christian approach to politics is all about.
Specifically, Scripture teaches at least four key commitments that must shape Christian political thinking. First, the stranger is my neighbor. Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan to indicate that we have a duty to treat our neighbors lovingly (see Luke 10:29-37), and Jesus expanded the definition of who our neighbors are to include people who are not like us and even our enemies. Second, regardless of race, sex, or age, every human life must be protected, as all humans have been made in the image of God (see Genesis 1:27). Third, care for the poor and marginalized is crucial, as God cares for the poor (see Deuteronomy 15:7-11; Psalm 140:12; Proverbs 14:31). And fourth, we must seek justice. Scripture calls both individuals and the state to act justly (see Micah 6:8; Psalm 72).
The question is not if Christians should be involved in politics and work toward the betterment of society but rather what is the best way to do so. While Christians have often fallen short of living out biblical principles, many Christians have worked through the political system for tremendous societal good, including abolishing slavery, advancing women’s rights, building hospitals and orphanages, and fighting sex trafficking.
Does this mean all efforts at doing good are equal? No! For example, many young people today are drawn to socialism. Since socialism promises to care for the poor, unlike “greedy capitalism,” many young Christians are drawn to support it.
Scripture certainly commands us to care for the poor. But one problem with socialism is that it fails to take human nature seriously. It places tremendous confidence in a large government that is not anchored by a biblical view of human sinfulness. As a result, it has failed unilaterally as an economic system. Socialism promises to eliminate poverty and create prosperity. In reality, however, socialism only brings harm whenever and wherever it is tried.
Here’s the key takeaway: Christians cannot rely upon good intentions but must support programs that genuinely help people. Don’t support a program just because it is part of your preferred political party. Consider supporting it only if it genuinely helps people. Good intentions alone help no one. In fact, as in the case of socialism, they can hurt people.
Recently, I had a debate with an influential atheist who argued that secularists merely want a public voice and are not working to remove religion. When I asked him why he is not more charitable to Christians who believe marriage involves only a man and a woman, he said that Christians are mean-spirited and should be silenced. Do you see the irony? On the one hand, he claimed that secularists merely want a voice, but on the other hand, he wanted to silence religious people who differ. Here’s the reality: many secularists do want a society void of public religion.
Secularists and Christians both have views of the nature of marriage.2 The government will enforce one or the other. It can’t legislate both. Have you ever heard someone say, “You can’t legislate morality”? That’s false! Every law legislates some morality. The question is not if the government will legislate morality but what morality it will legislate.
As Christians, our goal is not to create a “Christian society.” The primary institution Jesus came to establish is the church. But we must be prepared to make good arguments for why our views, shaped by a Christian worldview, are in the best interest of society and thus are the ones that should be legislated.
Here are four quick suggestions for thinking Christianly about politics.
1. Realize that every news source has a bias. The next time an important story breaks, watch both CNN and Fox News to see how differently they cover the story. Both have biases that frame how they view and discuss an issue.
2. Recognize that the modern practice of politics is driven by emotion. Political candidates view themselves as brands who use every means at their disposal—TV, blogs, podcasts, and social media—to try and relate to the public in a personal way. Be aware of how you may be persuaded by emotion.
3. Study both sides of an issue. Most people make up their minds because of what their friends or family believe. Go deeper. Ask questions and listen to people from different sides. Commit to finding truth as best you can. Be open to change.
4. Make sure you are motivated by love (see 1 Corinthians 13:1-3). The goal is not to win an argument. The goal is not to gain power. Our greatest goal must be to vote for and embrace policies that truly lead toward the flourishing of our neighbors. Remember: Christian political thinking should be driven by the rebellious model of Jesus that is committed to truth and justice but always done in love.