It’s Time to Rethink Christianity in Politics
Editor’s Note: “I don’t use the word ‘Christian’ anymore,” a wise person said to me last year. “Instead I use the phrase ‘follower of Jesus’."
If we are honest, the term Christian has morphed to mean something simply other than following Jesus, especially in American political culture. Somehow “Christian in politics” has become an odd mix of strident fear, manufactured outrage, and power-hungry pomp. What’s even odder, though, is that while there’s talk of needing leaders of faith, or needing statesmen who read the Bible, or elected officials who pray, we’ve completely forgotten the story we are called to live. We’ve forgotten that Christianity—the gospel—should be good news.
What’s odd is that our calling to show compassion to the helpless, and bring order instead of chaos to our work, and be the living embodiment of the hope of Christ on earth, has all too often been deserted for the sorry tale of being the living embodiment of anger, letting our anger perpetuate chaos, and in our chaos condemning the helpless, whether born or unborn, citizen or refugee.
We can turn this story around, one person at a time. As today’s writer illustrates, a staffer on Capitol Hill is capable of making a difference. It happens one constituent meeting, or one Member letter, or one vote rec at a time. But we can’t stop there—the good news we can’t keep from sharing is that the gospel frees us to engage in politics with light-hearted joy, with a passion for pursuing Truth and Beauty in unison until the day they are fully living in each of us, when we are fully alive, when we are set free.
-Caleb Paxton, LIBERATUS Founder
RETHINKING CHRISTIANITY IN POLITICS
I was raised in a classic Christian, conservative home. We lived in the south, had an unofficially assigned pew at church on Sunday, told bedtime stories about Ronald Reagan, and voted for whoever convinced us that they were the type of candidate who would keep Christ in Christmas. I understand what it means to “Court the Evangelical Voter.” That being said, I believe it is past time for Christians to have an honest conversation about what it means for our faith to impact our politics.
I started seriously considering this a few weeks ago, during March for Life. I had no idea it was happening until Jonas hit, and our office let us out early that Friday afternoon. The snow had already fallen into a thin blanket on the ground, and I was moving quickly with my hood up and headphones in, trying to beat the blizzard to my home. However, as I was walking past the Capitol, I couldn’t ignore the noise coming from the direction of the Supreme Court. This wasn’t the sound of a passionate protest; this was the cry of hurt, fearful people. Against my better judgment, I moved toward the chaos, finding a crowd at the intersection of the pro-life and pro-choice crowds, congregating at the heart of the American justice system. There was a pro-life man on the steps, essentially preaching a sermon, with his supporters marching militantly and carrying signs covered in condemning Scriptures. In the center were their pro-choice counterparts, desperately yelling about a woman’s right to choose.
As I stood there, all I could think about was the Scripture I’d read in John 8:1-11 the night before about the woman caught in adultery. As the story goes, Jesus was preaching in the temple when the Pharisees and teachers of the law brought her to the front saying that she had been caught in adultery and according to the law she had to be stoned. Jesus responds in John 8:7 saying, “Let any of you who are without sin cast the first stone.” Of course each person eventually leaves until it is only Jesus and the woman. Jesus asks if anyone has condemned her and she responds with what must have been the most relieved, “no one.” Then from the pure grace that Jesus is best known for, he responds, “Then neither do I, go and sin no more.”
I realize these situations are by no means perfect comparisons. However, I think they show a stark contrast of how far Christian politics has fallen from the truth of the Gospel. When I left the protest that day, I had tears streaming down my face, overwhelmed by what felt like the greatest microcosm of the problems with modern, Christian politics. The message was divisive, it was driven by judgment, and it lacked hope. I believe for the most part the hearts of the people at this protest were good. They believe deeply in the sanctity of new life, but the way they have chosen to portray it seems to be doing more harm than good, specifically to the people on the other side of the argument.
CRAFTING MESSAGES THAT UNITE
One of the first ways Christians can start reimagining how we engage in politics is by crafting messages that do not intentionally divide people. I get it: a good part of politics is taking stances on issues that half of America will disagree with. However, the fact is that most political issues are not inherently Biblical, and we are doing a disservice to the Gospel when we try to rubber stamp narrow Christian justifications on these issues.
Secondly, we need to operate from a place of grace instead of judgment. The truth is that we are all sinners, who deserve wrath, but through the grace of Jesus Christ who died in our place and rose from the grave, we have been given hope. It is so strange to me that with this truth being the central point of Christianity, faith-based political talking points tend to be steeped in judgment. Imagine if instead of people protesting outside abortion clinics, they started volunteering (along with many others already volunteering) at crisis pregnancy clinics, helping women walk through what are incredibly difficult decisions.
VALUING HOPE OVER FEAR
Lastly, as followers of Jesus engaging in politics, every choice we make and word we speak should come from a place of hope instead of fear. Recently, I was talking with Caleb Paxton, Liberatus’ founder about how ultimately everything we do within this organization is with open hands because we know that our hope is in Christ. In contrast, when I think of Christians in politics today, I think of them with clenched fists, so terrified that if we let go for a second everything will crumble.
When Christians begin to govern, speak, and lead from a place of inclusivity, grace, and hope, not only will we have a greater impact on the government, but we will start looking more like Jesus and by God’s grace turning people toward him instead of causing them to run the other direction.
Today's writer is a current Legislative Correspondent in the U.S. House of Representatives.
WEEKLY ACTION ITEM:
You can be part of the movement to bring Truth and Beauty into American politics. Share today’s journal with a friend or colleague by sending an email or by posting on social media.
Cover Photo Credit: Heather Gibbons