The Means and Methods of Christian Political Engagement

The Means and Methods of Christian Political Engagement

Christian Living

The United States is a unique place. We enjoy innumerable freedoms, prosperity beyond belief, and endless opportunities.

But what makes America especially unique is that our government, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, is a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” In other words, the responsibility for ordering the life of the country falls squarely upon its citizens. We vote, advocate, and even call our representatives to account because we all have a share in the stewardship of this country.

But today, when American politics feels so topsy-turvy, it’s easy to fall prey to the political spirit of our age. The country seems as angry and divided as it’s ever been and, if we’re honest, the church is sometimes guilty of joining in that divisiveness ourselves. But Christians ought to serve as a contrast to much of what we see in the public sphere—not merely as good, civil people, but as those who engage in the way of Christ. So, how can we do that? How can we take seriously the responsibility we’ve inherited in a way that mimics and glorifies Jesus?

Christian Political Engagement

In his book Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel, Dr. Russell Moore writes that “We are Americans best when we are not Americans first.” Stated differently, only when we prioritize our heavenly citizenship and apply its values here and now are we able to exercise our duties as American citizens most faithfully.

In many ways, the economy of American politics is at odds with what we value as Christians. Whereas politics values charisma, the kingdom values humility (Matthew 5:5); whereas politics values power, the kingdom values service (Matthew 20:24–28); whereas politics (in its current form) values and even incentivizes division, the kingdom values peacemaking (Matthew 5:9). There is a gulf, in other words, between the beliefs and ethics embedded in American politics and those we inherited upon gaining citizenship in the kingdom of God. But that doesn’t mean we’re being called to disengage politically; it means we’re called to engage.

Galatians 5 shows us how to live and engage in a different way, as good citizens of both kingdoms: by the Spirit, with the fruit of the Spirit, for the good of our neighbors.

By the Spirit

How can we keep our footing in a cultural-political current rushing so swiftly away from truth? “By the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16).

In a disorienting time like ours, we are called by Christ to “live by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25), to “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18); “be led by the Spirit” (Romans 8:14); “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16); “keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25); and “bear the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22–23). More concretely, living by the Spirit means that we depend on him for guidance in everything we do, from talking politics with family to engaging online to standing up for what’s true and good. A life lived in fellowship with the Spirit is a prerequisite, and ongoing requirement, of faithful political engagement.

Whenever we enter the political sphere, we should always ask, “What would be the most faithful way to honor God in this situation?”

With the Fruit of the Spirit

Much of our politics is seething with a spirit opposed to the way of Christ, wooing our hearts and our tongues to engage in “idolatry,” “hatreds,” “strife,” “outbursts of anger,” “dissensions,” “factions,” “and anything similar” (Galatians 5:20–21). But the people of God are commanded not to “practice such things” (Galatians 5:21).

Instead, when we live by the Spirit we will bear the fruit of the Spirit, engaging others—even those with whom we disagree—with “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23). We must resolve not to act in the way of the world, to fight fire with fire, so that we might be defined by the attributes of God.

For Our Neighbors

Living with the fruit of the Spirit is not merely an internal reality, but a commitment to serve others in a godly manner. Since our system of government, as Lincoln asserted, is “by the people” and “for the people,” we have the opportunity to leverage our political engagement as a means of obeying the great commandment (Matthew 22:37–40)—to create a government that works for our neighbors in love. And there are plenty of ways—large and small—that we can serve and engage for the good of others: we can vote men and women of character into office, advocate for policies that benefit the most vulnerable among us, engage in charitable dialogue with those “across the aisle,” and maybe even run for office ourselves!

We should be involved in politics as an exercise of love for our neighbors.

The muddled state of American politics can be disheartening. And if we’re not careful, we can convince ourselves to throw up our hands and disengage entirely. But we are invited by Jesus to “let [our] light shine before others”—from our homes to the halls of Congress—“that they may see [our] good works and give glory to [our] Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). As you look out over the state of American culture and politics, let your light shine by looking for ways to engage by the Spirit, with the fruit of the Spirit, for the good of your neighbors.

For an in-depth look at the way our faith should inform our political engagement and the specific issues Christians should be involved with, watch For the Health of the Nation, a series RightNow Media produced in collaboration with the National Association of Evangelicals.
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Jordan Wootten

Writer/Content Editor

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