This year’s U.S. presidential election may be the most important in my lifetime. Let me be clear: Politics is not the most important thing in life. Being the church, living out day by day what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus, is more important than politics. But politics is still important.
Because politics is often messy, nasty and untruthful, many Christians conclude they should just forget about it.
That, I believe, is a mistake — for practical and theological reasons.
The practical reason: Political decisions have a huge impact on people’s lives. It is through politics that country after country has come to enjoy democracy. It is through politics that nations stopped jailing and killing “heretics.” It is through politics that we restrict or permit abortion, allow or forbid gay marriage, harm or empower the poor, protect or destroy the environment.
The theological reason for political engagement is even more compelling. The central Christian confession is that Jesus is Lord — of the entire universe. The New Testament teaches that he is “ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rev. 1:5). “All authority in heaven and on earth” has been given to the risen Jesus (Matt 28:18). Christians know they must submit every corner of their lives to this Lord.
One way Christians live out our belief that Christ is Lord, even of political life, is to pray for wisdom to act politically in ways that best reflect Christ our Lord.
What is God’s agenda?
How do we let Christ be Lord of our politics? We need:
– A biblically balanced agenda.
– A passion for truth.
– A passion for civility.
What do I mean by a biblically balanced agenda?
If you want to be truly Christian in your politics, you need to ask: What does the Bible say God cares about?
When we read the Bible, it becomes clear God cares about:
– Both the sanctity of human life and economic justice, especially for the poor.
– Both marriage and peacemaking.
– Sexual integrity, racial justice and creation care.
In January, I spoke to hundreds of Christians in Washington at an Evangelicals for Life event. It was held to coincide with the annual March for Life, which calls for an end to widespread abortion on demand.
I said that for decades I have believed and taught that Christians should act on the belief that from the moment of conception we are dealing with persons — human beings made in the image of God. And for decades I have been a part of the movement to reduce abortion both by legislation and through supportive programs to assist unwed pregnant mothers.
But over the years I have also been disturbed by what seemed like a fundamental inconsistency in much of the pro-life movement. They talked a lot about combating abortion but often seemed unconcerned about poverty, starvation, smoking, environmental degradation, racism and capital punishment — all of which also destroy the lives of people made in the image of God. It was not entirely unfair when someone said it looked as if we believed life begins at conception and ends at birth.
It bothered me when I saw that some pro-life leaders opposed government funding to search for a cure so that people with AIDS would be able to live.
It bothered me when a pro-life senator fought to end abortion but then defended government subsidies for tobacco.
It bothered me when pro-life advocates failed to support programs designed to reduce hunger and starvation and save the lives of millions around the world.
Diverse pro-life issues
I agree with Pope Francis, who said when he spoke to Congress last year that the Christian faith teaches “our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.”
Because of global poverty, millions of people die unnecessarily. Every day, 18,000 children under 5 die, mostly from hunger and preventable diseases. That is like 35 jumbo jets crashing every day. Many die of pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria, which are easily treatable. But their poor parents and poor countries lack the resources to provide the inexpensive treatment.
President George W. Bush launched, and President Obama continued, a program that has saved the lives of millions who would have died from malaria or AIDS. But some politicians have called for dramatically cutting this kind of life-saving program. Shouldn’t Christians urge Congress to increase, not cut, effective governmental programs that reduce poverty and prevent unnecessary death?
Smoking is also a pro-life issue. Smoking kills about 480,000 people in the U.S. every year. Around the world, the death toll from smoking rises to about 6 million each year.
Environmental degradation is also a pro-life issue. Global warming, unless we act soon, will cause devastating climate change that will lead to the death of millions of poor people.
Racism is also a pro-life issue. Young black men are far more likely to be shot by white policemen than are young white men.
Capital punishment is a pro-life issue. I have never understood how killing a person guilty of killing another person is the best way to respect the sanctity of human life.
We cannot be one-issue voters. We must have a biblically balanced agenda: pro-life and pro-poor, pro-family and pro-racial justice, pro-sexual integrity, pro-peace and pro-creation care.
Truth and civility
Christian voters must have a passion for truth. God hates lies, and lying is bad for democracy. We should insist on knowing the truth. It is easy to go online to Politifact or Factcheck. Responsible organizations like these can quickly tell you whether what a politician says is true.
Finally, Christians should have a passion for civility. Biblical faith calls us to respect every person, no matter how much we disagree with them, because every person is made in the image of God and is loved by God.
Civility demands we truly listen to those we disagree with so that we genuinely understand what they are saying. Civility refuses to use racist innuendo or to encourage violence.
What’s most important
As citizens of a democracy, Christians should become vigorously engaged in the 2016 election. We should ask about each candidate: Does this person have a biblically balanced agenda? Whose agenda is closer to the full biblical agenda? Is the candidate honest? Civil?
Your action can influence the outcome of this election. If Christ is your Lord, I urge you to use your influence to promote a biblically balanced agenda, encourage honesty and reward civility.
And remember: As members of one Christian family, our oneness in Christ is vastly more important than any political disagreement.
This article is adapted from a March 17 presentation at Christopher Dock Mennonite High School, Lansdale, Pa.