Christians and politics? It's complicated.

September 20th, 2016

So, over the past seven weeks we’ve looked at how to keep your spiritual equilibrium during this political season. We’ve suggested that God is asking us to fix politics — and then explored some special gifts we have to offer. We’ve asked what matters in a candidate, and how politics and religion intersect, even in a nation that prides itself on the separation of church and state.

Now — at last! — we turn to ask what God’s thoughts might be on the big issues of our day, like race, the right to life (or choice), poverty, immigration, marriage, war, guns and a few others. I wish it were simple. Political question #1? Here is a Bible verse that settles it! Question #2? Another verse. But no single Bible verse clinches anything. We read the Bible across a gulf of 2000+ years and on the other side of the world, in a vastly different culture and technological epoch. The Bible itself exhibits much complexity…

…which is strangely helpful, as our problems today are complex and aren’t fixable by easy solutions. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the mess we’re in didn’t develop suddenly in the last session of Congress or in a single Supreme Court decision. Multiple events, cultural drift, a decision that at the time was outstanding but had unforeseen results hidden inside. We live in a fallen world, and we are broken, sinful people — the most maddening result of which is we constantly find ourselves having to choose between two unhappy options. As the people of God, we understand well how healing and change happen only after much discipline, years of reformation, and patient, dogged labor. Any Christian answer realizes “It’s complicated.”

Yet another complication, which unravels any easy Christian answer we might devise, is that we live in a country where law is accountable to the Constitution, not the Bible — and the percentage of Christians is shrinking. So we can’t take something Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount or a paragraph out of one of Paul’s letters and press it into duty as American jurisprudence.

And one more complication! Many believers feel called by God to focus on a single issue, and they wind up voting on that one big thing, like abortion, or inclusivity, or war. I do not fault any Christian whose avocation is to press for one thing. But I would ask single-issue voters to have mercy on other Christians who might reflect on the broad spectrum of issues (or even zoom in on a different single issue) and not mutter disgust (“How could a Christian be for that candidate?”). 

I like to remind myself and others that God cares about all issues that impact humanity, and that we also are not always cognizant of the way what happens in one zone of life impacts another. You may care about the right to life; but how do issues of poverty or race compound the desperation or confusion that lead to decisions around life? How does race factor in to whatever we think about guns, or housing?

As Christians, we can’t help being idealists; God would always have us dream of the best conceivable world, even the dawning of God’s kingdom. We yearn for pristine goodness, and we want to be upright. But the way there is steep and rocky; patience, humility and prayer are required. It’s complicated.

Read Rev. Howell's previous 'Tis the Season articles covering the 2016 election here. This article originally appeared on the author's blog. Reprinted with permission.

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