Christians and Public Life: Politics, Culture, and Bearing the Light of the Gospel
Christians, since our first parents fell from a pristine garden head-long into the morass of sin so long ago, the inability of their heirs to extricate themselves from the moral swamp that is our nature has been the salient characteristic of human history.
Yet redeemed in Christ, His followers are called by Him to live in a manner worthy of His Name, of His character and His commission. Among the ways we’re called to do so:
- Demonstrating in our own lives that His way is good, and that those who know and follow Jesus have found grace and truth;
- Defending the weak, healing the broken, welcoming those fractured by the dissolution of their families, and upholding our God-given right and mandate to live-out, without repression, the implications of our faith in His Son;
- Proclaiming that His standards are here for both individual and social well-being, and that when followed, we gain “a culture in which human life is valued, families flourish, and religious liberty thrives.”
- Affirming that His self-revelation in creation, our consciences, and our reason is sufficiently clear for us all, Christians and non-, to understand what’s morally right and wrong for us personally, in families, in civic life, and in the professions;
- Creating and celebrating “the good, the true, and the beautiful” such that all aspects of our lives reflect the loveliness of our Creator; and
- Sharing the good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins, rose from the grave, and is Lord of all, and that He offers new and eternal life to all who will trust in Him alone for forgiveness.
To the second bullet, no one is weaker than an unborn child, and no one more vulnerable to predation than her mother at a time of crisis. No one is broken like the person who has departed from God’s plan for human sexuality. No one is needier than a child needing a father or a woman deserted by her husband. And no one can fully realize the nature of his humanity, that of being an image-bearer of God, without the freedom not only to worship Him privately but also to obey Him publically.
Yet we know that complete victory is impossible: As long as sin remains man’s inherent lot, God’s Kingdom, something Jesus warned us is “not of this world” (John 18:36), can never be built on earth. If we say we can usher-in Revelation’s promised “new earth” (Revelation 21:1) without Jesus, we would do well to reflect on a place called Babel.
On the other hand, if all we want is a place of political ease, one in which cultural comfort is the norm, we follow a false god. While the broad affirmation of Judeo-Christian values is, in any culture, welcome, it is insufficient. Social serenity in a world whose prince is darkness itself should never be the disciple’s chief end. We deceive ourselves if we think that those who disagree with us will just slink away if Christian values become more well-received in our culture and reflected more closely in our laws.
What, then, do Christians want? We cannot achieve comprehensive transformation. We are obligated to do justice and stand for righteousness. We will never be without opposition, at least if we’re living as God wants. And as the foundations of American cultural and political life crumble, that opposition will become increasingly savage and uncompromising.
We need to seek to do good to all men, in matters private and public. We need to take into our homes the abused and discarded. We need to advance legislation that affirms human dignity, opportunity, and hope. Private acts, public law. Both.
We need to be obedient to God. This means being winsome and gracious, bold and truthful. These qualities are not mutually exclusive, especially since Jesus embodied them (Matthew 21:12, Mark 10:13-16, John 1:14).
Toward some, we must be respectfully but firmly confrontational (Proverbs 28:1). Toward others, we must be gentle and aim to persuade (Proverbs 15:1). In doing both, depending on the people involved and the needs of the moment, we uphold the truth and proclaim grace.
Truth without grace is only severity. Grace without truth is mere sentiment.
Some argue that if only Evangelical believers were “nicer,” society would be less disposed to stereotype and dislike us. There is never any justification for being obnoxious or dehumanizing others. Yet however warm we are in the presentation of truth, there will be those who hate us; Jesus promised this (John 15:8). Christians are to be patient and persuasive, but we do well to remember that the most gracious Man Who ever lived was nailed to a cross. It’s not all about grace or all about truth. Both/and, now and forever.
We also need to focus on the things that matter most to God in the moment in which we live. Here in the United States, what are those things? I submit that the most salient issues are the destruction of 2,700 unborn children daily and the victimization of their mothers; the hydra of radical sexual autonomy as the highest good; the pending abolition of the family as grounded in one man and one woman in covenantal union, for life; and the pre-governmental duty of man to God and the consequent necessity of the state to safeguard our ability to live-out this duty as individuals conceive it (as long as such a conception does no violence to others).
This is not to suggest that a number of other issues, whether related to race, economic injustice, crime, and so forth are not important.
Yet nothing is more final than death, and death’s most cherished handmaiden in our time is unrestricted access to abortion on demand.
Nothing is more beautiful than sexual expression as intended by the One Who designed it, and nothing more debasing than sexual expression that deviates from that design.
Nothing is more foundational to human well-being and societal flourishing than the family, and as the family as we have known it starts fading like Alice’s Cheshire cat, children suffer and adults are wounded.
Nothing is more fundamental to our very beings than the fact that we bear the image and likeness of God. Thus, when Christians’ capacity to relate to Him as we believe He desires is curtailed by the state, the fullness of what it means to bear that image is diminished.
Prudence in judgment and persuasion in appeal must be the guardians of our witness. Principled compromise is sometimes achievable. As we exercise sound political and cultural judgment and seek to convince our fellow citizens of the goodness of our agenda, we can do much good and dissuade at least some of our countrymen from courses that will only hurt them and all of us.
However, some compromises are inherently unprincipled and must never be made. Whether that relegates believers to minority status or not is immaterial. We serve an eternal King, not temporal cultural approval.
Whatever the outcome of our endeavors, American Christians engaged in the public life of our nation (and to one degree or another, that should be all of us) must imitate their Savior in character and wisdom, courage and faithfulness, now and until He returns, regardless of political outcomes.
This is why we serve and contend as we do, for by so doing we herald the Gospel to a sin-besotted world, whether overtly or more subtly. Jesus is Lord, is real, and is the one true Light Who offers forgiveness and everlasting hope to all men.
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