Politics & Unity

  Author: Tim Bouffard

Something to think about...

Its an election year! For months now, the media, families, coworkers school discussion groups and even Sunday School classes have been thinking about, discussing and debating a vast array of issues, the merits (or lack thereof) of the Republican hopefuls for the presidency and the chances of the current president being elected to a second term. Everyone has an opinion and today, there are more ways of communicating your opinion than ever before. The internet, social media and mobile devices make for a veritable universe of communication possibilities. And all of the communication reminds us that politics continues to be a divisive topic - even among like-minded Christians. I have been thinking about this lately and invite you to read an edited portion of an email message I recently sent to a friend. Hopefully it will stir us to consider more deeply what it means to be a follower of Jesus living in a politically free nation while bearing a responsibility to love each other well.

Even the most like-minded people tend to disagree about politics.  As you well know, you can and should expect that people will disagree with your positions and at times take umbrage with your arguments, just as you will, at times, disagree with their arguments and positions.  We should be able to discuss, argue and explain our political convictions in a respectful manner while expecting differences of opinions.  This idea simply makes sense and is a reality that is as certain as the rising and setting of the sun.

Of course, as Christians, we need to make a serious consideration of spirituality as it relates to political discourse. We are, first and foremost, citizens of heaven. Our earthly citizenship must be viewed through the lens of our spiritual reality - redemption. I think it is most wonderful and expressive of God's wisdom that, outside of Old Testament Israel (which was an exception for a specific purpose), scripture does not delineate in detail how human government is to be formed. What informs my political perspective the most is Paul's approach to human government during his ministry as an apostle. He was a Roman citizen and used the rights and privileges of his citizenship to his advantage. We can and should do the same. At the same time, Paul viewed God's authority as higher than governmental authority and therefore chose at times to obey the higher authority, even if it meant suffering at the hands of the lower authority. Also, Paul never looked to human government or to political process as the answer to all of man's problems or as the most effective means by which he could encourage the spread of the gospel. He certainly worked within the confines of government and encouraged obedience to human authorities so long as it did not significantly differ from that of God's authority. But he knew and functioned from the conviction that true change in culture and among nations would ultimately come from the inside out as individuals embraced the gospel and became citizens of heaven and therefore, better citizens of their nations. How all of this specifically plays out will vary from person to person and country to country.  The expression of our faith in the political process as Americans looks quite different from that of the faith-expression in the political process of Chinese Christians living in rural parts of communist China. But that is the beauty of Christianity. It transforms us, not in order to make political rebels out of us, but to make spiritual rebels out of us. Sometimes, that may result in political revolution. The American Revolution certainly was motivated by spiritual convictions, among other things. Sometimes, that may result in peaceful revolutions like that of Gandhi in India. Sometimes, that may result in intellectual and legislative revolutions like that ignited by Wilberforce in England in response to slavery. But our faith always has an influence, and our political and somewhat personal run-ins with fellow believers should ultimately be spiritual interactions.

If these interactions are something less than respectful exchanges of political belief and opinions between fellow believers, then my suggestion is that you politely decline invitations or incitements to dialogue about the issues. My own opinion, and I stress that this is my opinion, is that dialogue of this nature via non-personal, easy-to-lob-disrespectful-diatribes avenues, do very little to seriously challenge people's political views. There must be a better way, or else it is not worth your precious time, emotional energy, cognitive abilities or spiritual passion.

One last thought - keep in mind the admonition of Jesus that if we have sinned against a brother or sister in the faith or if we have been sinned against by a brother or sister in the faith, that we have an obligation to go to that person for the purpose of relational reconciliation. That is not to say that we should insist that they agree with us nor that we should compromise our own convictions for the sake of peace. But we have a duty in light of the humble sacrifice of Jesus to live in peace with each other, even when we disagree with each other. Sadly, the battles fought between Christians in regards to political views, the finer details of forms of worship and non-essential doctrines have done much damage to our testimony as followers of Jesus. But when we choose to live in unity, even when we don't agree on some issues, we show the world the love of God and they will be drawn to Jesus. And after-all, that is the greatest hope.