Christian Witness in a Partisan World

Last year I wrote the most read post of my short blogging career. You Can’t Be a Christian and Vote for…was viewed by thousands of people in the course of a few days (not viral but huge readership for my work). At that time we hadn’t even gotten into the full ugliness of the 2016 elections and no pollster at the time gave Donald Trump much of a chance of winning the race. So much has changed over the past 10 months and now we live in a divided and partisan world that since the election has simply lobbed attack after attack on the other side.

The title “Christian” is used by both liberals and conservatives to propped up and support their positions. Each group wants to co-opt the church and Christianity into its side and agenda. The problem is that when we look at the whole of Christian theology and doctrine it is not really possible to put it into a conservative or liberal box because it breaks the mold and is sometimes “liberal” and sometimes “conservative”. The real issue is how do we live as Christians and have an authentic witness to a world that is so bitterly divided.

I believe that we start by recognizing that there is a difference between our politics/the nation-state and our faith/the Kingdom of God. What this simply means is that no nation is the chosen nation of God; instead, God has chosen the church to be the embodiment of his presence in the world. It is the church that is working to realize the eventually establishment of God’s Kingdom on earth. There will be no flags flying on that day nor rulers claiming dominion but all things will bow the the authority of God and God’s Kingdom will stand alone. Therefore, while we participate in the politics of the nation-state we do so as citizens who recognize that their ultimate allegiance and devotion belong to God. This separation can help put things into perspective. Check out what St. Augustine wrote after the fall of the Roman Empire in City of God:

Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self.  The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord.  For the one seeks glory from men; but the greatest glory of the other is God, the witness of conscience.  The one lifts up its head in its own glory; the other says to its God, “Thou art my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.”  In the one, the princes and the nations it subdues are ruled by the love of ruling; in the other, the princes and the subjects serve one another in love, the latter obeying, while the former take thought for all.  The one delights in its own strength, represented in the persons of its rulers; the other says to its God, “I will love Thee, O Lord, my strength.”

We as Christians are citizens of the city of God and there are vast differences in how we are to act towards others because of this citizenship. When looking at scripture I believe that 1 Corinthians 13:4-6  can be used as a guide to help us live out a Christian witness in the midst of so much fighting and bickering.

  • Love is Patient: We must take time in forming our opinions. It is better to think slowly and then respond than rushing towards conclusions based on little information. Also we need to give others the time to respond in our conversations across political differences. That way they can present their best ideas and not simply spout off unhelpful rhetoric.
  • Love is Kind: To have a Christian witness in this divided world a great place to start is with kindness towards others. To work and speak with people not focused on “taking them down” or “winning the argument”. To show genuine care and compassion for others especially those who would least expect it.
  • Love is not Envious: As we engage with others we don’t get trapped in looking at what they have and what we don’t. Additionally, I think this also means that we don’t approach political or religious discussions as a zero sum game where there can only be a winner and a loser but rather seek to find a way that all can benefit.
  • Love is not Boastful: It is better to let our actions and results speak for themselves. We do not need to brag about our “side” winning and how great it is to be winners. This only divides the community into groups of “winners” and “losers” but also harshens the rhetoric between groups making conversation almost impossible.
  • Love is not Arrogant: Our Christian witness to the world must be grounded in humility as we seek to truly listen to others and understand different ideas. We should not assume that we already know the best in every situation but be open to learning from others.
  • Love is not Rude: Attacking others, looking to exploit the weak, or taking the opposition down does not promote a Christian witness to the world.
  • Love Doesn’t insist on its own way: Today’s culture attacks those who change position as “flip-floppers” and inconsistent. Changing one’s mind is seen as a problem not an asset. However, as we work with others there are times that changing our mind or not getting our way is a true example of Christian witness.
  • Love is not Irritable or Resentful: We have become hyper-sensitive and easily offended by the remarks and actions of others. This makes conversation across differences difficult because people are not able to speak freely. Instead of finding reasons to be mad or resentful we need to look for ways to make peace.
  • Love does not rejoice in Wrongdoing: Watching opposition leaders fall is often celebrated in the press and social media. People love to see poor choices take down people we view as opponents. However, as Christians we should never be happy when sin destroys lives, careers, and families. Rather we should see it as a reminder that we are all in need of God’s grace and to be careful that we do not fall to temptation.
  • Love Rejoices in the Truth: Sometimes our “side” is wrong and the truth does not help our agenda move forward; however, as Christians we are called to rejoice in the truth at all times because the truth will point people to Christ and his Kingdom will not fail.

As citizens of God’s Kingdom we are called to live out a life that points to God’s Kingdom and the Gospel of Christ that saves all people. This means that instead of dividing on temporal issues we need to unite in witness and service to all the world so that people may know the hope that we have found in Christ.

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