If you’re not keeping track, 2016 is a Presidential Election year in the United States of America. In terms of politics, it’s our national equivalent to the Olympic Games. It happens every four years; national pride and opinion reach a fever pitch, and fate is decided for many who have worked tirelessly for years to reach a certain point of influence or expertise [cue the Olympic theme song as the camera slides over to the smiling yet ever-so-contemplative face of Bob Costas].
Over the last number of weeks I have been thinking and praying not only about certain political issues, but the role of Christians, pastors, and churches in the political landscape. What is the appropriate level of political action or activism for individual Christians and churches?
I believe Christians should be responsible citizens, which means being active and engaged in their political climate on a local, state, and national level. This being what it is, I think Christians should also be aware of the difference between being politically active and engaging in militant political activism. First, here are three calls for the Christian as it relates to politics:
1. Christians should pray.
Being active means “being engaged in action.” Christians should be interested, educated, engaged, and responsible citizens of the country they reside in. Their first and greatest level of engagement should be through prayer. Christians should pray for their nation, fellow-citizens, leaders, lawmakers, judges, military personnel, and everyone else for whom God gives them a burden.
The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.
2. Christians should vote, and be informed about the issues on which they vote.
Beyond prayer, I believe being a responsible citizen means that Christians should vote. Intrinsic to the right and responsibility of voting is being aware and educated on the issues and candidates that one is voting on. This takes engagement, interest, and awareness of how the political landscape is forming and being formed.
1 Peter 2:13-14
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.
3. Christians should serve.
This may mean running for office, serving on the school board, helping at a community center, coaching in local athletic leagues, volunteering on community committees, or any other opportunities that come your way. We should engage, not simply the issues being debated in culture, but the actual people who make up our culture. Jesus said that Christians are to live as “salt and light.”
1 Peter 2:15-17
For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
What about activism? What level of political activism is appropriate in the Christian life?
An activist is someone who engages in activism. Activism is defined as “a policy of taking direct and often militant action to achieve an end.” Should Christians be political activists? This is something that one needs to pray about, seeking godly biblical counsel, and looking at every side of the issue.
With that stated, and this is simply my opinion, but I believe that while Christians should be politically active, they should be prayerfully wary of militant political activism as an end in itself.
Because the mission that Jesus Christ gave his followers is a gospel-centered mission. It is “to make disciples” of Jesus. This is done through preaching the gospel to all people, and living the gospel (that we are saved by Jesus’ work, not by our own works) within our culture. Biblically and historically speaking, the gospel advances through prayer, communicating God’s word, and redemptive relational engagement in people’s lives.
For those Christians bent on militant political activism as a means to “advancing God’s kingdom in culture,” my challenge for you is to find a biblical example of where legislation changed someone’s heart. It seems to me that people’s lives are transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ more so than through the laws we pass. They’re transformed by work of the Holy Spirit, the grace and initiative of God, through Jesus, by the lives we live as salt and light.
It seems to me that legislation is downstream from people’s hearts. When hearts are changed, legislation follows. The gospel advances primarily through the lives we live, not simply the laws we pass.The gospel advances primarily through the lives we live, not simply the laws we pass. Click To Tweet
One caveat: I think Christians should work for justice in culture. This may certainly include working to inform the public and write legislation that advances the cause of justice in any number of ways. An easy example of this is an issue like abortion, about which Christians should pray, vote, and serve in their community for the rights of the unborn.
What if Christians lived as prayerfully-informed-politically-active-gospel-activists?
 Matthew 28:19