When Donald Trump won the presidency, I asked my editor to hold the presses in case I needed to make some last-minute changes to This Is Our Time.
In one of the chapters, “Never ‘at Home’ in the City of Man,” I offer counsel on how Christians can be faithful to Jesus in the political sphere. After the election, I reread every word of that chapter, considering what should be revised in light of Trump’s victory. Two days later, I let my editor know: “I didn’t change a thing.” The truths in that chapter were just as applicable, if not more so, than they had been in the Obama era.
Falling Into Political Ruts
Five months later, I long more and more for a Christian witness that defies political categories.
Unfortunately, our attachments to political parties make it challenging to be truly prophetic. We fall back into politicized ruts. Our imaginations have been shaped by our partisan affiliations, to the point it becomes difficult to hear the Bible break in with a fresh word.
For example, some Christians are outraged about what they see as clear injustice in recent refugee restrictions, but will appeal to “complexity” when it comes to abortion. Other Christians do the opposite. Thankfully, some Christians defy party lines and in their local churches and communities demonstrate mercy and compassion to mothers in distress and refugees being resettled. But more frequently, these positions fall along party lines, even if human dignity is at stake in both. And even if we, of all people, should be intensely aware of the tendency to fall back into “complexity” as a way of asking “Who is my neighbor?”
Jonathan Haidt explains how it works: “People bind themselves into political teams that share moral narratives. Once they accept a particular narrative, they become blind to alternative moral worlds.”
What happens next? If our “moral world” is formed more by our political party than by Scripture, we will find it easier to overlook or explain away aspects of Christian conviction when people who are part of our political coalition take a different stance. We will be captive to imaginations shaped by the Republican or Democrat parties. We need the kingdom vision of Jesus Christ to break through and rattle the walls of our party politics.
A King Who Defied Categories
We represent a King who defied categories. He consistently raised the bar in how he applied the Old Testament laws, demanding righteousness that far exceeded the hypocritical Pharisees and religious leaders. And yet he demonstrated the utmost compassion for the sinner.
On the one hand, Jesus could take such a hard-line stance against divorce that even the disciples were shocked and wondered if it were better not to marry. On the other, he could speak openly and graciously with a many-times-married Samaritan woman, or act with compassion to the woman caught in adultery. Here is Someone who in one moment was turning over tables in the temple and driving people out with a whip, and in the next was welcoming the blind and the lame into the courts of God Almighty.
A Church That Defies Categories
Like Jesus, we should defy categories. Our witness through our churches and in our communities should defy stereotypes and shut down prejudices.
Christians are to be known for honor in a world that rewards insults. We are to be known for truth in a world that knows only spin. We are to be known for conviction in a world that falls for charisma.
To sacrifice conviction for political power is capitulation.
You may think I am calling for Christians to be “non-partisan” or “apolitical.” I am not.
I am calling for Christians to engage in politics differently, as salt and light in multiple areas, not just in the ones that help us rise in the ranks of the party we belong to. For example, when Chuck Colson advocated for prison reform, he wasn’t worried about being labeled “soft on crime” by those on the right. He took the position he did because his conscience was formed by Christian ethics.
Bold and Humble
I’m reading through C. S. Lewis’s letters this year, and I’ve arrived at 1939 and the start of World War II. Lewis opposed a change to the Church of England’s liturgy that would have asked for prayer for the Allies’ cause as righteous. Lewis felt uncomfortable in presuming such a thing, even as his brother had just been called up for duty.
If there was ever a righteous cause, surely it was defending against the Nazi war machine, right? But even if that was the case, Lewis felt it was stepping into dangerous territory to assume to know the mind of the Almighty on the conflict. His hesitation reminds me of Abraham Lincoln, who once said, “My concern is not whether God is on our side, but whether I am on God’s side, for God is always right.”
There’s humility in that hesitation. There’s wisdom in that desire to be faithful without presumption, to act boldly even though we know we may get things wrong.
If we are going to defy the categories in the next generation, then we should always feel in the world but not of the world, in America but not of America, in a political party but not of a political party. Embracing that tension is not weakness, but faithfulness.