There’s one thing that we can all agree on when it comes to the current state of American politics: THEY. ARE. MESSY.
Whether it’s through the radio, our social media feeds, or late night television, we’re constantly being invited into the state of outrage that is ruling our country right now. Regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, you wake up most days to a decadent buffet of things to be mad about. Things that you feel have gone horribly wrong in this land of the free.
That outrage pushes us into corners. It pushes us into a militant mindset that urges us to point to the person across the table and say “Whose side are you on?” With everybody feeling angry and threatened, it becomes a classic game of us versus them.
But what if you’re not an “us” and you’re not a “them”? What if you don’t fit into the shirt that either side is throwing at you? Where does that leave you? Here’s today’s question...
How do I reconcile my faith with my political views? What is the balance of being a Christian with more liberal leanings?
When I started receiving questions related to politics—there’s one more after this—I reached out to Dr. Jamie Campbell, an undergrad professor of mine, for expert insights. Dr. Campbell joined the Biola faculty shortly after earning her J.D. at Georgetown. Her career at Biola culminated in a 3-year stint as the Interim Dean of the School of Humanities & Social Sciences. This summer, Campbell launched her own mentoring, coaching, and consulting practice called Living & Leading, which is dedicated to cultivating leadership capacities among emerging leaders.
Campbell is firmly committed to speaking truth and challenging Believers to understand and embrace their call to community, justice, presence, and love. After our conversation, a few key questions around today’s topic rose to surface. Ones that each of us need to answer honestly for ourselves as we consider the relationship between faith and politics.
Am I loving God & loving others?
I’ll just come right out and say it: there is an undeniable shortage of love when it comes to the conversations and actions surrounding politics in our country right now. And when love is lacking, hatred becomes a vicious cycle. You said this hateful thing so now I’m going to say a hateful thing in response—and round and round we go.
“There are questions in the political realm that I always answer with, ‘Am I loving God, and loving others if I align myself with this?’ And how or how not?” says Campbell. “My culture and my faith linked together require that frame.”
Next time you are making a political decision, I challenge you to do your part in breaking the cycle of hatred by asking yourself this same question. Ask it with humility. Don’t ask it with a heart that screams Well this is obviously what God would want or How could a real Christian ever think otherwise? Instead, come to the table with a sober mind and a heart that says This is how God calls me to show love.
Where do I fit within this two-party system?
If I tell somebody in America that I’m a Christian, it’s likely that they’ll assume that I’m also a Republican. Somewhere along the way, these two terms were deemed synonymous and all God’s people said “Amen.”
But this strict correlation has never made sense to me—and it makes even less sense in Trump’s America, where so many people feel “politically homeless.” Since when is every Christian the same one thing other than sinful?
In a recent sermon titled “Jesus and Politics,” Pastor Jeremy Treat from Reality LA put it this way: “If you think that a follower of Jesus has to be a Republican or a Democrat to be a Christian, than you have confused a political party with the kingdom of Christ and you are in great danger of being a puppet and not a disciple” (40:20-32). Jesus didn’t fit neatly into the political categories of His time, and neither do we. No single political party is going to get it all right.
Tim Keller recently wrote an article for The New York Times on this very topic. In it, he broke down the faulty logic that has created a largely unresolved tension between the Christian faith and partisan politics. He writes about James Mumford’s concept of “package-deal ethics” and the notion that “you cannot work on one issue with [a political party] if you don’t embrace all of their approved positions” (Keller, par. 8). Many of us as Christians are often left wandering in this middle ground.
Campbell shared a personal example that paints a helpful picture of this dissonance. “I've reconciled myself to the fact that my political decisions are going to be inconsistent with party delineation,” she said. “If I'm pro-life with babies, then I'm also pro-life with the death penalty. And those are different positions politically, but that just means that my key commitment is to life, because I don't think I can love God and love others if I don't value the life that God gave us.”
That term “key commitment” stands out to me. By identifying your key commitment in each political decision you make, you’ll force yourself to think beyond party lines and value biblical wisdom over the status quo. This is how Jesus operated. His key commitment was to remaining faithful to God the Father by exemplifying perfect love for sinful mankind. He made every decision, including political ones, in service to this key commitment.
What is motivating me to participate in politics?
Later in that same sermon, Pastor Treat said, “The church’s goal is not to make a Christian nation, but to make disciples of all nations” (46:45-52).
Many American Christians have become fixated on this idea of establishing America as a Christian nation. Some seem to be convinced that this is the supreme task that God has put before us as citizens of this world. If we could only pass this law or change this policy or get this person into office, we would be one step closer to achieving God’s plan for our country.
But the Great Commission is bigger than that. The Great Commission tells us that it’s actually not about forming our Christian bubble and protecting it at all costs. It’s about bringing the Gospel message of love, hope and sacrifice to every corner of the earth.
Campbell offered a thoughtful perspective on this connection between the Great Commission and our involvement in American politics:
“If you see the Great Commission as undergirding what it is to be a believer, then activity within the political sphere has to be driven by how you see and understand Christ.
“What Christ brought when He came to earth was this transition away from power and social structure to people and love. Jesus came to earth and said ‘I understand that you want me to do this in the political sphere, but I am actually here to tell you to be free from the law. And oh, by the way, love each other and love God.’ That's it.
“As American Christians, if we're really paying attention to what Christ did and we’re drawing parallels between His context and our own, then I think we're called to do something very similar in the political sphere which is to say, ‘Look, I know you guys think this political stuff is the most important stuff in the world, but it's not.’
“Yes, participate in politics. As an American citizen, you have that responsibility. Be responsible, be intentional, utilize your understanding of culture and faith to act—but understand that this political time is not the most important element. It's turning people back to Christ. It’s really getting down in faith to love God and to love others.”
When our participation in politics is motivated by a desire to “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with [our] God,” we’re a lot more likely to engage with fellow citizens in a way that is honoring to Him (Micah 6:8). We’re a lot more likely to approach differences of opinion with curiosity instead of condemnation. And we’re a lot more likely to mirror the heart of Jesus to the people around us.
So now what?
The original question was about reconciling liberal political leanings with the Christian faith, but I hope this response is evidence that the conversation is so much bigger than conservative versus liberal.
“It’s really important that we have the wisdom to understand a gap between the principles of Scripture and policies as they play out in government,” says Treat (38:04-13). The Bible gives us a framework of principles to live by—love the immigrant, give generously, value human life—but it does not prescribe political policies that correspond with each principle. We need to use biblical wisdom to apply these principles in our own hearts and contexts when making political decisions.
I know strong Christians on both sides of most hot button political issues, and I truly believe that there’s no need to feel threatened or defensive when we disagree.
“At the end of the day, it's not going to be, ‘Am I a Republican or Democrat?’” says Campbell. “It's not going to be, ‘Do I agree with this leading generation or do I listen to my pastor?’ It's going to be, ‘What does my faith look like as a servant of Christ and how do I understand my role in the church?’"
These are the two core questions that we need to ask when making decisions about any aspect of our lives. Political decisions are no exception.
Campbell, Dr. Jamie (2018, October 11). Phone interview.