Many of us could schedule a tweet right now for midnight of Election Day that reads, “Well, this is disappointing.” Regardless of who wins, the country loses. For active citizens, there is nothing more maddening and frustrating than the presidential election because many of us believe that the most influential political decision we will make occurs every fourth November.
Indeed, there is an enormous amount of pressure surrounding the upcoming election, and as Christians, we rightly turn to God’s Word for answers. While the Bible won’t name the candidate for whom we should vote, in it we see that the story of God’s redemption has massive political and social implications.
We find eternal hope knowing that “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior; the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil 3:20). While we wait, God’s Word exhorts us to “be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Rom. 13:1-2). We are told to pray for “kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Tim. 2:1-2). And we have confidence that “the King’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will” (Prov. 21:1).
Yet, knowing what the Bible says about politics, the question still remains: What does this mean for us today? How do we engage faithfully in our current political situation? More specifically, what do we do on Election Day?
While I think these are important questions to answer in light of Scripture, considering both moral conscience and the common good of our country, I would argue that they are not the most important questions. Instead, I would ask: What does it look like to be a politically active, kingdom-minded citizen beyond November? What do we do after Election Day? For me, this is the most important question because I am convinced that our week-to-week participation in society, not the occasional vote for president, makes the most difference in our world.
Christian Participation in Political Life
It’s easy to believe, especially in an election year, that in order to have the most formative impact on a society, we must obtain and retain the highest political positions in the land. The thinking goes like this: “I have convictions. I can’t change anything on the basis of my convictions because I lack the power. The President has the most power in the land, so, if I want to see change happen, I need to make sure a President gets elected who aligns mostly with my convictions.”
While this line of thinking is understandable, we cannot change culture through the presidential election alone. In To Change the World, James Davison Hunter writes, “Against the prevailing view, the main reason why Christian believers today (from various communities) have not had the influence in the culture to which they have aspired is not they don’t believe enough, or try hard enough, or care enough, or think Christianly enough, or have the right worldview, but rather because they have been absent from the arenas in which the greatest influence in the culture is exerted.” To remix a well-worn phrase, it might be possible that the chair of humanities at your local university is mightier than your senator.
For example, in the last 10 years, we have seen a massive sexual revolution. The widespread cultural acceptance of gay, lesbian and transgender lifestyles did not emerge after government legislation and policies were put in place around these issues. Rather, it was the widespread cultural acceptance and endorsement of these issues that primed the pump for the Supreme Court to rule in favor of them. Policy doesn’t capture the imagination of our neighbors, but it often ratifies it.
As believers, we might find it advantageous to spend less time thinking and arguing about one person we can get into one national position and, instead, spend more time thinking about how we can take up leadership in key local institutions. It is these institutions that spearhead the production and propagation of the true, the good and the beautiful, changing and shaping not only our culture but also the political landscape. There is a political dimension to every aspect of our lives, from how our cities are zoned, to how our local communities view the immigrant population, to where women can go to receive care during crisis pregnancies, to how our churches turn in mercy toward our neighbors.
On that note, here are four ways to engage in faithful political activism beyond the election:
1. Belong to a counter-cultural community.
Meaningful participation in the social life of our communities should be rooted in meaningful participation in a counter-cultural community—the local church. If we are not rooted in a faith community that refuses to sacrifice its identity to the whims of the populace, then we will be stymied from taking any meaningful action toward local expressions of truth, goodness and beauty.
Christians believe that God and His revelation in Christ and Scripture are the greatest measuring rods of anything that claims to be true, good and beautiful. We believe that the greatest accelerant for the human imagination is Christian story and Christian belief. The Christian story provides, not just a stable foundation, but the kind of motivation needed to bring light into dark and dying places.
Before we can change the world, we will have to meaningfully belong to the institution that God has ordained to change the world. This means more than just attending church on the weekends, but actually belonging, serving and being involved in the local church.
2. Invest in local institutions and organizations.
Yuval Levin, in his book The Fractured Republic, argues that the way forward in a country divided is through subsidiarity. He claims, “the entrusting of power and authority to the lowest and least centralized institutions capable of using them well…[is] key to addressing the particular problems of our age of individualism.” Focusing influence on local institutions allows people “to be ensconced in a dense web of community, rather than being alone in the great mass of the public, [and] it can also afford them the opportunity to benefit from moral order and structure and from the aid and love and support that can only be extended at the level of the person.”
Thriving local institutions that bring people together for the common good provide strength to our republic. Many of us stare helplessly into the void of a political process that seems either too complex to understand or too corrupt to trust, while there are local institutions making key investments in our cities that could really use our help.
It is dangerous to forget that the fundamental posture of a Christian citizen in the world is that of steward—carefully tending to what God has entrusted to our care. Who are the people and what are the resources God has entrusted to our stewardship? How can we aim these gifts toward the renewal of the parts of the social fabric that burden us the most?
Practically speaking, instead of bemoaning on Facebook the way that public education seems to be drifting to the left, we should join the PTA at our children’s school or run for the local school board. Instead of talking about how a president’s economic plan creates an entitlement society, we should take ownership over our work and empower our employees to do the same.
Once we identify an issue we are passionate about, we can find a local organization to partner with through prayer, financial support, time commitment or a combination of these. This approach serves as a way to compound the influence of our votes by putting our feet to the pavement on the issue after Election Day. And if we feel passionately about an issue for which no local institution exists, we should create one.
Here is a short list of suggestions here in the DFW area:
3. Model and pursue civil discourse with neighbors.
The first step in healthy citizenship is neighborliness, which can be hard to find in an age where we are more connected to artificial human interaction than ever before. We easily forget that behind the pixels of Twitter handles, Facebook profile pictures and streaming video are real people with real loves, hopes, faults and sufferings. Behind every policy decision and political conviction is a fellow human being.
In our culture, where biting and vindictive political rhetoric dominates both the Republican and Democratic parties, and discourse over meaningful topics is increasingly polarized, how can we model civil discourse?
As Hunter says in To Change the World, “The first obligation for Christians is to listen carefully to opponents and if they are not willing to do so, then Christians should simply be silent. To engage in a war of words is to engage in a symbolic violence that is fundamentally at odds with the gospel.”
To take a practical step toward making a difference in the political climate of America, we can tune down our rhetoric and tune up our relational depth with a person we disagree with. Our conversations can follow this pattern: listen, ask questions, note shared values and then move toward critical feedback.
4. Support bridge-building political coalitions.
Because political partisanship is radically polarizing, we need to support bridge-building political coalitions—organizations that are striving to cross party lines in order to bring Democrats, Republicans and Independents together around shared interests and values.
Here are a few to consider:
As Christians, we must enter into political participation, both nationally and locally, as resurrection realists—citizens who refuse to pin our highest goals and ultimate loves on any one candidate or policy, but who seek to bring the hope of the resurrection to bear on the dark, desperate and difficult places within the city of man.
A great example of a resurrection realist is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. MLK was pulled into activism as a result of the grave injustices of racial segregation, voting rights infringement and Jim Crow legislation in the culture in which he lived. Stepping into the darkness, he exhorted his community with the power of a greater King and an eternal kingdom, saying, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. And with this faith we will go out and adjourn the counsels of despair…and bring new light in the dark chambers of pessimism.”
The only thing that can compel our pursuit of the common good in the face of opposition is our faith that a day is coming when the King will return and all will be made right. The King is coming. May His kingdom come, may His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.