by TR Robertson
My conservative friends think I’m one of the most liberal friends they have. My liberal friends would say I’m one of the most conservative friends they have.
My Republican friends suspect I’m a closet Democrat. My Democratic friends think I’m surely a Republican.
I like to keep them guessing. Because as soon as I declare my political affiliation, as soon as I come on strong with a political opinion, as soon as I reveal who I voted for in the last election, as soon as I come out of the political closet, I alienate half the people I know.
Americans have become so polarized over politics it’s nearly impossible not to make someone mad. Everyone has an opinion, and many have an even stronger opinion about the kind of people who have the opposite opinion.
On my Facebook profile I declare my political stance openly, in one word: “Missional.”
Missional is a modern Christian catchphrase that gets tossed around a lot and misunderstood even more. I like the definition given by Reggie McNeal of the Leadership Network. In his book, Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard for the Church (Jossey-Bass, 2009), he defines the missional church as “the people of God partnering with God in his redemptive mission in the world.”
Most Christians I talk to want to be missional. They want to partner with God in redeeming the people of the world. They want their congregation to be mission-minded and support missionaries around the world. They may even participate in evangelism activities organized by the church. Some even seize spontaneous opportunities for what is usually called witnessing.
But to be truly missional we must make God’s redemptive mission the number one priority in every part of lives, not just the obvious evangelistic or mission related activities.
What if we made God’s mission the chief motivator and goal in our approach to politics?
Most people who approach politics with thought and deliberation choose a political stance based on a core belief. Some people believe in their heart that government should take care of the people, and their political opinions stem from that belief. Others stand firmly on the need for a strong defense, and all other political considerations take a back seat to that priority.
My core political belief is that my mission in life is not to elect leaders who subscribe to my personal political leanings, although I am a regular voter and cast my ballot for candidates I believe will best represent my political leanings. Nor is my mission to convince people around me to agree with my political opinions. My mission, even in the realm of politics, is to “seek and save the lost.” My mission is to pursue God’s mission.
So how does this work out in real life? Each Christian who resolves to be missional in his or her politics will have a different answer to that question. But here are some basic principles I’ve resolved to follow.
Win the Person, not the Argument
The current American political climate tempts Christians to be more interested in being right than in being righteous. Check yourself: Which is more likely to get you into an animated discussion with your coworkers? An opportunity to talk about what God is doing in your life, or a juicy argument about global warming or gay rights?
In my experience, getting into heated political debates just gets in the way of God’s mission of redemption. If God’s goal is to win the person, then my goal should never be simply to win the argument. And frankly, I’ve never convinced anyone of anything by arguing.
If I find myself in a political discussion with a non-Christian, I try to resist the urge to get into a heated debate. I’ll engage him in conversation about his chosen topic, but will remember my goal is to use that conversation to build a relationship of trust and plant seeds for future growth as God works in that person’s life.
In political conversations with Christians, I use the opportunity to inject God’s missional perspective into the debate.
Let me provide an example of a missional approach to a political—and spiritual—hot potato: gay rights.
When the topic comes up, whether with Christians or non-Christians, I don’t shrink from affirming that the Bible clearly classifies homosexuality as a sin, right alongside drunkenness, gluttony, and disobedience to parents. Even if modern science were to someday convincingly prove that some people are born with an inclination toward homosexuality (which I doubt), that would be no different than people who have an inherited tendency toward alcoholism, or those who are driven toward disobedience by the circumstances of an abusive family life.
Those contributing factors should inspire a level of compassion toward sinners, but it still doesn’t lessen their responsibility for controlling what God clearly defines as sin. As a person involved in prison ministry, I frequently deal with people who have to be taught to accept personal responsibility even while acknowledging the external (or internal) factors that helped make them what they have become.
At this point in the discussion I put myself in the spotlight, pointing out that anyone who looks at me knows I am guilty of the sin of gluttony. Part of my problem may be caused by genetic tendencies toward obesity or by habits learned growing up in a family that included overweight people. But it’s still a sin problem I have to deal with.
Nothing makes me more disinclined to feel friendly toward someone than to have them dismiss me or poke fun at me because of my weight. If Christians were to routinely shun non-believers who are 100 pounds overweight, that group would be unlikely to be receptive to the gospel message. If obese people were to see news reports of Christians protesting with signs saying, “GOD TOLD ADAM AND EVE TO EAT ANYTHING IN THE GARDEN, NOT EVERYTHING IN THE GARDEN,” there would be few of us willing to believe stories about the love of Christ.
Taking this approach on that topic lets non-Christians see that I sympathize with their revulsion of what can often appear to be hateful attitudes coming from the church. And it encourages Christians to examine their approach to the topic. The point is that without compromising our stance on the biblical teachings about homosexuality (or any sin), Christians need to find ways to identify with sinners, to make them feel like we have something in common, and to extend a welcoming and forgiving hand to them. Doing so will achieve God’s mission much better than holding a sign condemning “Adam and Steve.”
Seeing People Through Our Father’s Eyes
When I listen to political discussions among Christians I often wonder what happened to “love your enemies.”
The modern American political climate wants to make an enemy out of anyone who disagrees with my politics. Talk shows and political pundits teach us that any flaw in a person on our side can be smoothed over and “spun” to seem unimportant, but any slip-up by the other side is fodder for exaggeration and vilification.
Opponents of President George W. Bush were quick to portray him as a bumbling fool, unable to speak a coherent sentence. Even when he made good choices and said good things, they were quick to spin the truth into a one-size-fits-all condemnation.
Opponents of President Barack Obama have been quick to believe any rumor about his citizenship, his religious affiliation, and his political motives. He’s been compared to Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein. Like Bush, even his best qualities and his positive actions are vilified by those who oppose him.
But followers of Christ are supposed to be different from the world. We are supposedly driven by a different purpose.
We should find it very difficult to view any politician as a rascal worthy of scorn if we subscribe to Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5:16, “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.” Shouldn’t this apply to our national leaders as well?
And what of 1 Timothy 2:1-4?
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.
We should find it difficult to pray earnestly for someone we’ve been reviling and demonizing. Perhaps more to the point, if we are truly praying for our leaders, God will work in our hearts in such a way as to make it difficult for us to speak maliciously about them.
In the end, a Christian’s view of political leaders has to be colored by God’s perspective on nations and governments. Repeatedly throughout Scripture we are told not to trust in horses and chariots, not to rely on the protection of kings and nations.
Whatever our political leanings, however we cast our vote, we must remember that our problems will never be solved by throwing the latest batch of bums out of office or packing the courts with our partisans.
In God we trust.
TR Robertson is a freelance writer in Columbia, Missouri.
More Missional Thoughts
To read more about the concept of being missional, read this blog post at More at Stake, a site created by Christian Standard:
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