Actions follow faith. Everything we consciously do follows our beliefs about that thing. Every person believes something about every conscious action in their life. Those beliefs may be largely subconscious, they may form almost instantaneously, or they may simmer slowly and deliberately in our hearts and minds. But whether it’s changing lanes on Federal Highway or giving our life to Christ, we choose any specific action because we believe that it provides the best option for us. We enroll our kids in school, because we believe they need to learn, grow, and make friends. We apply for a job and work for a company, because we believe it’s the best opportunity to accomplish our goals, all things considered.
Behavior follows beliefs, and this includes political behavior and political beliefs. We do political things based on what we believe about politics. As Christians, this means that we can’t figure out how or for whom to vote until we clarify our political beliefs. Once we have clarified those beliefs, we more easily approach the tense task of political action.
In light of the seven political principles rooted in the kingship of Christ that we have clarified, how, now, then shall you vote? Should you put a candidate’s yard sign in our front lawn? Should you peel a sticker onto our bumper? Should you hang a flag from your porch? Should you run for office? Should you “chip in” when we receive that fundraising email? These questions matter, and we will be able to answer them more confidently by exploring some bigger picture Christian political practices that align with our Christian political principles. I’m calling these political practices, but you could also imagine them as “postures” or “mindsets,” as general habits or virtues that lead to specific actions. Some of them relate more directly to political authority (attaining ruling power) and others to existing governing authority (executing ruling power).
If Christians were to lean into these five political practices, it could change the story of American politics in a way that would increase the credibility of the church in her mission.
Christians should pray for and about their governing and political leaders. Christians should pray for elections and candidates, outcomes and processes. Biblical characters both exemplify this practice and Scripture commands it. For example:
First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1–4)
Notice here that God calls us to pray for and even give thanks for everyone. If this applied to Christians under a dictatorial emperor in imperial Rome in the first century, it certainly applies to Christians in the United States in the 21st century. Christians should have been praying for and thanking God for President Obama just as they should be praying for and thanking God for President Trump. Christians should be praying for Governor Ron DeSantis, and Mayor Glenn Troast of Lighthouse Point, Mayor Bill Ganz of Deerfield Beach, Mayor Rex Hardin of Pompano Beach, Mayor Scott Brook of Coral Springs, Mayor Scott Singer of Boca Raton. Christians should pray for their city commissioners and state representatives. For Ted Deutch of the 22nd Congressional District or Alcee Hastings of the 20th, for Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio. When you see a yard sign during this season, consider it a sign from God to pray for that person. God is inviting to pray for the order, justice, and peace of our neighborhoods and our nation. God is inviting you to pray for his will to be done here as in heaven, that he would give us wise, righteous, and good leaders.
I aim consistently to pray 4 “C”’s for our leaders. I pray for our leaders to be men and women of character, possessing integrity. I pray for our leaders to be people of competence, who have the skill to do the job they are seeking or have been elected to accomplish. I pray for our leaders to be people of clarity and wisdom, to have access to the right information and listen to the best counsel. I pray for our leaders to lead with courage, to do the right thing, especially when that right thing does not serve their own political self-interest.
As Zerubbabel, David’s descendent, governor of Judah, looked over the ruins of Solomon’s temple, God raised up two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, to encourage him and the the people to rebuild. Zechariah is given a series of night visions, and the fifth night vision promises that the day of small things and modest foundation of a new temple would ground the raising of the temple. “Not by power, or might, but by my Spirit” the Lord says (Zech. 4:6). The good the God wants to do in the world, specifically in the area of human political and governing authority, will happen as his Spirit works in response to the prayers of his people.
Let me remind you of a basic principle of a Christian political vision: God appoints and establishes governing authority, and he rules over, in, and through the enthronement of kings and the elections of presidents and legislatures. Because God authorizes political, governing authority, he call us to pay those authorities, both with our money and our respect.
Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to trap him by what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are truthful and teach truthfully the way of God. You don’t care what anyone thinks nor do you show partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Perceiving their malicious intent, Jesus said, “Why are you testing me, hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” They brought him a denarius. “Whose image and inscription is this?” he asked them. “Caesar’s,” they said to him. Then he said to them, “Give, then, to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away. (Matthew 22:15–22)
Remember, the Christian’s primary political allegiance is to Jesus the King within the local church as the most important political institution on earth. The church serves Jesus in worship, community, and mission, and in worship of God, community with other believers, and the mission of Jesus in the world, Christians pay their political, governing authority in both finances and honor. We serve God above all, and in many cases serving God requires honoring the ruling authority.
Let everyone submit to the governing authorities, since there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are instituted by God….For this reason you pay taxes, since the authorities are God’s servants, continually attending to these tasks. Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor. (Romans 13:1, 6–7)
Remind them to submit to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work. (Titus 3:1)
Submit to every human authority because of the Lord, whether to the emperor as the supreme authority or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good. For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. Submit as free people, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but as God’s slaves. Honor everyone. Love the brothers and sisters. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:13–17)
Pay taxes, and honor the governing authorities in the place in which you live. Recognize the good intention of God’s providence in placing you in the time and nation of your earthly citizenship.
From one man he has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live. (Acts 17:26)
God designed the birthday and native place of each person who has been gifted life in the world. Some live under governments that reject God’s order, justice, and peace and abuse their authority. Others live in contexts where they can have influence over the preservation of order, justice, and peace and can expose disorder, injustice, and destruction. We must trust the sovereignty of God in embedding us into cultures, nations, and times according to his good pleasure. Some are born into free nations. Some are captive in evil empires. Some have the ability to flee from oppressive governing authority. Some will remain in oppression. In all of these circumstances, God commands Christians to trust his good and gracious providence, to pay their governing authority what they are owed, whether taxes or honor. Here Christian do not quietly or passively give up on the hope of a better society. They resist the Hitlers of the age, living into various prophetic, priestly, or kingly vocations. They speak truth, work for order, justice, and peace. They fulfill their vocation as salt and light. They preserve good and expose evil. Yet when they inevitable find themselves frustrated, in small ways and in large ways, they trust God and his good, mysterious providence.
Christians are people who follow Jesus as disciples, “students,” “learners.” Our prime textbook is the Scripture, our prime classroom is the church, and our laboratory is the world in which we live. Part of our calling to learn includes learning the context of our life and time. Like “the Issacharites, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chronicles 12:32), we must faithfully seek to understand our own cultural moment. The word for “times” here refers to an indefinite season, a time-period (Heb: עֵת; LXX: καιρός). Christians should learn history, political thought, literature, art, and science. Specifically, faithfully following Jesus as a Christian in America in 2020 requires us seek to learn our story. Where did America come from? What led to the formation of these United States? Why do we have a constitution and a democratic republic? Who influenced our culture by writing, leading, and deciding in the moments along the timeline? You don’t have to get a degree in history, political science, or law, but Christians should be unusually informed about these things compared to the average American. Watch things, read things, listen to things that help you understand the times, which helps the people of God know what we should do.
Redeem the things you do already. Redeem them for the sake of the gospel. Redeem them with Christian content (sermons, Bible teaching, music), and redeem them with informative content. Instead of just watching the 8pm shock jock on XYZ Cable News, or YouTube, or some throwaway Netflix series, watch a PBS Ken Burns special on the Roosevelts or the Dust Bowl. Instead of just reading your FB timeline or mommy blogs or car reviews, read a Presidential biography. Instead of listening only to music or sportstalk, listen to a biography, or trustworthy analyst or cultural commentator.
Our lives stretch thin, and few of us will become an expert in any of these things. But imagine a horizontal line, with “Expert” on the right side and “Ignorant” on the left side. Here we find a wide middle of those who are “Informed.” Every Christian should intend to move away from the “Ignorant” side toward being “Informed.” Christian, faithfully seek to understand the times.
Praying, paying, and learning aim for a single end: to serve. To serve the Lord in worship, to serve the church in community, and to serve the world on mission. We have lost the servant-heartedness of our political ambitions. An older generation said that a person who entered the political sphere was entering “public service.” Christians must imitate their Lord, who said about this theme:
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached him and said, “Teacher, we want you to do whatever we ask you.” “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked them. They answered him, “Allow us to sit at your right and at your left in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You don’t know what you’re asking. Are you able to drink the cup I drink or to be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” “We are able,” they told him. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink, and you will be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with. But to sit at my right or left is not mine to give; instead, it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” When the ten disciples heard this, they began to be indignant with James and John. Jesus called them over and said to them, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions act as tyrants over them. But it is not so among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you will be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you will be a slave to all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:35–45)
Christians should be the most well-informed and humbly serving political persons in our country. The nation should witness our activity and say, “I don’t always agree with their beliefs or decisions, but they are well-informed and committed to the common good more than their own political interests.” Whether speaking from the prophetic margin or sitting close to kingly power in an oval-shaped office, Christians should be intent to serve and put others before themselves, even to the point of figurative death or literal death. Too many Christians, however, seem to approach politics in the opposite direction. Republican Christians want to “own the Libs” and crush the competition. Democratic Christian want to push back against even the good things of a Republican government. Yuval Levin in his book A Time to Build explains how institutions (marriage, family, the presidency, congress, etc) used to be forms that shaped the character of those within them but have become platforms for people to use for their own personal advantage. Christians resist this platforming instinct of our age.
Christians do not primarily serve the interests of their own tribe or their preferred party’s political power-players, but they serve those who are closest to God’s heart. The Old Testament consistently points to a quartet of vulnerable members of society: the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the immigrant. This quartet is the Christian’s constituency, and the Christian preeminently prioritizes order, justice, and peace for those abandoned by the politics of our nation. Neither party cares for all of the vulnerable people who are beloved by God. Neither party equally values the lives of both preborn babies and vulnerable immigrant children. One party loves black babies before they are born and forgets about them once they’re here and the other party wants to save the lives of black boys and men killed by police but also supports a racist organization founded to prevent black people from reproducing.
Christians must pray, pay, learn, and serve. With your voice and your vote, you should ask yourself, “Have I done my best here to serve?” Ask, “Have I adequately considered the impact this candidate or this legislation will make on all the people God has called his people to serve?”
Christians should not separate themselves from the politics of their moment. They should move as an opposition party that unsettles the political power-playing of the political standards of their time. But they should also join into those parties and influence them as salt and light, preserving the good and exposing the evil. They can and should join political organizations and movements to move those organizations toward order, justice, and peace. Otherwise, the politics polarize so that each party doubles-down on both its good and its bad. If all the pro-life Democrats become Republicans and all the pro-racial-justice Republicans become Democrats, we are worse off, not better off. We need to voice and vote such that we refuse to otherize and anathematize the other side. I know many white Christians who can’t understand how a Christian could ever vote for Obama. I know many black Christians who can’t understand how a Christian could ever vote for Trump. That gets very close to making politics into a religion. The objective reality of the church I pastor is that we have some Democrats and some Republicans and some Independents. We need Christians intent to seek order, justice, and peace as salt and light in all the spheres of our political life. We need Christians who will faithfully pray, pay, learn, serve and engage by voting according to their conscience after having informed themselves about the people and issues in play. We need Christians who will run for City Council and for Mayor. We need Christians who will work on campaigns. We need Christians to permeate every nook and cranny of our culture to preserve the good as salt and expose the evil as light.
Scripture does not present us with a one-size fits all approach to political engagement. Joseph, Esther, and Nehemiah served (or slept!) with the most powerful person on the planet in their time. After being manipulated and cornered, Herod, Israel’s local ruler executed John the Baptist the prophetic voice in the wilderness. Governors and councils imprisoned Paul, and yet he preached the gospel to Caeasar’s household. Men like William Wilberforce served in British Parliament to abolish the slave trade and England. Abraham Kuyper in The Netherlands was a theologian and politician who became Prime Minister and Herman Bavinck one of the great theologians of the last 100 years served in the Dutch Parliament as one of Bavinck’s close allies.
Christian, how has God called you to engage the politics of your place and your nation?
What Could It Look Like?
What could it look like for you to spend the next weeks praying consistently for every candidate you see in TV ads, bumper stickers, flags, and yard signs?
What could it look like for you to determine to honor the authorities that end up being elected?
What could it look like for you to learn the story of the community you’re trying to serve?
What could it look like for you to serve the most vulnerable?
What could it look like for you to engage as salt and light in our political moment?
What could it look like for a community and a nation to be inhabited by churches full of Christians committed to these five practices? What could it look like for those watching to say, “Christians are the most humble, respectful, servant-mind, informed, and engaged citizens in our nation?”