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FIRST PERSON: Christian, Feel Free to Love Politics

EXCELSIOR SPRINGS, Mo. (BP) — The release of Disney’s, High School Musical, in 2006, brought great excitement to the Richey household. My daughters watched with eager attention and I found fresh material for quality entertainment for future road trips. One song that I performed while driving is relevant to my effort in navigating today’s evangelical waters.

In this song, Zeke Baylor, Troy Bolton’s best friend, announces, as a jock mind you, that he loves to bake. This confession exposes a secret to the school that consequently releases a torrent of confessions by other students regarding their own unknown interests. The repeated refrain is the song’s title, ‘Stick to the Status Quo!’ I find myself identifying with Zeke’s desire to share a secret.

What is my confession? I love politics. Queue up the cacophonous evangelical refrain, “… No, no, no, … follow one simple rule, don’t mess with the flow, no, no, stick to the status quo …” Yet, in spite of this refrain observed in today’s evangelical ‘twitterverse’ and described below, I love politics. I don’t; however, blindly love politics. I have a reasoned love.

I love politics because I love Jesus.

Our affections ought to be informed by our chief love for Jesus. To love anything or anyone, will always require submission to the greatest command of all. When this is understood, our love for Jesus produces an appreciation for other matters that, in their own right, ought to find their ‘reserved seat’ at the table of our hearts and minds. How does loving Jesus produce a love for politics?

I believe, as Kuyper believed, that Jesus looks upon all of life’s spheres and proclaims, “It’s all mine.” Jesus teaches us to steward our role as “salt and light;” He teaches us to pray for and obey governing authorities. He teaches us to pray that God’s “…will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven …;” He teaches us to “… render to Caesar ….” He teaches us to acknowledge that all who are in governing authority are His ministers for our good. Loving Jesus involves both obeying His teaching regarding the matters above and enjoying the gifts He provides for our benefit. Politics, the context, mechanisms, and processes of governance, is one such gift. This gift is especially pronounced in our nation since we “the people” are the government, “à la” Lincoln and our constitutional republic.

I love politics because I love people.

Being compelled by Scripture to love others like we love ourselves, provides us further reason for loving politics. Governance affects the lives of our neighbors. Good governance brings blessing. Unhealthy governance brings frustration. Wicked governance brings cruelty. We should desire blessing for our neighbors and to see this accomplished, we must engage the public arena. Engaging the public arena while hating the arena will produce little. Engaging the public arena while loving the arena, knowing that it is ordained by Jesus for our good, will improve the likelihood of producing blessing.

To be sure, there are many opportunities to bring blessing to our neighbors. These opportunities involve each of life’s spheres. We can bless though our individual efforts, familial efforts, congregational efforts, community efforts, artistic efforts, and even professional efforts. We have a truncated view; however, if we stop short of recognizing the value of our political efforts. In this, we must understand that politics isn’t a necessary evil, it’s a sphere God superintends for the good of our neighbors. We should approach and value this sphere the same way we approach and value imperfect spheres like the family, the arts, and the church.

I love politics because I love truth.

I’m a cognitive fellow and enjoy the struggle of analysis. Public policy provides fertile fields for the mind. Again, when we understand God’s intent to send the governmental ‘rain’ of blessing upon the just and the unjust, we find that particular drops of that ‘rain’ are informed by public policy. A love for truth motivates public policy engagement.

Applying ourselves to public policy involves: 1) studying the issues that require policy formation; 2) assessing the various options available; 3) knowing the relevant foundational principles and their appropriate application; 4) listening to those potentially affected; 5) investigating opposing views; 6) submitting our resulting positions to peer review; 7) owning our contribution to the policy effort; and 8) collaborating with others to see policy instituted or blocked. At each stage of this process, our love for truth drives us. We should want to correctly reflect what is true and good in the formation of our positions.

I love politics because I love service.?

Extensive biblical evidence supports the ethic of service. Our love for service should be informed by this evidence. I’m sensitive to the obligation to serve my family, congregation, and neighbors. We should all strive, by God’s gracious providence, to fulfill this obligation with an active awareness of the spheres present in our lives. Proper prioritization is paramount; but none-the-less, we should steward our gifts and abilities as opportunities present themselves in each sphere. At times, the sphere of politics involves encountering public ire, venomous attacks, cold shoulders, and elaborate traps. Yet, since when has Christ-honoring service demanded honor and respect. Politics is hard. Yet, since when has Christ-honoring service demanded easy assignments. We serve sacrificially in caustic and hard places for the good of others and the glory of Jesus.

Over the years, God has provided me opportunities to serve business, the military, the academy, law enforcement, and the church. He has recently added to this list by opening the door of the Missouri State Capitol. Walking through that door, involves expanded political engagement which, when properly ordered, should serve God’s purposes by working toward the good of society. My love for service motivates me politically; this should be true for all.

I love politics because I love creation.?

C.S. Lewis properly identified the fact that Christianity is unique in its value of both the eternal and temporal works of God. There are belief systems that ignore the eternal and spiritual. There are those that ignore the temporal and material. Christianity values both. Why? God created both. It’s been said that the church vote that determines who becomes a member of a local congregation is more important than the public vote that determines the next president. This is true. But it’s also true that the way a pastor cares for the heart of a person is more important than the way a cardiologist cares for the heart of a patient. Neither of the aforementioned; however, indicates that the public vote or the cardiologist’s care are insignificant. No, we Christians understand that both are significant, in varying degrees yes, but they’re both significant none-the-less. 

Politics is significant because it’s intended to accomplish important work within God’s creation of human civilization. Governance is necessary because of human depravity. It’s necessary because unrestrained sinful humanity will be the end of itself, a fact that’s cinematically illustrated in the 2013 film, The Purge. Governance also stands as a reminder that there is One that holds in His hand, of absolute governance, all kings and presidents and governors. We see in human governance a faint glimmer of the King whose perfect reign shall never end. We say to this, “come quickly!” In the meantime, we engage in temporal politics because stewarding God’s creation demands it.

I love politics because of these and many other reasons, but there is pressing fear.

I fear unintended consequences that are produced by the current evangelical cacophonous refrain, “no, no, no . . . stick to the status quo!” Today’s evangelical status quo, among a growing population of social media aficionados and millennial influencers, involves: 1) assuming the worst about politicians; 2) insinuating that those who value political engagement are making an idol of politics; 3) blacklisting political professions as inherently corrupt; and, 4) dismissing the significance of the political arena. If we aren’t careful, we’ll continue to sow the seeds of dismissiveness and disengagement only to find ourselves reaping the consequences of an ever-darkening political arena and an ever-growing Christian ghetto.

We need a widespread evangelical recovery of political affirmation. We can love politics without it replacing God. We can love politics without it eclipsing our evangelism. We can love politics without it devaluing the eternal. We can love politics and honor Jesus simultaneously. Certainly, as a pastor, I love many things in Christ’s service more than politics, but these things aren’t mutually exclusive when set next to politics. 

Recovering an appropriate affirmation of politics and thus avoiding the aforementioned unintended consequences, will obviously require wisdom, discretion, and mutual respect. Yet, as God provides these essential ingredients for our work in politics, we’ll find ourselves being salt and light in a consequential sphere for the benefit of our neighbors, while establishing a clear demonstration of God’s kind providence in all spheres, including, yes, politics. At the end of the day, we should be no more willing to cede the territory of politics to Satan, than we’re willing to cede the territory of marriage, family, church, or the arts. Each in its own right is owned by Jesus.

Will you join me in this confession? We value politics. We love politics. We’ll recover politics to the glory of God.