Christians and Politics

by Peter Schwich

I imagine that I’m not alone in questioning whether the supposed great blessing of living in a democracy is worth the soul-wearying experience of campaign season (which is a “season” in about the same sense “having a heartbeat” is a “season” of life). Maybe it would be worth handing things over to a benevolent dictator for a few years, just to avoid the dishonesty and pandering and personal attacks and thinly veiled bigotry that characterize campaigns for elected office.

But really, it wouldn’t. No doubt our political system is broken in many ways. And yet, I think the right to speak, to participate, to advocate, to vote, is something we need to treasure and value and steward.

We use the word “stewardship” in the Church to talk about how we use the things that God has entrusted to us: our relationships, our time, our money, our passions, our gifts, our talents. The idea is that these things are given to us both because God intends life as a true gift to be enjoyed and because God desires nothing more than to enlist us as partners in his work. That second part isn’t a caveat; it’s the very heart of the gift! What could be more wonderful than God, the creator of all that is, the one who is most faithful and loving, inviting us to be a part of his team? Stewardship is a word we use to talk about participating in what God is doing with everything we’ve been given.

It was only very recently that I connected the word “stewardship” with political processes. I’d always thought that voting and advocacy and political action had to be connected to our faith, our ultimate understanding of the world as it is and as it will be. But I don’t think I’d realized that the right to vote (and otherwise influence the decisions we make together) is one of the biggest gifts I’ve been entrusted with.

Not everyone in our church community (or in our neighborhoods) is permitted to vote. As in areas such as time and money, in terms of advocacy and political voice, some of us have more influence than do others. All the more reason for us to use the influence that we do have with intentionality and seriousness.

Those of us who are permitted to vote in elections in this country have been entrusted with a level of power that is far greater than that of the average human being through history. The U.S. is wealthy and powerful and affects the lives of billions of people who have no formal say in its policies. So our votes — our voices — are no small matter. They are gifts we’ve been given! We can use them to serve God and participate in his work!

How do we do that? First, we take them seriously as gifts that come from outside ourselves. We don’t hold them back from God, but commit ourselves to trying, as best we can, to steward these gifts well.

Second, we think, pray, and talk communally about what political engagement should look like in our specific contexts. Redeemer will never print out a sample ballot with the “right” candidates’ names circled. But big decisions like who to vote for should probably be things we discuss with some brothers and sisters in faith. Trusted friends in connection groups are great people to talk with about these things. We won’t always agree about what policy approach is best or which candidates are most trustworthy. But isn’t our community strong enough to talk honestly without being torn apart? I know that it is. Won’t we be better stewards if we engage the wisdom of others who share our deepest commitments? I know that we will.

Third, we have to vote and advocate and protest and act with hope. We don’t have hope because Obama or Clinton or Sanders or Cruz or Trump or Emanuel or Garcia or Rauner or Preckwinkle will fix all our problems. (They won’t.) We don’t have hope because things inevitably get better over time. (They don’t.) No, we hope because we know that God is at work. We know the kingdom of God has come near and stays near. We know there is no part of our life together that exists totally separate from God’s love, goodness, faithfulness, and power. We vote and advocate and protest and act with hope, with purpose, with love, and with intentionality because even as we are truly citizens of our cities and states and countries, we are even more so citizens of heaven. We take our identity from God’s kingdom. We are ambassadors of his gospel, wherever we go and however we act. We are entrusted with God’s Holy Spirit, empowered to participate in his kingdom even here and now. This is a gift.