Staying in the Political Game

This article originally appeared in Capital Commentary, a weekly current affairs publication by the Center for Public Justice.

In recent years, many younger Christians (and some not so young) have arrived at place of frustration regarding political participation. For some this is because they are disappointed with the political practice of evangelical Christians who hold public office, while for others it is a resignation borne of a suspicion that if you are not a multimillionaire with a PAC then a word like ‘influence’ is only a fantasy. Still others want to change the game because they want Christian politics to be identified with causes other than the culture war emblems of abortion and gay marriage and because they dislike an “us against them” posture.

It would be disingenuous to argue that there are no legitimate reasons for the resignation, frustration and cynicism many young Christians feel, but there are important reasons for Christians to stay in the game rather than head to the bench.

First there is the ongoing opportunity and responsibility Christians have because of the cultural mandate—given to Adam and Eve and by extension to all humanity to fill, subdue and rule the earth. Though sin’s presence is all around us and perhaps refracted sharply in political contexts, the privilege to participate faithfully in God’s world remains. Politics is one expression of the way that humans order their lives and seek flourishing, though the temptations can be great at times. Another way to think of this is that the Lord Christians worship is truly Lord over all things, including the domain of politics. Our lives as followers of Christ have both public and private dimensions, the former of which can be expressed politically.

Of course, political participation requires the caution that we refuse to see ourselves in any kind of messianic light; political action is a form of service and truly what we could call a kind of “team sport”. No one can participate in politics as a Christian super hero who brings about transformation by the force of their personality, passion and will alone. We move forward by working together with others.

Perhaps thinking locally instead of internationally can also help us to think about why this is important. Politics isn’t only about what happens on Capitol Hill or at the United Nations. It is what happens in our local governments when we think about things like education, roads and sewer repairs. There are many things locally that we take for granted but require political action to run smoothly. Who do you want making those decisions?

In a country like the United States we have a great opportunity to respond to the privilege and opportunity of the cultural mandate through political participation. It can be a surprising form of discipleship that helps us participate in human flourishing in obedience to the second greatest commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.

—Vincent Bacote is an Associate Professor of Theology and Director of the Center for Applied Christian Ethics at Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL. He is also a Trustee of the Center for Public Justice.