The Christian faith is one that calls for full expression in both private and public life. One of the difficulties of being a Christian in many cultures is that the prevailing idea of religion is that it is a private matter and should not express itself significantly in the public sector. Mahatma Gandhi, the Hindu spiritual leader who led freedom movements in Africa and India, expressed the relationship between politics and religion well when he said, “Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is.” This is not a statement that is at odds with Christian faith but rather a statement that gives expression to authentic Christian spirituality.
One of the most famous verses of the Bible is Micah 6:8, which provides an excellent summary of the Bible’s view of religion, “He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Clearly then, from the divine perspective politics isn’t so much an end in itself but a means to an end. In other words, healthy spirituality in the Christian faith always expresses itself in the service of others. Serving others often requires political activity because laws and the decisions of government officials have a tremendous impact on the well being of millions of people.
Most people would admit that the government has some influence on the quality of people’s lives. Most people would admit that the laws of our country can help or hinder people’s own attempts to improve their lives. What most people are hesitant about when it comes to politics is the idea of getting involved. Our society over the last few decades has built up a collective distrust of government and political leaders in general. For some people of faith political activity seems like a sure recipe for losing one’s soul. Fierce debates, character attacks, and layers of bureaucracy seem to hinder anything good from happening in the political sphere. The key to maintaining healthy spirituality in the midst of political activity is to remember that you are seeking to serve Christ and not the agenda of a particular group or individual. As an individual believer you may not be active in every facet of politics, but may take a particular interest in issues related to poverty, the environment, or human rights.
When the life of God enters into the soul of a lone individual it calls that person to work for the transformation of the world. When we step outside of the private parts of our life and into the public arena God is still talking to us. Our spiritual cell phones continue to ring. We continue to receive voice messages from God. In fact, it is impossible to be a truly spiritual person if you are keeping certain aspects of your life from God. Religion in the narrow sense of the word may allow people to be Saturday night sinners and Sunday morning saints, but spirituality that is holistic demands a life that is striving for authenticity at all times, and in all places. Followers of Jesus are called to take part in political life, not to push their agenda, but to be faithful in seeking justice on God’s terms. Sadly, the biggest challenge people of faith often face in the political realm is not in expressing their own views but in relating to other people who disagree with them.
You may be aware that conversations related to politics and religion can become somewhat heated. You can take a group of friends, or work colleagues, who normally get along splendidly and drop a political question and you might as well have dropped a bomb. Tempers flare, people get offended, and cuts and bruises appear on the relationships between particular individuals. Remember that one of the signs of God’s presence is when people get along with each other in healthy community.
One of the blessings that God brought out of a politically controversial sermon I preached once on the 4th of July was to encourage some people in the church, who shared different political views, to talk to each other. In their conversations they wanted to reaffirm to one another that at the end of day they were on the same team, not the Republican or Democratic team, but the team of Jesus Christ. One of the keys to maintaining a healthy spirituality in public life is to not lose the divine perspective. It’s very easy to stop noticing God’s presence and to forget that the person you are in ideological conflict with is a fellow traveler on the spiritual pilgrimage of life.
The next time you find yourself getting offended by a particular politician or individual because of their ideology or actions, slow down. Take a couple of deep breaths and let God remind you deep in your soul that you and this person are far more alike than you are different. Of course you are allowed to disagree, and as followers of Jesus at times we have to stand up for what we believe honors the God of love. However, as followers of the God of love we should never be accused of being non-loving to those with whom we disagree. After all, don’t you and I disagree with God’s perspective on a fairly regular basis? God loves us anyway despite all of the things we have done and not done.
Human beings often have the tendency to shy away from topics and discussions that might be unpleasant. You and I often choose the easy way of silence or smiling to get through tense moments in conversations. We shouldn’t always confront, challenge, or correct someone, but if we are going to be faithful to the presence of God in our lives we need to speak up more often. Why is it common wisdom that you don’t discuss religion or politics in polite company? It’s because such conversations might cause anxiety, disagreement, and controversy among the individuals in the discussion. As followers of Jesus we have to stop shying away from the hard issues of life. If followers of Jesus are truly united on the same team with God, then what is preventing them from discussing some important issues about which they might disagree? If you want the color scheme of your life to match with Christ, start to let the Spirit guide you politically.
Allegiance for the Christian is ultimately to the Lord Jesus Christ and not to any particular political ideology or party. Whatever your ideology, don’t assume automatically it is in alignment with the Christian faith. For your political beliefs and activities to be honest expressions of your spirituality, you must first wrestle with Jesus about your political beliefs. You can’t determine who is a faithful follower of Jesus by political party affiliation or by their view on a specific social-political issue. Social issues are greatly impacted by laws and government leadership and require a Christian response. God is always calling us and asking us to share the love He has given us with others. Sometimes love requires political activity to express itself in a faithful way.