Editor’s note: When I asked my colleague Tim Abraham to write what God put on his heart, I never expected a piece on politics. And this isn’t a site about politics. It’s a site about leadership. That said, journey through this wonderfully written piece by Tim and you’ll see why this isn’t just relevant to Christians in general but leaders in particular. Those of us who want to lead well in our churches must understand what it means to navigate politics in 2016: all eyes in your church are on you. We would all be wise to learn from Tim’s thoughts here. Enjoy.
Politics and religion—the two topics that either extinguish or ignite conversations.
With the continued rise of social media and the devolution to the one-minute news cycle, ignited conversations continuously combust into uncontrollable wildfires. The fires’ wake leaves scorched remains of divineness, destruction, and decay on our social and individual levels.
The toll of the 2016 presidential election process—in only its middle stages—looks more like the dark, scorched earth after General Sherman’s march compared to the bright, shining light Lady Liberty represents. Prominent voices from all spectrums of politics and religion attempt to resonate louder with words of critical analysis, calls to action, criticism and admonishment, and a cupboard of anything else.
Christians are not above these actions, immune to their implications, or free from their fallout. So, we must ask: In this tumultuous political and spiritual time, how are we to follow Jesus and share His gospel, all for God’s glory? Said differently: How will God work in us and through us so we may mature in our relationship with Jesus and see others begin and mature in theirs?
Let’s look at the underlying purpose and spiritual effects of four choices of actions to see their common results.
1 Corinthians 10:31: So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
As followers of Jesus, we are called to do everything for the glory of God. From our private attitudes to our public actions, the underlying spiritual purpose of all we do is for God. This, then, includes our political beliefs, thoughts, and actions.
Do you engage in the political process aiming to glorify God?
1 Peter 2:12: Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.
Today’s political landscape often paints political parties and certain faiths (or lack thereof) with the same brush. In other words, if you are of a particular faith, then you are often affiliated with a particular party. Therefore, a watching world often associates and converts political thoughts and actions with a corresponding faith. For example, on a very broad level, the world views evangelical Christians as people with similar views held by the Republican party. So, the world ties Republican platforms and the words and actions of Republicans to Christianity and labels the religion accordingly.
With the aforementioned rise of social media and mass communication, all of us continue to live more and more in a fishbowl. Our thoughts and actions become more visible by all. This means we must place great import and care on how we engage in the political process. We all too often place numerous stumbling blocks and create an even larger divide when we engage in the political process with those who do not follow Jesus.
Do you consciously, carefully weigh your political thoughts and actions from an eternal perspective, desiring not to push people away from Jesus, but rather drawing them to Him?
Romans 14:13: So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.
As recorded in chapter 17, verse 21 of Matthew’s inspired account, Jesus prays to the Father, “I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.” Followers of Jesus are to be unified. Why? So the watching world will believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our political actions towards another brother or sister in Christ easily construct stumbling blocks not only for us, but for the world. Why would someone be drawn to a faith that viciously attacks its own?
Do you condemn fellow followers of Jesus by seeing a particular political party as being more “right,” “better,” or “Christian?”
Consequences of our Actions
2 Corinthians 5:18-21: And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.
All actions have intended and unintended consequences. We foresee and predict some results of what we do, but we also miss others. As a political scientist, one of the definitions used to define the political process is the process of allocating scarce resources among individuals, special interest groups, or a particular segment of a population. Thus, the political process inherently causes the locus of attention to move towards oneself and creates divisions among people. We must be aware of this when engaging in the political process in an effort to limit negative unintended consequences.
We are reconciled reconcilers, ambassadors for Jesus. The term “ambassador” means a person who acts as a representative or promoter of a specified activity. In politics, it means a foreign diplomat who officially represents the country. Spiritually, we are foreign representatives saved by God’s grace through faith officially representing Jesus living in a world far from Him. As such, we are not to be seen as unreconciled pot-stirrers who are ambassadors for a particular political issue, candidate, or party. We are to be seen as ambassadors for Jesus, who reconciled the world to Himself. While the political process ultimately divides, we as Christians are called to be used by God to unify.
Are you more of a divisive, political ambassador or a unifying, gospel ambassador?
Action Choice #1: Praying, Loving, and Caring vs. Politicking, Lecturing, and Complaining
1 Thessalonians 5:17: Never stop praying.
Philippians 2:14-15: Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.
For the “Captain Obvious Point of the Day,” we must understand that the root of a relationship is relating to one another. True relationship does not exist apart from communication and response.
As followers of Jesus, we rightly relate to God through His Holy Spirit’s opening our hearts and minds to God’s saving grace through Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection (i.e., justification). That’s just the first date—though the most important—in our relationship with God. As we are made in His image, we are called to grow and ever more rightly relate with God as we mature in our following (i.e., sanctification). Our relationship with God cannot mature apart from communication with Him—both listening and talking to Him.
We listen to God by being empowered through the Holy Spirit to rightly discern the truths of His written Word (the Bible) and Word made flesh (in the person of Jesus Christ). We prayerfully meditate on these truths, asking God to give us more of His true wisdom and listening for His guidance. In this way, we receive and process incoming communication from God.
In addition to listening to God, we talk to Him in prayer. From raw, guttural, emotional cries lifted up from dark valleys to praises of rejoicing and thanks echoing from life’s mountaintop experiences, we boldly talk to an always-listening God who cares about even the smallest details of our lives.
Listening and talking to God will transform our hearts to long for God’s affections—His love for all and, in His great mercy and patience, desire to see all enjoy being rightly related to Him through Jesus. If this becomes our main pursuit in life—to fulfill the Great Commission to make disciple-making disciples of Jesus Christ—then it dramatically alters how we look at everyone else, including those with whom we may disagree politically.
Our eyes become opened from seeing people with political differences not as enemy soldiers but as eternal souls. Partisan politicking fades into a personal pursuit. The only party that matters is the human party, the sole plank of its platform being the need for Jesus Christ.
Think about your politicking. Do your posts on social media continually hammer your political views or denigrate other views? Do you watch the news and become angry with those who don’t think exactly like you? Do you engage in political conversations that rarely, if ever, change someone’s opinion but often become filled with anger? Do you lecture others, telling them how you’re right and they’re wrong? Do you protest for or against a particular issue, yelling and screaming thinking that however loud you are will sway opinions? Do you complain when the smallest political issue is not resolved to your liking?
I am not saying political activities are inherently evil or unproductive, but I am questioning our attitude as we engage in the political process. Do you communicate more with political allies or opponents than with the God who created and sustains both you and them? Praying will transform our perspective from one focused on elections and politically changing kingdoms to eternity and God’s everlasting kingdom. Lecturing and complaining about political issues will fade away to loving and caring about people.
Do you politick, lecture, and complain more than you pray, love, and care for people and their need for Jesus?
Action Choice #2: Worshipping vs. Worrying
Psalm 2:1,4,6: Why are the nations so angry? Why do they waste their time with futile plans? … But the one who rules in heaven laughs. The Lord scoffs at them. … For the Lord declares, “I have placed my chosen king on the throne in Jerusalem, on my holy mountain.”
John 14:27: “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”
Followers of Jesus know the end of the story—the victory over Satan and evil, the conquering of death, the promise of eternal life with no pain, tears, or suffering. We also know that this world will continue to move farther away from Jesus until that glorious day. Armed with that knowledge, there is no suspense. Yet, we see followers of Jesus worrying about the direction of our nation and our world. We know it has to happen, yet we try to stand in the way like Peter tried to stand in Jesus’ way before the crucifixion.
I’m not advocating that we have a laissez-faire attitude towards politics or the world around us. Rather, I’m advocating we look at the political process and world around us as fallen and broken through the lens of being an ambassador for Christ on a mission to be used by God to bring people to Jesus. Each day brings more opportunities as we stand out for God with the world falling away from Him.
Don’t worry about what will happen; we already know. Instead, look at the world and see it as confirmation of biblical prophecy. Worship God for His Word and the Word made flesh, Jesus. Thank God for giving you the opportunity to shine for Him and see spiritual reconciliation with eternal ramifications.
It’s this affirming knowledge of what lies ahead that is a God-given gift enabling us to have a peace of mind and heart that politics and the world cannot give.
Are you worshipping God more than worrying about politics?
The Heart of the Matter
Psalm 22:8: For royal power belongs to the Lord. He rules all the nations.
Romans 13:1: Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.
1 Corinthians 15:24-28: After that the end will come, when [Jesus] will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power. For Christ must reign until he humbles all his enemies beneath his feet. And the last enemy to be destroyed is death. For the Scriptures say, “God has put all things under his authority.” (Of course, when it says “all things are under his authority,” that does not include God himself, who gave Christ his authority.) Then, when all things are under his authority, the Son will put himself under God’s authority, so that God, who gave his Son authority over all things, will be utterly supreme over everything everywhere.
Election 2016 is a pivotal moment in America’s history, its results sparking changes in one way or another. Yet, regardless of its outcome, God is sovereignly in control and ruling. In today’s society, government is seen by the world as a god, and individual glory is at its center. But government is not the God whom we worship as followers of Jesus. Followers of Jesus are called to live for God’s glory. It’s not about self; it’s about God.
Ultimately, we must join Peter and the apostles by boldly echoing their statement in Acts 5:29: “We must obey God rather than any human authority.”
Such obedience calls for us to engage in the political process in such a way as not to set stumbling blocks before others and further the divide between them and God.
Such obedience calls for us to pray to our sovereign God, love people as God’s ambassadors, and caring for people’s souls more than political “success.”
Such obedience calls for us to worship God at all times, even during this election.
Such obedience calls for us to do all this for one reason—for God’s glory.
Can you be found obeying God in Election 2016?
Tim Abraham is a Church Strategy and Leadership consultant with The Malphurs Group. Tim has been blessed to gain leadership experience from a wide variety of venues. From serving on the executive leadership of a large church to gleaning leadership lessons from the halls of West Virginia’s state capital, Tim has a deep understanding of what it takes to lead well. Tim resides in Myrtle Beach, SC with his wife.