Monday, May 7, 2012
Christianity and Politics
In an editorial in today's USA Today, columnist Jonathan Merritt describes a shift in attitude among younger evangelical Christians regarding political activism ("New form of civic engagement" – May 7, 2012). Mr. Merritt says that the old form of civic engagement focused on two or three central issues, such as abortion and homosexuality, and became deeply involved in partisan politics as a result, with a large majority of social conservatives in the U.S. voting Republican. The younger generation, according to Mr. Merritt, is less partisan and more interested in a broader range of issues. Mr. Merritt concludes the article by saying "So I say bring on the new brand of political engagement. Because crucifying the culture war model could be the only hope of resurrecting American Christianity in a new century."
A lot of Mr. Merritt's observations certainly ring true. The culture wars of the past several decades have tarnished the image of Evangelicalism without remedying the social ills it tried to protest. Yet several cautions are in order.
First of all, it must be said that the church has a right and a duty to speak forthrightly about social issues. Separation of church and state does not mean separation of the government from justice or the law from morality. As morally responsible human beings we cannot stand by idly while society rushed headlong over the precipice. The stability of the family, chronic poverty and access to healthcare are all pressing issues that demand attention.
As Christians, however, we must be wary of partisan politics. Both major political parties in the U.S. are largely secular in nature and encompass broad ranges of political interests. While the record of the Democratic Party on family issues is appalling, there are elements of the Republican Party's agenda that are hard to square with biblical norms as well. Typical Republican positions on the military and the economy, for instance, raise serious issues involving the 6th and 8th Commandments respectively. In order protect the integrity of our witness to society we must be careful to distinguish Christian values from those of the secular world.
Which leads us to the all-important question of how are we to engage society? The biblical answer, we think, is clear enough: we engage society primarily through evangelism. The real problem with the world today is not a handful of political issues. Rather it is the latent evil that lurks in the darkest recesses of the human heart. And the solution to this evil is not to be found in the political process, but rather in the transformative work of the Holy Spirit in the preaching of the gospel. Win the hearts of the people to Christ first, and social reform will come later.
The apostle Paul described his approach this way: "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God, for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ" (II Cor. 10:4,5; NKJV).