“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” – 2 Cor 5:17-20
It’s a rather lovely tenet of Christianity, weaving its way through the gospels and the new testament, with traces back to the old testament – we belong to a kingdom not of this world. The old testament prophets were looking for a “city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb 11:10). Christ did not fight the Romans because His kingdom was “not of this world” (John 18:36). And we, those who have chosen to follow His calling, chosen to trust Him as Lord, are citizens of that kingdom; and while we’re here, we are “strangers in a strange land” (Exodus 2:22). As foreigners, not on travel for vacation or pleasure, but representing our homeland, we are thus ambassadors.
There’s a wonderful story out there about long-time missionary Henry C. Morrison coming home to America after 40 years in Africa. On his trip home, he happened to travel in the same ship as president Teddy Roosevelt, who had been in Africa on safari. Roosevelt met with great fanfare and applause at the docks, and Morrison was met by nobody. At this Morrison lamented that a man could spend a few weeks killing wild animals in Africa and return home to much rejoicing, but he could sacrifice a lifetime for the cause of the kingdom and return home to obscurity. At this the Lord responded in a still small voice – “you are not home yet.”
We belong to a different kingdom. We are to be salt and light in this world (Matt 5:13-16), but our home is elsewhere.
As frequent readers will know, I spend a great deal of time discussing the role of government in our lives, good versus bad public policy, and politics in general. Over the years, I’ve noticed an interesting quirk of American Christendom in regards to politics, which I hope to lay out here.
First, some statistics. Recent polling (found in Beyond a House Divided by Carl Anderson) shows the following amongst Americans in regards to “moral compass” and whether institutions are moving it in the “right direction” – “wrong direction” – “no effect.”
- Religious values: 48%-35%-17%
- Religious leaders: 43%-38%-19%
- Federal government: 21%-66%-13%
- Politicians: 10%-82%-8%
Religious values and leaders hold a plurality of “right direction” over “wrong direction,” while government and politicians are overwhelmingly seen as pushing us in the wrong direction (from a “moral compass” standpoint). The reason I find this interesting is that the behavior of the former (religious “folks”) does not appear to imply anything like a recognition of these numbers. Quite the contrary. To see how we act in regards to politics would make one believe that we are followers not leaders, and that the government and politicians are the trusted entities of the day.
The thing I’ve noticed is this: when Christians discuss politics, especially when they care about politics and the direction of the country (which I think we all should), they tend to behave more as partisans than ambassadors; they tend to adopt the approach of defending whatever policy position is staked out by their preferred candidate or party, and attempt to wrap a Christian veneer around it. A few examples (some of which I’ve used before).
Back during the 2008 presidential campaign, Christian author Donald Miller, who supported president Obama, was asked about the president’s position on abortion. The president is pro-choice, a position that is utterly untenable unless you cast off either (a) the Biblical notion of the sanctity of life or (b) the trivial notion that the government ought to prevent murder (also based on Biblical foundation – see Ten Commandments). Donald Miller grasped about for some lame defense which basically amounted to “abortion is an economic issue, and if you solve the economic woes then the abortion problem will resolve itself.” Utter, total crap. First, it’s not even accurate. Second, it’s indefensible as a Christian (unless your “god” is money). Third, I have never heard Mr. Miller recant his support for Obama now that his policies have made the economy worse. None of this is the point though. Rather, I ask why did Donald Miller have to defend an indefensible position at all? Why couldn’t he just say “no, Obama’s policy on abortion is reprehensible and horrid, but I still support his candidacy on the balance for [insert list of reasons], and I’ll continue to press the president and the party over this issue.”? Perhaps because we’re partisans and not ambassadors.
In a conversation just a few weeks ago, a Christian friend of mine (known to be an Obama supporter and Democrat) made some nonsensical argument in defense of homosexuality. (Effectively a “born that way so it’s OK” argument.) Now, maybe you believe that or maybe you don’t – but it doesn’t come close to squaring with what the Bible has to say about the issue (see 1 Cor 6:9-10 as one of many, many examples). My point is, why did this friend have to stake out a position to fit with the Democratic mantra, instead of simply saying “no, this plank of the party platform is wrong, but I still support the party for [insert list of reasons].”? Perhaps because we’re partisans and not ambassadors. (Of course, this really isn’t an issue where politics has to enter at all – if you believe in limited government. The point is that we feel this need to align ourselves to whatever party we support, and the coalition that supports that party; this ought not be the case.)
Of course the right wing does it just as much. Of late the Republicans have worked to build a coalition that includes what I might call immigration “protectionists” who seem to want to keep America as European (in make up and language) as possible. In the process of this coalition building, I’ve heard any number of Christians make weak, thin arguments about immigration policy that amount approximately to “keep them out.” One wonders why we can’t simply say “we support the Republican party for [insert list of reasons], but will continue to press them on immigration reform and defending the rights of aliens.”? (See Malachi 3:5 as one of many, many examples.)
In all of this we stand reason on its head. We ought by no means to be mere partisans and followers of the political machine. We ought to be salt and light, and speak truth to power (and truth with power). This is clearly what the country would prefer (see polling stats above), and it is far more in line with our kingdom citizenship.
Note that I’m not promoting a detached view of the political process. We ought to be involved. How else to make a positive impact? (For crying out loud, Bonhoeffer went so far as to support a plot to assassinate Hitler … writing a blog and being politically active in the freest country on earth is pretty dang simple by comparison.)
With our involvement though, we ought to be able to openly criticize policies we oppose, even if supported by politicians that we ultimately support. To not do so is to place short-term political benefits over the truth. We have neither time nor place to lay down Biblical principles in favor of some presumed benefit of this party over that.
To defend the indefensible for the sake of providing political cover is to join a kingdom of this world. This we cannot do.