As you may have heard, there will be a national election in a few short weeks. Given that reality, I wanted to share with you a few thoughts on politics. I’m not able to say everything in this short letter that I might. And there’s nothing that I’ll say that in this letter that is really profound. But I thought it might be helpful for you to hear a few simple things from your pastor.
First, I want you to know that you should feel free to participate as much as you feel called to do so in the political process. In God’s providence, you are part of a constitutional republic, and you should feel every freedom to participate as much or as little as you feel called to do so. This might include voting, openly supporting particular political candidates or issues, engaging in political debate with friends or neighbors, or even running for political office yourself. I support you in these endeavors, and believe these are all practices Christians may freely engage in.
But, if you choose to engage in these kinds of political activities, I encourage you to do so intentionally as a Christian. This, of course, means many things, but at a very minimum it means this:
1) Your life is meant to be characterized by the fruit of the Holy Spirit which Jesus has given you. So, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control should all be front and center in your political participation and discourse. These fruits are not optional for the Christian life. They are a description of the holiness of Jesus that must characterize all of our lives if we are follow him, including our political lives.
2) However you engage in the political process, I would encourage you to do so in a way so that, as far as you can control, your heart is not overly tied to the outcome of a particular election, legislative vote, supreme court decision, etc., etc. We all long for the Kingdom of God. And yet, we must remember the words of the Psalmist, and trust that Jesus, the true King, continues to reign always and everywhere. And our ultimate political theology is to actively put our trust in Jesus, not in men. As Psalm 146:3-10 states:
“Put not your trust in princes,
in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.
When his breath departs, he returns to the earth;
on that very day his plans perish.
Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord his God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them,
who keeps faith forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed,
who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the sojourners;
he upholds the widow and the fatherless,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
The Lord will reign forever,
your God, O Zion, to all generations.
Praise the Lord!”
As T. S. Eliot once put it in a poem: “Teach us to care and not to care.” Eliot wasn’t necessarily talking about politics, but I think his advice is sound in this arena. It is fitting for us to care about these things, but also at the same time, not to care, at least not in an ultimate sense. The church has survived and even flourished under all kinds of political systems and regimes and laws in its long history. Remembering this will help make us wise as we participate in our own political system.
Finally, someone asked me the other day why I choose to speak so little about political candidates or contemporary political issues as a pastor. I know that there are other pastors who think and act differently than I do, but in twelve years of ordained ministry, this has been my approach. You simply won’t know who I vote for, or what I think about most political issues. And yes, I do have political opinions.
The reason for my general silence is two-fold.
First of all, I think there are a large number of political issues that good Christians can safely disagree on, and I am very aware of my public role in the church. I want our church to be a place where political opinions do not unnecessarily divide us, and in fact, where we are truly united around the person of the Lord Jesus, not partisan political allegiances. And I think my public role as a pastor has some influence in creating space for that unity.
Second, in a culture that seems to take as a basic assumption that our current political questions and political outcomes are the most important things that human beings can think about or personally influence, I would like my general silence to be a subtle reminder that this is in fact not true.
There are some ways in which the election in six weeks matters. But in most of the things that are most important, its outcome doesn’t really matter at all.
And regardless of what happens on November 3, my call to you as as your pastor on November 4 will be the same: let’s keep following Jesus together.