How does a Christian exercise his or
her duty as a citizen of the United States in a manner that also
respects citizenship in God’s kingdom? This isn’t an easy
question to answer. Jesus did not dismiss civil obligation, not even
in the Roman Empire under Caesar, where people, especially conquered
people, had far less freedom. In the United States, such
responsibility means respect for authority, payment of taxes (even if
they are excessive), and possibly military service, but it also
requires participation in the democratic system. Christians should
be thoroughly familiar with how American government works, inform
themselves about candidates and issues, exercise their right to
demand faithful representation, vote, of course, and perhaps even run
for elective office.

Since the emergence of the so-called
“Christian Right,” many have offered their views on how
Christians ought to participate in the political process. The
appearance of Christians expressing their convictions regarding
public policy issues became a problem for some when the clearly came
to represent a powerful constituency capable of turning an election.
Issues like abortion, gay rights, traditional marriage, and cultural
deterioration motivated Christians to vote for those who clearly
supported their traditional values, while progressive secularists
complained about their unwelcome influence. Some insisted that such
involvement violated “separation of church and state” despite
clear historical evidence to the contrary. Indeed, the secular
humanists were the ones well outside the historical mainstream.

As time and enthusiasm passed, some
Christians began to question the close identification of the
Republican Party with certain Christian leaders, such as James Dobson
and Pat Robertson, Some prominent leaders like Jerry Falwell and
James Kennedy have died, and pundits are ready to declare that the
influence of the Christian Right is dead as well. While the
Republican Party faces its own demons of greed and sexual misconduct,
the Democrat Party is attempting for the first time in a long while
to appeal to Christians, beyond the African American churches that
have been accepted and allied for several decades (I have always
found this latter affiliation to be somewhat remarkable given that Lincoln
and the Republican Party were the advocates of liberating the slaves
and the earliest proponents of civil rights). Issues of war and
social justice seem to be drawing some Christians to the Democrats,
while abortion and family values remain the purview of the
Republican Party.

Plainly, Jesus does not belong to one
political party or the other. The Bible offers no basis for
declaring party loyalty, and a Christian should be wary of subverting
the Lordship of Christ under an earthly, political banner. Anyone may
choose, merely as an American citizen, to belong to a party, run for
office under that party banner, and be a loyal member of that party,
just as a person might be a devoted member of the Kiwanis or PTA, as
long as they do not yield up their first loyalty to

Another set of labels also comes onto
play—liberal, conservative, progressive, socialist neo-con,
libertarian, and many others, even theo-con. These designations may be especially
confusing for Christians, for some use them to refer to various
movements of Christians, as well. Additionally, words like
fundamentalist and evangelical, with meanings that have themselves
changed over time, add more confusion. Long before “political
correctness” began to exert influence, a comparable “spiritual
correctness” had already divided Christians, even if they had no
particular word for what was happening. Labeling, judgment,
factional division, and political strife have long been common in the
Church, just as it has always been part of the fabric of American
politics. In both arenas, Christians need to be thoughtful and wise
in their participation, being careful to avoid those attitudes and
behaviors contrary to the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Using labels is often a cheap approach to gain favor, and it violates our duty to love our neighbors, as Jesus taught.

For example, in choosing a candidate to
support, certain characteristics ought to be paramount. While we
have no right to demand a Christian candidate, we have every right to
expect people who would serve as elected leaders to be honest and
. I find it exceedingly disappointing to see Christians
choose ideology over integrity in supporting a candidate. Some, far
too many in fact, candidates are grossly dishonest, deceptive, and
manipulative; it serves no useful purpose to ignore the obvious,
thinking that a liar will somehow be a good leader. While this
should be of particular concern to believers, I don’t see how
anyone manages to trust a dishonest person to be a good leader,
regardless of their political orientation.

I find the cynical attempt to
manipulate Christians, presumably by their own beliefs, to be most
offensive. If a Republican (since they have been more associated
with Christians) messes up, the Democrats and their allies are quick
to point out their failing; yet Democrats are often guilty of the
same or worse sins, and they say nothing (The case of Democrat Tim Mahoney who took Mark Foley’s seat is a case in point). Consider the difference in
coverage of John Edwards and Sarah Palin; the former was guilty of
cheating on his sick wife, the latter had a pregnant, unmarried
daughter. It was almost funny watching them try to turn Christians
against Palin, who was doing what any good parent might do under the
circumstances; she was loving her daughter despite her mistake.
Edwards, on the other hand, was only revealed in his adultery through
careful investigation, and he only ever acted like a guilty man.

All American citizens are guaranteed by the First Amendment certain freedoms, although many try to tell us otherwise.  Secular progressives would love to silence us, and they get some help from court decisions contrary to the plain sense of the Constitution.  This battle for freedom won’t end soon unless it ends to our detriment.  The reaction to Sarah Palin’s nomination is a good illustration of how intensely some would like us to go away with our inconvenient, traditional values.  We dare not concede this battle.

However, although I used the word “battle,” we must not stop being people who love our neighbors and speak to them respectfully and lovingly.  Anticipating such challenges, Jesus taught his disciples to be “wise as serpents and gentle as doves.”  He has not suspended his encouragement in “Blessed are the peacemakers, who will be recognized as God’s children” (my variation but accurate, I believe).  Too much of today’s conversation is hostile, angry, and antagonistic; our conversation, even when it may involve politics, must be redemptive.  The key to being effective is to be civil, in the most powerful sense of the word.

I remain optimistic about our future.  I believe we can influence our neighbors and communities in a positive direction.  The key or keys remain in our hands.  I doubt that the abortion issue will be solved at the ballot box; I don’t believe the future will restore our American heritage simply because our candidates win elections.  That heritage grew out of revival, the Great Awakening, and from that came the profound influence of Christianity on our nation’s founding and later on the abolition of slavery.  Whether we are reaching out to the lost with the message of redemption in Christ or speaking winningly with our co-workers, neighbors, or relatives about the best candidates for the good of our country, our attitude and demeanor must be “gracious yet salty.”

Without question, politics can be ugly.  Often those who get involved start out good and decent, but the pressures of money and influence draw them away into scandal and corruption.  We must do all we can to support, pray for, and encourage the best people, including godly people to dare to venture into what is often a nasty business.  Our founders new that without good character, our leaders would fail us.  We need to find and stand for the best men and women, vote against those who are openly dishonest and corrupt, and work to raise a new generation of character-driven citizens.  The task may not be easy, but it is possible, for with God all things are possible!


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