A New Christian Politics
America’s political discourse is broken and it’s hindering our ability to solve the country’s problems. We have heard this claim repeated so often that we are numb to it. What should startle and shame us is the role Christians play in perpetuating the country’s toxic political climate. In too many cases, we are not peacemakers helping to heal the divide, we’re aggravating it. Whether we’re twisting scripture to defend President Trump or trading insult for insult with our political opponents on social media, it’s clear Christians need to be more Christ-like in our discourse. We also need to do a better job of applying biblical principles to the most pressing issues of the day.
A recently released a report entitled “Hidden Tribes”took a deep dive into America’s divided political landscape. The researchers tried to understand what’s driving us apart and what can bring us together. Based on the core beliefs of Americans, the study identified seven political tribes and found that the two most extreme groups, Progressive Activists and Devoted Conservatives, were the smallest (8% and 6% of Americans respectively), but also the most engaged. Notably, these groups were on opposite ends of almost every issue, but were most likely to be white and affluent.
Progressive Activists and Devoted Conservatives represent the far left and far right of the political spectrum. They’re relatively few in number, but they dominate a disproportionate share of the political conversation. They control popular narratives and the reward and punishment mechanism in their political parties. They are the loudest and most determined activists. Anecdotally, they’re regulars on our TV screens because their provocative rhetoric is good for ratings, which further amplifies their outsized voices. They aren’t necessarily winning converts, but they’re pushing policy and discourse further to the extremes.
Our failure to present a voice that’s just as bold, but more aspirational has resulted in irreconcilable tensions that are “consuming our politics and putting democracy in peril.”
American society can’t find common ground and Christians on the left and right are reflecting that division. But our shared Christian principles should enable us to find common cause.
When we enter the political space we’re compelled to strongly identify with the far left or the far right. We’re either all in for social justice at the expense of historic moral convictions or all in for conservative principles at the expense of justice. We’re told that the center doesn’t exist and if we don’t accept the party’s agenda wholesale then we’re naively helping the opposition. These tactics are effective at consolidating a party’s political power, but they prevent Christians from fully representing the compassion and conviction of the Gospel.
Christians should participate in party politics. But we cannot be generic Republicans willing to sacrifice our compassion and overlook rightwing bigotry or generic Democrats willing to surrender our convictions to a faith-averse leftwing. It’s time for new Christian politics that defy both sides when necessary. We need more Republicans that think like Jack Kemp and more Democrats that think like Fannie Lou Hamer (Look for an article by Dr. CJ Rhodes about this next week).
It starts by being confident in who you are as a Christian and what you believe. The sociopolitical arena is no place to find your identity. You must go into that space knowing your core beliefs and what you’re unwilling to compromise. If you’re not completely resolved to maintain your Christian principles in your political actions, then I can guarantee you won’t. You’ll be lured away by self-interest, groupthink, a sympathetic narrative, or partisans offering power or prestige. These issues have tempted God’s people since biblical times.
If we’re organized and intentional about representing a clear and credible Christian witness, then we can promote just laws and politics for the good of a just society. Here are some key components of New Christian Politics:
Social Justice (Compassion): Christian politics must reflect God’s love rather than human bitterness and belligerence. To love our neighbors is to ensure they are treated fairly and with dignity. We must be peacemakers and seek the well-being of all people. This means we have to oppose unjust leaders, systems and institutions vigorously.
Biblical Values (Conviction): Doctrine always matters. Christian convictions don’t change with time or the spirit of the day. It’s essential that we maintain a biblical worldview, which includes, among other things, upholding the dignity of every human life and the historic Christian family and sexual ethic.
Common Good: Christian advocacy has been dominated by Christian self-interest, but we’re here to look out for the interest of others, not primarily to protect ourselves. Our advocacy should focus on the common good and human flourishing.
Informed Civility: We must be aware of the issues, informed about the civic process and familiar with the spirit of the day. It’s also important that we treat our opponents with respect and refuse to dehumanize even those who dehumanize us. We must be aspirational.
Accountability: A principled witness in the public square must always be prioritized over winning elections and party loyalty. Supporting or defending an elected official or candidate merely because of his or her party or cultural identity is lazy and can easily be manipulated. We must be impartial in holding leaders and parties accountable for their messages and policies.
Unity (Joint Advocacy): Christians must find common ground by transcending divisive partisanship and ideology to emphasize our shared biblical principles. In order to reconcile, we’ll have to defy our tribes, risk political capital,`and advocate for issues outside of our comfort zones.
In sum, we cannot find our primary identity in any political party or cultural tribe. When orthodox Christians participate in culture and politics, we must be determined to maintain biblical fidelity. Our commitment to social justice and biblical values must be the foundation of our engagement. This requires us to critique popular culture, reject hyper-partisanship, and love the enemies of righteousness and justice, while boldly calling them to account. Our witness must be clear, courageous, compassionate and most importantly biblical. Doctrine always matters and the common good trumps Christian self-interest. #NewChristianPolitics