Donald Trump is our president. No matter what reaction you had to that statement, you have to admit that everyone seems to be talking about him. This election cycle and the following administration have been so polarizing that you can find people who were once apathetic to politics having one opinion or another on the future of our country. Many of us now wonder how Christians should respond, if at all.
There are reasons to be hesitant or at least cautious when it comes to mixing politics with religion. We want to be careful not to alienate people with our stances and rhetoric. We want to talk about Jesus, not argue about taxes or domestic policies.
At the same time, we are called to be witnesses to the world and that world is inexplicably filled with politicians and power that often need to be pushed by the people. Weren’t many abolitionists Christian, like Charles Spurgeon and John Wesley? Shouldn’t we protect the lives of the unborn that are being threatened today?
So, who is right? The answer is simple and complex: Both sides are right. In fact, there are four sides.
Tim Keller writes about these groupings in his book Center Church. The following is a very simplified description of the four belief systems and how each interacts with cultural institutions, which includes politics.
In one group (Transformationists), the members see the world as broken and culture as corrupt. They believe Christians and the church need to take an active role in shaping our country to bring it more in line with God’s holiness.
Others (Counterculturalists) see that same broken world and believe we should live apart from its institutions and not seek to influence it directly. They believe Christians and the church should withdraw from the world’s ways to be a clear alternative to the current culture. They reason that what happens in the church - preaching, discipling, witnessing - matters more than what happens outside of it.
But another side (Relevance) sees much of God’s common grace in the world and believe they should be a part of greatly influencing it. They therefore seek to be a part of cultural institutions, from music to social justice movements, to reach non-Christians and point them towards Christ.
A final group (Two Kingdoms) sees common grace as well, but believes that the church itself is not in the business of transforming culture. They believe there is there is a difference between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world, and so they believe the church’s role is to equip Christians to work and interact within culture without being a force for change.
Let’s take a closer look at these four groups by tackling a simpler issue than politics: Halloween. Should Christians celebrate this day?
Transformationists would say Christians shouldn’t celebrate Halloween because it’s a worldly holiday. Instead, they would have Christian events on that day, like a Harvest night or some other non-Halloween event in which kids could come to church.
Counterculturalists also see Halloween as a corrupting force but would not seek to transform the holiday, and so they would be the ones who would turn off their house lights and not participate in the revelry.
Relevance thinkers would say Christians should participate fully in the neighborhood’s Halloween events to reach the community, and they would have their kids to go trick-or-treating around the block and pass out candy to kids in costumes.
Two Kingdoms believers would allow Christians to participate in Halloween but would not have a church-sponsored event because Halloween is not the church’s focus.
I’m sure you fall into one, or maybe two, of these camps. Perhaps you have been in churches or had leaders that you can easily categorize into a group. But we must remember that although there might be a side we strongly identify with, the other belief systems are just as valid.
We must realize that each group has something to contribute and each group has something it lacks. The world is not quite as broken as some Transformationists and Counterculturalists believe. But Relevance and Two Kingdoms thinkers must remember that the world is not “good enough” either and there must be some change inspired by and aiming for the Gospel. At the same time, there are times when we cannot rely on cultural institutions to change the world, and Transformationists and Relevance believers will find that the institutions themselves can become idols. And Two Kingdoms and Counterculturalists at times will need to speak with loud voices against grave injustices and forcefully protect those around them who are oppressed.
By clinging to one group too fiercely, we will ultimately dilute, distort, or discount the Gospel.
And that is why I believe that we should be as politically engaged as God has both made us to be and wants us to be while also relying on those who think differently than us to fill in for our blind spots. For some of us, we are compelled to write to our Congressmen for Christian causes, taking a pro-life stance and standing up for religious freedom for Christians on university campuses. Others attend general protests to speak out for more social justice causes, like institutionalized racism and immigrants’ rights. An additional group will never post anything political on Facebook but be very involved with helping the homeless in their community through their church. Another will volunteer at secular cultural institutions and try to be faithful Christians within them. We need each other to enact Gospel change in our communities, governments, and the world.
In this way, we make up the body of Christ. We are all different, but we all need each other. Parts of us will be more “political,” but we are all seeking to further the reign of Christ.
But there are things all Christians can and must do in both this political climate and in any environment to help us effectively change the world and cultural institutions, no matter where we fall on the spectrum.
Whatever our tendencies, we must remember that the first step must always be to pray for the world, which God loves and sent his Son to die for. We must pray to feel that same love and burden for the world.
2. Follow the news
How will we know what to pray for if we don’t know what is going on? By becoming knowledgeable about the world and the people in it, we will have compassion and act according to the leading of His spirit.
3. Listen to voices that are different from yours and simply listen
There are always going to be people we disagree with, whether for religious or political reasons. Our first job is not to argue with them but to really hear them. Read books by people who look and think differently than you. Follow people on Twitter if your Facebook feed is filled with only reformed Christian thinkers and dog memes. By truly listening and seeking out different voices, we can learn empathy, avoid many unintended conflicts, and find ways to reach out with the Gospel.
4. Find the issues you’re passionate about and be active
There is not enough room in our hearts or time in our schedule for us to care about every issue. Pick a few that you are truly compelled by and be a participant, whether that’s through your church, a non-profit, or politics.
5. Participate in local government
Now this one can be tricky, especially if you feel like a Counterculturalist, but hear me out. Voting locally is something we all can and should do because the people in our community are directly affected by city, county, and state policies. Local governments 1.) create policies that affect communities (like housing policy) and 2.) interpret, enforce, and (sometimes) ignore federal law. For those of you who feel more strongly about influencing culture, exercising this right is a great way to make your voice heard.
6. Pray. Pray again and again
Pray for the areas you are passionate about, but also pray that God will reveal any blind spots you have in your view of the world. Pray that God would bring in new perspectives and ideas through diverse voices. Pray that God gives you friends who will open your eyes to their issues and their concerns.
As Christians, we are the most free people in politics and culture. We know that whether or not our particular issue passes or fails, or one president is elected or not elected, it has no effect on our future citizenship. Our ultimate kingdom is that of Christ’s, when he rules on both heaven and earth, and in that political system, Jesus is king.
So this is my encouragement to those of you who feel conflicted during this election cycle. Don’t be. God has made you to have certain affinities in how you live out the Gospel and so if you want to go out and protest, do it in Christ’s love. If you want to live a quiet life but love people at the margins, do it for Christ’s glory.
Because as we wait for God’s Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven, we are free to serve and love the world deeply, in the way He has called us to and in the way His Son served, loved, and died for the world.
Hannah Chao is a wife and a mom of two beautiful little girls. She is also addicted to Twitter. Hannah attends All Nations Community Church.