Faith & Politics: A Better Way

Challenge Central: a CBC devotional

By: Charlie Lyons

I grew up in a setting where it was taught that we shouldn’t talk about religion and politics in public. Years later, through a mixture of what I like to call ‘divine hijinx and human bumbling,’ I find myself living out my vocation at the very intersection of these two things serving as a legislative chaplain in Ontario’s parliament at Queen’s Park.

Our increasingly divided nation hears far too much talk about taking sides. Phrases like “you’re with us, or you’re against us” or “we’re in, and you’re out” permeate our nation’s political narrative. However, the longer I serve in my chaplaincy ministry role, the more I’m convinced that Canada’s societal issues are less about ‘right or wrong’ and more about a spectrum. In a democracy, the opposing sides of ‘right or wrong’ entrench us, whereas a ‘spectrum’ moves us towards conversation.

Friends, when it comes to faith and politics, I’m convinced that we need more––not less––conversation in our homes, workplaces, family gatherings, and, yes, even in our nation’s pulpits. (By the way, those who would invoke the separation of Church and State argument often misunderstand that the concept was originally about keeping the State out of the affairs of the Church, not the other way around. It’s challenging to keep religion out of politics when every human serving in politics is inherently religious, but I digress––another conversation for another time!)

Followers of Jesus should be the last ones accused of checking their minds and their reason at the door. All too easily, we are giving up our proverbial seats at the city gates when we encourage the notion that it’s better to stay quiet about any complicated topic in the public square.

Instead, what if we did a better job of intentionally teaching how to have thoughtful, civil, and winsome conversations about complex issues? Friends, the Word of God never shies away from lovingly and wisely meeting head-on all kinds of complex topics––nor should the Church of God!

As we winsomely enter into these conversations, we do well to remember that with most societal issues, there tends to be an outspoken 10% at either extreme of the spectrum who communicate the viewpoints we hear most. It’s in this narrow space (again, at both ends of the spectrum) that we find the most podcasts recorded, books sold, speaking gigs acquired, and op-eds written. (Doesn’t it feel sometimes like they’re vying for the title of “Who Can Speak The Loudest The Longest”?!) Some of what’s said here can be good, but when we stay in these spaces for too long, what’s not found there is health and love and joy and longsuffering. When we’re in these places of excess for too long, one finds the opposites—distress, hate, despair, and haste.

Friends, there’s a better way.

There were times when Jesus unequivocally spoke out about infractions of bedrock social issues like justice, equity, and righteousness. However, Jesus’ life and ministry also included vital players who society would be quick to identify as extremists. His disciples include Matthew the Tax Collector (an oppressor) and Simon the Zealot (a revolutionary). Both of these “outspoken 10%” extreme persons and their ideologies were radically transformed by the depolarizing love of Christ. Jesus came to save the whole world—not just the bits any of us like.

So, like Jesus, how can we change the conversation as we worship, grow, and serve? What can we do––personally, even today––to adjust society’s political narrative from that of vitriol and despair to one of blessing and hope? Following is a handful of statements to consider adopting into our conversations.

I will not deify nor vilify political parties and candidates.

Jesus alone is King of kings and Lord of lords. He knows what’s best for us and has instituted earthly, civil authorities to whom we are instructed to submit and esteem with high regard. (Daniel 2:20-22, Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:12-17)

I will pray for my Prime Minister, Premier, and Mayor, even if I disagree with them and didn’t vote for them.

The reason the Apostle Paul gives in 1 Timothy 2:1-4 for praying for rulers is that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. It is for our own good that the government should be stable so that the country is preserved from revolution, civil war, turmoil, and anarchy. See also Jeremiah 29:7.

I will not burn relational bridges for the sake of our own politics.

There’s an old saying from the Stoics: “You don’t have to turn this into something. It doesn’t have to upset you. Things can’t shape our decisions by themselves.” Maybe we simply need to get over ourselves and stop making everything into something. You know––like it says in Romans 12:16-18.

I will not label others based on how they vote.

The issues facing our city, province, and nation are far more complex and difficult than any one person’s or party’s ideas can solve––including your ideas and mine. Labelling others presumes sides are being taken and is a practice of the ‘old man.’ Cut it out, friends! Christians are new creations, and we are one in Christ! (2 Corinthians 5:14-17; Ephesians 2:13-21; Galatians 6:12-15)

I will not let politics divide me from others; I will live in unity with complete humility.

If anyone throughout history had reason to engage in revolution or in violence against the government, it was Jesus! However, from the time of His humble earthly beginnings (which you’ll recall were tied directly to an unwanted government mandate) to His humiliating death on the cross, our Saviour was a humble servant of others. If His example was not enough of a reason to follow suit, instruction is given in Philippians 2:3-8 to solidify our heavenly mandate to be humble:

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (ESV)

Friends, choose a statement from above to begin using today.

Sometimes, there will be a side that we must take. If so, choose the Jesus way.

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