Rick Barry is Executive Director of the Center for Christian Civics. He has worked on campaigns for local, state and federal office, is a former writer and editor for Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and also currently oversees communications for the Grace DC church network in Washington, DC.
We write a lot about politics. Some of our writers work in that world, some don’t and still others used to but have since been reformed.
But no matter what jokes you’d like to make about the expanding size of the government’s workforce, the fact is that most U.S. citizens don’t work in politics or government, and that statistic holds true for the church in the United States, as well.
However, for Christians in the United States, politics and government is something you can’t escape: The Lord has carried you into this country at a time when every citizen is invited into the civic process through the voting booth and any resident can attend community meetings, write to their congressional representative or complain about the news in the comments section of a website.
What are we supposed to do with this burden of self-government? What is our spiritual responsibility to the civic square in a representative democracy?
For most of my life, it was probably easy to mostly skirt this question by prayerfully considering whether or not to vote, then deciding who to vote for and never talking or thinking about it again. The general rule was that you shouldn’t talk about politics, so you never had to discuss whether you voted or, if you did, who you supported with your vote.
That rule is starting to break down, though. The rise of political entertainment, the mainstreaming of political news and a historically chaotic presidential nomination is making politics fair game for public small talk. And so, as Christians, we need to be equipped for political small talk that bears witness to the hope God offers us in the life, death, resurrection and eventual return of his Son, Jesus Christ. To that end, I offer a few general guidelines:
Don’t Demonstrate Fear
The first and perhaps most important way you can distinguish yourself as a Christian is to resist the temptation to speak, behave or make decisions based on fear. The Bible is replete with reminders to “be not afraid,” “fear not,” and (as paraphrased in my prayer journal) “don’t freak out.” And this isn’t just the Bible offering us an empty platitude or some kind of cold, offhand comfort. Instead, not demonstrating fear is an inescapable consequence of genuine, saving Christian faith. If you believe that the God of the Bible is capable of delivering on his promises, and you believe that through Christ you are heir to the promises of Abraham, then you know that your future is secured and that all the old, worn things of this world will be made new. It’s an incontrovertible fact. Your future is already secure.
People who run for office often try to set up a “nightmare scenario” in your mind, paint you a word-picture of some physical, economic or existential threat to you, or to your children. And then they point to themselves as the answer. Some candidates do it more explicitly than others, but it’s a tool everyone uses because it generally works. Fear is usually an incredibly effective motivator. It gives communications professionals an almost Inception-like ability to re-shape the way you think without you even realizing it.
But when it comes to resisting fear, genuinely believing the gospel is like a super-power.
Be Willing To Say You Don’t Know Or Might Be Wrong
The gospel is the good news that Jesus came into the world to lead us out of the snares of sin and death—not just before we could see our own way out, but because we could not. We’ve already had to admit that we were wrong about the most basic and important facts about ourselves and one another. Once we’ve confessed that we don’t have it all together, it should be easy to admit that the policies we think are best could be wrong, or might not end up working the way we hope because of factors we haven’t considered.
Honestly Compliment The Other Team
The Bible tells us that everyone—even people who disagree with us about politics—is made in God’s image, hand-made by the creator of the universe. He loves his enemies and mourns for the brokenness and suffering of people from all groups—even groups we struggle against. So, just as we should be quick to admit our own fallibility in the public square, we should also put in the hard work of finding things to admire about people we’re voting against. Affirm their compassion, or their zeal for justice, or their desire to do the Edenic work of giving order to creation, or their respect for the image of a God who works and takes pride in his work.
Looking for the image of God in people you don’t support is incredibly difficult, especially in this polarized climate. Actually calling attention to the image of God in people you don’t support is a seismic disruption of what your friends and neighbors probably expect to be the typical political order.
As we participate in the civic process—as we work out whether to vote and how to vote and how to talk about the news of the day with the people around us—we need to do so in a way that consistently points to the life-changing reality of Jesus Christ. One of the ways we can do this is by speaking differently. Praying through these truths and letting them inform the way you speak with other Christians can help drive them deeper into their relationship with Christ, reminding them of some basic biblical truths when they may not be expecting them. And it can help those who don’t share our faith start to understand the full weight of Jesus’ glory more clearly.
Pray Through Your Civic Obligations
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As Executive Director of Center for Christian Civics, Rick helps ministry leaders and faith communities develop missional approaches to their local public squares. He has worked on campaigns for local, state and federal office, is a former writer and editor for Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and oversaw communications for the Grace DC church network. He and his wife live in Washington, DC.