Political Partisanship and the Christian

Fresh off what has regularly been touted by the average citizen as one of, if not the most, partisan election cycles America has ever witnessed, I’ve been quite content to slink backwards from the political television and take a breath.  It’s been nice.  Then I went and saw Lincoln the other night with my brother and my Dad.  I’ve read Team of Rivals, and I’ve always been an admirer of Lincoln so I know about the partisan state of politics at the time (ahem, Civil War…slavery…).  Seeing it on the big screen brought that imagined partisanship to life in a cold-splash-of-water sort of way, and it reminded me that I’ve wanted to try to formulate some thoughts on the issue for the blog.

First, for the history buffs, or the people who tend to think that politics is only partisan now…check out this post by my former professor, Chris Gehrz, at Bethel University.  It is a timely reminder of the historical partisanship of politics, even regarding one of history’s most well-regarded speeches of all time, the Gettysburg Address.

Secondly, check out this reaction from Russell Moore, Dean of the School of Theology at my school, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Jim Daly, President of Focus on the Family contributed a very wise response to those dejected by the results here.

Alright well I’m going to keep this succinct (hopefully…fingers crossed).

Every Christian, and every human, has a tendency to veer into idolatry.  A great quote from John Calvin is that “the human heart is an idol factory,” actually creating idols to worship constantly while we’re not devoted to the one true God.  I keep this quote in the back of my mind constantly, because I constantly have reason to quote it in my own life.  I’m constantly rebuking myself for idolatry…most often idolatry of myself or my ideas or opinions.  I think this problem, the problem of idolatry, and ultimately the problem of sin, is at the heart of all the partisan bickering.  Newsflash, I’m not the first person to say that.

I do have to remind myself of this tendency often, because I also tend to hold non-Christians to the standards that I find set for myself in Scripture.  What I mean by that is this:  As a Christian, who believes in the Bible as the inerrant Word of God, I desire to figure out what Scripture says my life should be like, how it should look.  A non-Christian could care less.  And that’s not saying they don’t care what their lives look like, it’s saying that they could care less what Scripture says.  That is an important thing to remember, particularly in these contentious election cycles.  There is no point being overly upset as Christians when we hear non-Christians speak and act like non-Christians.

So since that is the case, the Christian needs to constantly remind him or herself that they are responsible for themselves firstly.  In Colossians 3, Paul talks about the putting on of the new self:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.  Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.  On account of these the wrath of God is coming.  In these you too once walked, when you were living in them.  But now you must put them all away: anger wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.  Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.  Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.  Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy  and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.  And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  (Colossians 3:1-17)

This is important, and I think many may read it as if it is merely instructive for our relationships with fellow believers.  Certainly it speaks to that at length, but the new self as Paul describes simply cannot be so truncated as to bear fruit within the Church only, can it?  No.  The new self is exactly that, it’s a new self, it’s complete, total, holistic.  The Christian is being conformed to the image of Christ, meaning they are in the process of being made more Christ-like.  Certainly that doesn’t mean that we are instantly like Christ, but it also means that we aren’t the same person as before, and we aren’t changing for the sake of change, but we’re changing so that we can have an impact, and we are being changed in one direction…toward Christ.

Reading this it also becomes clear that while the Christian is responsible for their own actions and heart attitudes, they are also representatives of Christ, which should probably carry more weight than we allow it to all too often.  In this age of twitter, blogs, facebook, and just interconnectedness in general, everything we say and do online bears our stamp of approval as soon as it becomes public.  Do we understand the gravity of that?  Does that give us pause as we dive into the political debate?  Or does it only occur to us after we’ve said something and spent hours arguing about it?  I know from personal experience how easy it is to write comments dripping with sarcasm on an article that I think no one else I know will see, only to find myself opining that very action by another person, complaining that they don’t understand the message it sends.  Do we hold ourselves to as high a standard as we hold others?

Political partisanship will always exist on earth (or the moon).  As a Christian, the real question that matters is what standards am I going to set for myself in my interactions with those who disagree with me?  How about my responses to those who agree with me but who go about it the wrong way?  Is it our responsibility as Christians to call fellow believers to embrace that “new self”?  Or are we just supposed to let them figure it out on their own?  These are important questions to ask ourselves, particularly during times like these, where we have approximately 1 month before it starts back up again.  At the end of the day, as many of said, Jesus is King, and he is triumphant indeed.  So we must ask ourselves why we so often allow ourselves to believe that it is our utmost responsibility to win his battles for him.

Must we stand firm in the faith?  Absolutely.  Colossians 2:8 speaks to this: “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”  So we are to make it clear that we are not taken captive by the ideas that are not of Christ.  But can we communicate that in a way that represents Christ well?  Absolutely.  We won’t ever do it perfectly, but we have to strive to, and where necessary…we’ll have to apologize for not meeting that standard.  The key trait of a humble heart is the willingness to recognize fault and apologize for it sincerely, with repentance.  Another characteristic of humility (and discernment) is recognizing that our desire to “win” arguments is not Christ’s agenda.  It simply isn’t.  As our agenda begins to match up more and more with Christ’s the necessary implication of that is that our agenda will shift from winning arguments, to winning affection.  This isn’t done by accepting every argument, or shifting positions to be agreeable to all.  It’s not glad-handing.  It’s being winsome, even when we disagree.  There will be those who see simply don’t care.  There will be those who will still hate you for what you say, no matter how winsome.  But that doesn’t drive us!  Why should we seek the fickle approval of sinful men?  We seek the approval of the one true, gracious and loving God, and that is good news.
As always, I welcome discussion!

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