By Liz Mosbo VerHage
SEATTLE, WA (March 7, 2016) — “Don’t bring politics into faith.” It’s a message I often hear from fellow Christians—one that surprises and frustrates me. My instinctive response is that politics are already here, within us, within the church, and even within our worship. Politics are woven into the fabric of how we live our lives and therefore how we live out our faithful witness in the world.
Rather than avoiding the political process, I am convinced that the church in the U.S. today needs a courageous, vibrantly hopeful, and wisely skillful movement of Christ-followers who are engaged in public politics and motivated by their love of God and our theological understanding of who he is.
I understand the fear about political engagement. I hear the heart behind Christians who voice concerns over pastors weighing in on politics, or professors teaching policy in their classrooms, or how to respond when fellow Christians share strong partisan views. Many of us are disillusioned by the political process and politics in general. Sometimes we withdraw or internalize our political beliefs in order to avoid conflict or critique. I have a friend who can articulate in depth his political views, but when asked how his understanding of Scripture impacted his thinking, he answered that he had never thought of Scripture speaking to his political values.
We can’t say faith is only personal, internal, and about heaven, while politics is external, social, and worldly. This lie means that a New Testament fervor around evangelism can be separated from the Old Testament commitment to shalom. Both are woven around the same biblical truth of God’s creation and Jesus’s redemption brought about through individual salvation and global righteousness/justice and wholeness.
There are so many good and faithful ways to engage politics, from voting to debating issues with friends, from visiting Capitol Hill to texting about a bill you believe in. There is prayer and prophetic intercession around political realities, confession and lament. There is supporting local and global partners and advocacy work. There are protests and signing petitions.
When we are present in political conversations and advocacy, when we dare to hope and learn and speak up and engage, we are witnessing to our faith.
Below are some guiding theological realities that have shaped my journey of understanding political voice as a matter of discipleship. I pray that these might help us each engage our political discipleship.
Worship is always political. How, where, with whom, in what language, in what space, and through what theology we worship is inherently political. Even the cross was political. Christ died at the hands of the state on a symbol of national execution outside the city’s border at the gate where power and access were granted. Politics has to do with how we engage—or don’t engage—matters of power, privilege, economics, and policies.
Worship is about Lordship. It is about where we bow, and who or what deserves our allegiance, our praise, our very lives. We cannot uncouple the ways that Christian worship of a risen Lord and King shapes our allegiance, attention, and maybe our vote. We follow the Source of life and the call to eternal citizenship so we are not afraid and have perfect freedom to speak up, to walk strong, and to advocate together.
Kingdom citizenship is communal and binds us to others. We are never ultimately defined by our political voice or affiliation because we are kingdom citizens first and last. As such, we should desire to remain in faithful community among others in the church, calling each other to both grace and truth in our politics.
Citizenship in this “here now, but not all the way here, yet” kind of kingdom does not mean we just bow out early. Nor does it mean we somehow leave the mess of our earthly kingdoms for some pie-in-the-sky cloudy promise. Jesus followers have hope in the next world and so we are called to be present, now, in the flesh, on this earth, incarnate as Christ was, in the questions and in the mess, and yes even sometimes in the ballot box.
Our witness and our politics are always cultural. Faith is lived by real people who see, feel, think, and interpret the world in their own unique way, shaped by politics and culture from top to bottom. It is myopic to think our worship and beliefs aren’t shaped by cultural realities like race, gender, economics, sexuality, power, and nationality. But God chose to create ethnicity, difference, language, diversity, gender and sexuality, and so much more, fleshing out creation in vastly different forms.
When faith and politics are engaged, it is okay to disagree. It’s okay to disagree with me, with another pastor, teacher, leader, or just a fellow Christian. It is okay for tension, disagreement, and strong opinions to rise to the surface, and to raise troubling questions that create the need for us to consider and maybe even change our positions on particular political solutions. Our faith is not so thin that we cannot discuss opposing ideas.
Political advocacy and engagement, whether in spaces of worship and community life or nation-state matters of voting, policies, and budgets, are already under Christ’s Lordship. That means that in these same spaces Christ-followers are called to be present with eyes to see and ears to hear—not to “start being political,” because we already are; not to “bleed red or blue,” but to stand up for those whom Christ says we are called to remember; not to shout down an opponent or endorse a candidate, but to represent what we think God is already doing in this world. This world is messy, earthly, full of ugly and beautiful humanity competing with and loving each other, troubled by suffering and overrun with brilliant possibility, home of never-ending CNN coverage and sometimes terrible tweets. This world is our world, it is our Father’s world, and we are invited to take part in the redemptive kingdom work of God in this world, this mess, now.
When we are present in political conversations and advocacy, when we dare to hope and learn and speak up and engage, we are witnessing to our faith. We are helping steward the powers of this world, not for our glory or voting record or budget but for the glory of the King of all kings, and the Lord of all lords. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
Liz Mosbo VerHage is pastor of global and local ministries at Quest Church in Seattle, Washington. This post is adapted from her blog, Livingtheology.net.