Politics is regularly nasty. And in 2015-2016, presidential politics has been more nasty than usual. Furthermore, for a decade and more, political gridlock has prevented our nation from dealing effectively with many crucial problems. So how might Christians contribute to improving our situation? For Christians who take Jesus at all seriously, love and humility must be important in their political engagement.
Humble PoliticsHumility is not a typical virtue of politicians, although in the 2015-2016 campaign, one person has claimed to be the most humble person in the world. Two things, however, ought to encourage Christians in politics to embrace humility. First, we are finite. And second, we are still sinners.
Human Beings Are FiniteEvery person is finite—our knowledge and understanding are extremely limited. We can never know—not even the best informed politician can know—all that is relevant to understand any situation. We must always act on partial knowledge. And the information we do have will always be less than fully accurate. We must act on the information we have, but knowing that it is partial, incomplete, and also partially biased, should lead us to think and act with humility.“Real disagreement is achieved only when we can repeat our opponents’ views so carefully that that person says: ‘Yes that is what I mean.'”
Human Beings Are SinnersFurthermore, we are still sinners—even the most sanctified Christian engaged in politics. We are constantly tempted to slant the facts, to provide distorted data and questionable arguments to make our platform or actions look better than they really are. As we look back in history, we see that even the greatest theologians and politicians—Augustine, Luther, Lincoln—made huge mistakes. We should assume that we are making mistakes at least as big as the ones they made. And that realization should add some humility to our actions.
Retaining Political and Moral ConvictionsThat does not mean that Christian political candidates or Christian voters must be constantly uncertain about their political convictions and statements. But it does mean that we should have an understanding that our political views are partial and tinged with self-interest and therefore we should listen carefully to those who disagree with us—and be ready to change them if presented with new relevant information. I noted earlier that our society is mired in dangerous political gridlock. There is no quick solution for that.
Exemplars of Dialogue and DebateBut I do think that Christian congregations might be one place where we could model a better way forward. Could we not discover new ways to model honest and civil discussion—precisely on political issues—in our local Christian congregations? Civility demands that we truly listen to those we disagree with so that we genuinely understand what they are saying. The great Catholic theologian, John Courtney Murray has said that most debates seldom reach the high level of genuine disagreement. Usually, the opponents are simply talking past each other.“Civility demands that we truly listen to those we disagree with so that we genuinely understand what they are saying.”I want to suggest that our Christian congregations would be an excellent place to model that kind of debate. Every local congregation could decide to form a “study-discussion” group focused on political engagement. The group should include Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. If your congregation is entirely Republican, then partner with a neighboring church with different more progressive views. And of course vice versa. Every person who joins the group should promise to listen carefully to each person’s views and arguments. (One rule should be to regularly rephrase the other person’s views and then ask if that is what they truly mean to say.) If holding the group during a presidential election, each group could research the platforms and behavior of the presidential candidates and then compare their overall platform (and also what one can reasonably expect them to try and implement if elected!) with the balanced biblical agenda of the National Association of Evangelicals’
For the Health of the Nation.