During election seasons, political conversations among Christians often revolve around civic duty. Unfortunately, those conversations are frequently reduced to how exactly Christians should vote. While civic duty definitely includes voting, it shouldn’t end there. In fact, our biblical call to be culturally engaged extends far beyond politics.
Why Do We Engage?
To engage the culture effectively, we need to understand why we’re doing it. What’s our aim?
Our main motive shouldn’t be cultural comfort, or dominating non-believers, even though our faithful engagement may result in a society where biblical values are dominant and the Christian lifestyle is comfortably lived. We have to be careful that that we aren’t idolizing the wrong things.
Jeremiah 29:7 says, “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Remembering that our American citizenship isn’t primary is key to engaging the culture faithfully. In a sense we are exiles here, awaiting our eternal home. And yet, we are to seek the good of the place where we live. Drawing on Augustine’s philosophy in her contribution to Uncommon Ground: Living Faithfully in a World of Difference, Kristen Deede Johnson writes:
The earthly city can achieve certain goods, and we as pilgrims can and should contribute to those goods, while recognizing that they are not the ultimate goods for which we were created and redeemed.
We engage because we have a biblical mandate to steward creation and love our neighbors. We do that by working in and with our earthly city to promote the common good — “seek the welfare” — for our fellow human beings, for creation, and as a result, for ourselves.
In all political action and engagement, set an example by being civil and Christ-like.
Ways to Engage
This understanding of the why behind cultural engagement should inform our voting choices. But engaging in politics isn’t just about voting. So how can we engage during non-election years?
- Keep up with what your local, state and national elected leaders are doing. That way you can make informed decisions when they’re up for reelection.
- Advocate on behalf of your values by keeping in touch with your elected officials. They’re there to represent you, so hold them accountable when it’s time for them to vote on certain legislation, or otherwise take action.
- Inform your family, friends and community about issues that matter to you. Learn to clearly articulate why those issues should matter to others as well.
- If you feel led, participate in peaceful protests and petitions advocating for causes you hold dear. Think, for example, of the March For Life, an annual event advocating for the unborn.
- Don’t forget local politics! Attend town halls, meet your city councilmembers and school board members, or join a city advisory board. These are great ways to learn what the most pressing issues are in your community.
- In all political action and engagement, set an example by being civil and Christ-like, even in your interactions with (and talk of) political opponents.
Political activism is only part of our broader civic duty to be culturally engaged. And thankfully, Christians are active beyond politics. A 2019 article from The Conversation highlights different studies pointing to the same conclusion: “Overall, religious Americans volunteer more, give more, and give more often not only to religious but secular causes as well. Among Americans who give to any cause, 55 percent claim religious values as an important motivator for giving.”
How does your faith motivate you to get involved? Now that the 2020 election year is coming to a close, it’s a good time to evaluate your activity in the following areas.
- Donate. Many national organizations are worthy of support, but the local charities directly serving your communities are often the ones in most need of resources. You can make an immediate impact in your area by donating to your nearest food bank, homeless shelter, pregnancy center or other local non-profit.
- Fill needs in your community. Is there are large unemployed population in your town that may be struggling to pay bills or buy groceries? How close is the local pregnancy center — and is it more accessible than the closest abortion facility? If there is a need for a specific outreach in your area, pray about starting one. Begin by asking local churches for support. National nonprofits in the same field can often offer resources, structure and advice.
- Get to know your neighbors. What better way to love your neighbors than actually getting to know them? Attend block parties and town-wide family events. Build relationships. Invite someone to church. Social media is a great way to find out about local events, but don’t stay on social media. (Your local newspaper can also help you stay connected to what’s happening around you.)
Regardless of what the next four years look like, Christians can continue to fulfill our civic duty to be culturally engaged. We can work for the common good of our communities, and our nation, and in so doing, point to our Savior.