In the United States, it’s election season. When you head to the ballot box this year, don’t forget to take your faith with you.
This raises an important question: How should your faith impact your vote? What does the gospel have to do with politics? This panel discussion with J.D. Greear, Bruce Ashford, Chris Pappalardo and Walter Strickland can help you answer those questions. It was recorded on February 16, 2016 at the Summit Church’s Sam James Institute.
Discover how you should navigate the political climate, and get principles and guidelines to help you understand how you can work for good in the American political system. Here are the highlights:
How you should assess political candidates?
Dr. Ashford: “One thing is the content of his belief system, his worldview, and how it works itself out in public policy issues. What does this person believe on religious liberty, issues of life and death, race relations, immigration — all the policy issues we talk about?…
“A second thing that’s important is character. Now, when I say that, people immediately raise their hand and say, ‘We’re not electing a pastor-in-chief, we’re electing a commander-in-chief.’ That’s a false dilemma…. What I would want to argue is that we want a man who is trustworthy, that has a proven character over the course of a lifetime. …
“Third is wisdom. And that’s sort of slippery, right? It’s hard to define it. But you know it when you see it. And you want a President who is characterized by wisdom and will surround himself or herself with wise counselors. And you’re never going to get a perfect match.”
As evangelical Christians, we can be set free from the captivity to any particular party.
Which political ideology should you support?
Dr. Ashford: “Of the modern political ideologies, the ones prominent for the past two- to three-hundred years — political Liberalism, Progressivism, Conservatism, Nationalism, Libertarianism, Socialism — all of the isms, to one degree another, are tempted to take some aspect of God’s creation and to absolutize it, to make it into a god.
“For socialism, it’s material equality. For conservatism, it’s conserving something from the past. For progressivism, it’s progressing away from the past. So each of these systems is going to tend to make a god out of something in God’s creation. And to the extent that they do that, we cannot support them.
“This is the beauty of being a Christian. We can transcend partisan divides because we are gospel people…. Material equality is not king, conserving the cultural past is not, progressing beyond it is not. Christ is king. And because he’s king, we actually have leverage. We can be interesting in the public square.
“We don’t have to buy the Fox News narrative, word-for-word. We don’t have to buy the CNBC narrative, word-for-word. We buy one narrative, word-for-word. And that is the Bible. It is the true story of the whole world. Because we are a prophetic minority, now, as evangelical Christians, we can be set free from the captivity to any particular party. And we can be interesting again, and really bear witness to Christ by not being pigeon-holed.”
Does the separation of church and state mean that we shouldn’t allow faith to influence our politics?
Dr. Ashford: “Separation of church and state is a different issue than the relationship between religion and politics. They’re related, but they’re different issues. Here’s what I mean. Religion and politics cannot be separated. Because religion is heartfelt — everyone is religious, everyone worships something, everyone has an idol, either a real god or a false god that controls them — religion radiates outward into all that we do. What we hold as ultimate does control how we act and the way we behave.
“The real question is: ‘How can we allow our religion to influence our politics in an appropriate manner, rather than an inappropriate manner?’ So it’s not possible to separate them, nor is it really desirable.
“However, the separation of church and state is very desirable. The church is both an institution and an organism. It’s an institution — we meet on Saturday nights or Sunday mornings, we worship together, we have things we do as a church — and the church should never try to control the state. That’s what we call ecclesiasticism… I don’t think we should do that. We’re swimming outside of our lane when we do that. A pastor is not intended to be a policy guru who understands all the policy decisions in America and tells us what to do on those. On the other hand, the state needs to swim in its own lane, and has no business telling the church what to do.
“However, the church is also an organism. That means that after we leave our church services, we’re still connected to Christ and to each other and we represent one another when we go out in public. And when we go out in public, we’ve got to do public stuff, right? … We’re involved in these public things, and why would we not want our Christian faith to influence our politics? I think we should, and I also think for other religions that they ought to be able to allow their religion to influence their politics.
Separation of church & state is a different issue than the relationship between religion & politics.
Should you support religious liberty?
Dr. Ashford: “Religious liberty is wickedly important. The problem with conservatives is that they tend to want religious liberty for themselves, but not for anybody else. We have got to be willing to put our money where our mouth is. If we’re for religious liberty, we’re for everybody’s religious liberty.
“If [the government] can shut down a mosque on a pretense, without any real reason to do so, they can also shut down a Bible study, a Christian seminary… So we want to be pro-religious liberty, but for everybody. And that’s going to be tough for a lot of conservatives.”
One thing we cannot do as believers is to demonize people with whom we disagree.
How should you treat candidates you disagree with?
Dr. Ashford: “One thing we cannot do as believers is to demonize people with whom we disagree. There’s only one real enemy — the evil one — and there is no human being who is thoroughly evil. Stop calling President Obama ‘antichrist’ because you disagree with him. Stop calling someone you disagree with a thoroughly evil person. They’re not thoroughly evil.”