During this time of political debate and social upheaval, there are a lot of people who have become casually religious in the face of their ‘issues’ who might not normally talk so much about God. It’s natural that when tragedy strikes or tensions get high, people cling to some notion of religion for comfort. I once heard a pastor explain how this was a good thing since it caused people to ‘come back to the cross’. My perspective is maybe a bit more cynical; I feel like a lot of bad theology is reinforced during these times and we, as Christians, need to be witnesses of faith, not agents of ‘religion’. We need to be there to help ensure that the priority is still affixed on God, not on what we want God to do.
Let me explain. This morning was the national See You At The Pole (SYATP) day where students, teachers, school administrators, and community leaders gather around their flagpoles to pray for their nations. In our county, we primarily have one high school and one middle school. Since most of the students I minister to are in middle school, I hit up Caroline Middle School at 7:00am for some prayer and spiritual support. As I listened to the prayers of those around me, students and adults alike, it dawned upon me how well centered these believers’ priorities were. They were praying for God in their individual lives and the lives of their friends. They were praying for safety of those around them and for opportunities to witness. This was refreshingly awesome to hear, but it was a little different from what we sometimes hear at large, widely publicized prayer events. Often times we hear people talking about God’s role in our country, our politics, and in social issues. I’m going to make a bold prediction that I one day hope to validate in heaven and feel is supported by scripture: God is far more concerned with the souls of His children than He is with the social leanings of a nation or the political debates in our government.
There are many passages that ‘churchy people’ like to bring up when it comes to authority and government. There are Paul’s passages in Romans talking about submitting to all authorities because those authorities were put in place by God (Romans 13) and the passages speaking about Jesus and his views on taxes given to Caesar (Luke 20). I’d like to point out two different passages to show how those with Godly priorities look at government and social injustices.
Paul writes to his friend, Titus, concerning how people are to look at discord and those who get wrapped up in political and social debates.
But avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, quarrels and fights about the [law]; because they are worthless and futile. Warn a divisive person once, then a second time; and after that, have nothing more to do with him. (Titus 3:9-10)
That’s a starkly different perspective on politics as opposed to what we see out of many who wear their faith on their shoulders as both the ‘religious right’ and ‘passionate progressives’, isn’t it? It’s natural to have opinions and it’s understandable that many of us get incredibly consumed by the issues that are debated on a regular basis. Healthcare, abortion, and gay rights are things that impact so many people in so personal a way. The problem with getting into debates on these issues is that it is inherently divisive; it drives people apart who might usually, due to their mutual love of Jesus Christ, be able to work and fellowship together. For this reason, Paul advises Titus and the early church against getting into arguments about things that truly do not matter, even if they are “right” or “justified” on the issue.
Simply put, as Christians we are called to unify others in the Grace that is offered to all, not to ‘convert’ people to our way of thinking on particular social or political issues. If those around us accept Grace and know the love of Jesus Christ, God will convict them on the issues. The priority should always be on God and His purpose, not our own agendas and political or social leanings.
A Living Example of Keeping Priorities
The letters of Paul are full of great life-lessons, but sometimes the examples of the Old Testament help us resonate with our faith a bit more concretely. Consider the example of Daniel.
So these chiefs and viceroys descended on the king and said to him, “King Daryavesh (Darius), live forever! All the chiefs of the kingdom, along with the prefects, viceroys, advisers and governors, have met and agreed that the king should issue a decree putting in force the following law: ‘Whoever makes a request of any god or man during the next thirty days, except of you, your majesty, is to be thrown into the lion pit.’ Now, your majesty, issue this decree over your signature, so that it cannot be revoked, as required by the law of the Medes and Persians, which is itself irrevocable.”
On learning that the document had been signed, Dani’el went home. The windows of his upstairs room were open in the direction of Yerushalayim (Jerusalem); and there he kneeled down three times a day and prayed, giving thanks before his God, just as he had been doing before. Then these men descended on Dani’el and found him making requests and pleading before his God. (Daniel 4:7-9, 11-12)
Note what Daniel did not do when he found out about the unjust law. He didn’t take to the street in protest, even though he obviously was bold enough to defy the king even to the point of death. He didn’t begin gathering supporters to form a group of devout believers to confront the king. Daniel showed boldness and humility, simultaneously, by continuing to live a life devoted to God with his priorities affixed to those things that bring God pleasure.
We all know the end of the story. Daniel is arrested and brought before Darius. He is eventually thrown into the lion’s den for his refusal to obey the law. God honors Daniel’s boldness and provides for his safety throughout the night, eventually leading to Daniel’s restoration to a place of respect and power in the Persian government. No one doubts Daniel’s boldness or resolve, yet he didn’t spend any time directly fighting an unjust law or social position. He kept his focus on God and his priorities on serving Him instead of serving ‘the cause’.
The issue with spending time and energy on politics and social issues is that it dilutes our limited amount of energy and time on things that really don’t matter. We only have so much to give as individual people and all the time we spend arguing about Republican, Democrats, Libertarians, or whoever else is time we aren’t spending loving others, sharing Grace with the world, and working on our own relationship with God. Having opinions is understandable, but it’s not necessarily beneficial. Cling to the cross and not to the polls; live a life that prioritizes those things that are eternal rather than those things that divide us from each other. It is only through focusing on those things that really matter that the church can function as God originally intended it.