The mid-term elections are behind us and if you are a conservative and a Republican you are elated with the results. As a result of gains in the Senate and House together with success in state legislatures, the Republican Party now holds more legislative seats than they have had since 1928. Such enormous electoral swings carry high hopes and expectations for positive change. Undoubtedly, the large cadre of newly elected Congressmen will enter Washington with ambition and resolve to achieve what they believed people elected them for: reducing taxes while also decreasing the budget deficit, repealing or at least modifying the national health care bill, cutting government spending and shortening the reach of federal government.
These are worthy, yet challenging, goals. We should support our elected officials in achieving these outcomes and stay involved in the political process by educating ourselves about the issues and communicating our opinions regularly to our elected officials while also working to inform and influence our neighbors’ opinions. Yet in our political activity, we must continue to embody biblical standards of Christian civility that our involvement would truly serve the common good and more importantly bear witness to the reality of the Kingdom of God, where our ultimate and permanent citizenship lies.
With that in mind, I have another challenge from Sojourners to share with you. This past spring a group of over 100 religious leaders signed a “Civility Covenant” that commits to uphold biblical standards of civic involvement. This covenant states:
- We commit that our dialogue with each other will reflect the spirit of the Scriptures, where our posture toward each other is to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (James 1:19).
- We believe that each of us, and our fellow human beings, are created in the image of God. The respect we owe to God should be reflected in the honor and respect we show to each other in our common humanity, particularly in how we speak to each other. “With the tongue we bless the Lord and [God], and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God … this ought not to be so” (James 3:9-10).
- We pledge that when we disagree, we will do so respectfully, without falsely impugning the other’s motives, attacking the other’s character, or questioning the other’s faith, and recognizing in humility that in our limited, human opinions, “we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror” (1 Corinthians 13:12). We will therefore “be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2).
- We will ever be mindful of the language we use in expressing our disagreements, being neither arrogant nor boastful in our beliefs: “Before destruction one’s heart is haughty, but humility goes before honor” (Proverbs 18:12).
- We recognize that we cannot function together as citizens of the same community, whether local or national, unless we are mindful of how we treat each other in pursuit of the common good, in the common life we share together. Each of us must therefore “put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body” (Ephesians 4:25).
- We commit to pray for our political leaders — those with whom we may agree, as well as those with whom we may disagree. “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made — for kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).
- We believe that it is more difficult to hate others, even our adversaries and our enemies, when we are praying for them. We commit to pray for each other, those with whom we agree and those with whom we may disagree, so that together we may strive to be faithful witnesses to our Lord, who prayed “that they may be one” (John 17:22).
This covenant is striking because it acknowledges the reality that faithful Christians can and often do hold different political positions. It is tempting to believe Bible-believing Christians should and do have monolithic views on politics and question the faith of fellow Christians who do not always vote Republican or who sometimes side with Democrats on issues. But all political ideologies and platforms should be judged by the light of God’s Word and thus we should hold our positions, not feebly, but humbly, acknowledging that we may hold political beliefs that are biased by self-interest or influenced by our own cultural context, and that may not be in accordance with Scripture. The Christian right can learn much from the Christian left about the importance of social justice, stewardship of the environment, and compassion for the poor and socially marginalized. And in turn the Christian left should regard concerns from the Christian right about the sanctity of human life and the preservation of the family. These are all biblically-mandated concerns and to elevate some while downplaying the importance others ignores the full council of Scripture and leads to political myopia.
The apostle Paul’s use of the “body of Christ” metaphor to describe the Church of Jesus Christ is helpful in building tolerance (of the biblical kind) and forbearance in political debates:
“3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:3-5).
Christians need fellow Christians to develop a wise and complete biblical view of politics. Each should regard his own opinions on such matters with humility (“sober judgment”) knowing that no person or partisan faction holds the entire truth and is fully aligned with the will of God. We should recognize and value the different functions various segments of the Church have in society – some advocating justice for the poor and aliens, others advocating justice for the unborn. A wide range of political activities and causes is needed to advocate for the purposes of the Kingdom of Christ in our government. As we participate in politics with Christian civility in accordance with such biblical principles as stated in this “Civility Covenant” we will display unity and one body and actually be more fruitful in advancing justice and righteousness for the common good.