Patriotism and Christian Engagement

Resurgence » Church Worldviews Culture

Today marks Independence Day in the United States, as Americans celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence with firework displays and BBQs. The expressions of patriotism we will see today provides an opportunity to reflect on how we as Christians should relate to our nation and government, regardless of whether we agree or disagree with the political direction of our country.

As Christians, we have much to learn about engaging the democratic process in love. Many Christians have been violent, mean-spirited, and downright nasty toward those with whom we disagree with morally and politically (the same people that God sent his Son to die for, people with whom he has called us to share the gospel with). But if our political engagement is carried out in a way that does not reflect the love of God as expressed in Jesus Christ, then we run the risk of damaging the bridge between Christians and non-Christians.

Are we guided by love for God and our neighbors?

Researchers David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons did not surprise many when they found that “Christians do not respect leaders whose political viewpoint is different from their own.” Their research paints an uncomfortable picture of the way Christians are perceived by many people who feel that Christians are more influenced by radio talk show hosts than Jesus and the Scriptures.

As Christians, we have to remember that politics do not supersede God, nor replace our confession of faith and life in Jesus Christ. Discussions about political matters do not mean that our involvement and manner of conduct is compartmentalized from our faith. Regardless of someone’s political affiliation, we are commanded to love and pray for our leaders—not for their death and eternal damnation, but for their wellbeing, so that we may lead a peaceful life. It is this attitude and behavior that is good and pleasing to God (1 Tim. 2:1–3).

Even though we may disagree with others (and each other) on a host of political issues, these disagreements do not give us the right to disrespect, degrade, or debase those with whom we disagree.

How does the Bible teach us to engage politically?

The Bible has much to say about how we should relate to governmental authorities. For example, in the Book of Exodus we read, “You shall not curse God, nor curse a ruler of your people” (Exod. 22:28). What we see is that cursing your political leader is second only to cursing God.

Consider the example set by Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who were commanded by the pagan king Nebuchadnezzar to break the Mosaic dietary laws by eating and drinking the king’s food and wine (Dan. 1:5-8). These Jewish men refused to eat the king’s food, but they did so in a respectful and wise way rather than haughtily condemning the king’s command as an abomination. They did not act “Holier than thou” by disrespectfully condemning king Nebuchadnezzar and his actions.

Even though we may disagree with others (and each other) on a host of political issues, these disagreements do not give us the right to disrespect, degrade, or debase those with whom we disagree.

In the Book of Acts, we see the command of Exodus 22:28 quoted and exemplified by the Apostle Paul when standing trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin (Acts 23). When the Jewish high priest, Ananias, ordered those standing beside Paul to strike him on the mouth (Acts 23:2), Paul initially was unaware of the high priest’s presence, and he had some choice words. But when he became aware of who it was, Paul repented, saying, “‘I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people’” (Acts 23:5). For Paul, it was important to honor and respect the appointed leaders, even when their actions were wrong.

Love guides our involvement

Our love of God not only compels us to be faithful to him, but also drives us to love our neighbors, no matter their religious or political beliefs (Matt. 22:37–40; cf. Lev. 19:18; Deut. 6:5; Luke 10:27). As Christians, we are to love others as we love ourselves (Lev. 19:18; Matt. 22:39; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27; Jas. 2:8); in fact, the entire law of God is summed up in the command that we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Gal. 5:14).

As we engage the political process, we should do so in love. We are to speak the truth, but in love.

This means that as we engage the political process, we should do so in love. We are to speak the truth, but in love. We are to hold the government accountable for its actions, but in love. And the standard of love that we use in judging all of our actions is the standard that Jesus Christ set by humbly sacrificing himself for us on the cross. “And as vigorously as the evangelical presses his battle,” once remarked Carl F.H. Henry, “he ought to be counted upon to point to the redemption that is in Christ Jesus as the only adequate solution.”

In a democracy, love should determine how Christians are involved in the democratic process. Love for our neighbor will drive us beyond our own self-interests to seek justice and the common good for everyone in our community, state, and nation.

Love for our neighbor is worked out in many ways. Steve Monsma explains how this practically works itself out:

Sometimes solidarity will drive us to our knees in prayer, sometimes to giving our money to organizations offering help in Christ’s name, sometimes to direct, personal acts of comfort and help, and sometimes to supporting public policies that oppose wrongs and promote greater justice. And sometimes it will lead us to pursue all four together.

Christ is our example

There have been times and there will be times when Christians will be wrongfully accused of crimes, sued, and judged unfairly. But this doesn’t give us the right or privilege to act in any manner we see fit, especially if it is not reflective of the gospel.

As we look to Christ, who descended to earth to be born as a human baby in a manger, we will see that our manner toward others should be marked with not only love, but a high level of humility. We see this no more clearly than in Philippians:

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus (Phil. 2:3–5).

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