I don't know about you, but I have a "complicated" relationship with politics.
Maybe it's because when we look at certain Christians speaking about political issues, it looks so damn ugly.
Frankly, some of our most well-known Christian political leaders seem like real jerks.
I don't want to be a jerk. And I'm sure you don't either.
But, the truth is, when you remain silent in the face of injustice, it is STILL a political act. You are voting for the status quo. You are saying, "Carry on with what you are doing, I will not rock the boat, no matter what."
Twiddling your thumbs while your government mistreats the poor (eg. refugees, minority ethnic groups, unborn children, or the children of the countries where you drop bombs) - that is deeply political. It's virtually impossible to sit on the fence.
Imagine if Christians had been silent in the face of slavery. We might never have seen the successes of William Wilberforce and his band of abolitionists.
Imagine if Christians had been silent in the face of segregation. We might never have seen the breakthroughs that Martin Luther King Jr fought so hard for.
With yet another tragic school shooting in the United States, there is a groundswell of feeling that thoughts and prayers are just not enough. Folks want policy change. They want political action. And I happen to believe that Christians should be on the forefront of that. It's simply loving our neighbour on a larger scale. Justice is what love looks like... in public.
(Of course, I'd suggest that prayer is still an excellent place to start. But as Pope Francis says, "First you pray for the hungry, then you feed them. That's how prayer works.")
So, if we say Christians care about the poor, we say Christians care about unborn children, we say we care about this or that, how do we engage in politics without being a jerk?
I want to share a spiritual principle that I wish we would all embrace. I believe it could radically transform the political and social landscape and give Christians a healthy influence that can actually be a source of blessing for our nations.
But God is in the business of the impossible.
First, the bad news...
When Christians get involved in politics, we are usually seen as a group of people who have our own agenda. We seek the best for ourselves and our own tribe, and we generally just push one or two pet issues.
We Christians are known for being anti-abortion and anti-homosexuality - and not much else.
So, when Christians speak out about something, the general public views us just as they view any other lobby group speaking out. They assume we are motivated by a self-centered agenda. And often, we are.
Abandoning our lobby group approach
But what if instead of selfishness, we embraced the self-LESS-ness taught by Jesus? What if we sought ways to speak out for people and issues that have little obvious benefit to us? What if we laid down our lives (and our political agendas) for others?
I believe we need to earn the right to be heard by clearly demonstrating over a sustained period of time that we are not just seeking our own good (and pushing our pet issues), but seeking the good of the WHOLE community, even for groups we might be seen as disagreeing with.
"Seek the SHALOM of the city to which I have carried you into exile" (Jeremiah 29:7)
Take religious liberty. Christians are usually up in arms if any government limitations are placed on our freedom to worship. But what about when other religious groups experience persecution? Are we as quick to come to their defense? When Muslims are not allowed to build a place of worship, or gather together, do we speak out in their defense?
When members of the gay community are denied access to housing or services, do we speak out and march in their defense? After all, do we wish homelessness or hunger on them? Or do we love them as our brothers and sisters?
When refugees are denied assistance, do we speak out and protest in their defense? Or do we put the people of our own nation and tribe over the children of our neighbours?
Selfishness versus selflessness. It's literally that simple. This is a basic spiritual principle. And it could revolutionize our politics.
I would suggest that until we have gained a golden track record for speaking out for EVERYBODY, we will not have earned the right to be heard when we speak out for ourselves. We simply won't have the goodwill, the reputation or the influence, because we're seen as just another lobby group.
Of course, all this means we need to give up our tunnel vision and abandon our single-issue voting agenda. We can no longer say, I'm anti-abortion so no matter what this politician does to other groups or what he/she stands for, I'm going to vote for/against them. We can no longer say our concerns trump the concerns of other people.
It's time we became wiser, deeper, kinder and more nuanced in our voting and our political action. It's time we considered the needs of EVERYONE in the community, not just ourselves. I believe that is the invitation of Jesus.
As we do this, our thoughts and prayers will be welcomed again, because they will know we care deeply about everyone. They will know we're not limited to thoughts and prayers, but that we're willing to lay down our lives for our neighbours.
Is this not the way of the cross?