The Problem with Politics

The problem with politics in this country (from my perspective) is that it seems to poison almost everyone that gets involved in it.  I’m not only talking about those that run for office, but also those that are active in the political arena and speak out on issues, even Christians that do this.  More specifically, it becomes a war of ideas, not a discussion of ideas.  The goal is to win, not to respectfully have a true dialog.  So the tactic is to give the most persuasive arguments on your side of the issue, never acknowledging  the weaknesses of your arguments or the valid points of your opponents.  Then you cite the most extreme or ill-founded arguments of your opponents so that you can paint them as an extremist, or idiot.  Throw in some witty ridicule and sarcasm and the strategy to win is complete.

The result is that everyone else listening to this (the voters) has to choose between 2 (or more) sides that have only given superficial, misleading reasons for their position. Proverbs 18:17 accurately describes the situation when it says “The first to state his case seems right, until his opponent begins to cross-examine him.”  Of course once in a while an issue is discussed that has not yet polarized people in this way, and real, enlightening, dialog takes place.  But this happens far too infrequently.

I understand that for some people, winning is what matters, their rationale being that if they can win and affect the laws of this country toward their positions, it will ultimately be good for people.  And that might be true in some cases.  But there are 2 big problems with that logic:  first, most issues are not as black and white as many people see them.  That’s why they are issues in the 1st place.  So the way to resolve them in the true spirit of our country’s form of government would be to have an honest and in-depth discussion of the advantages and facts on all sides of the issue, and then let the majority rule.  But instead, since most debates have been hijacked by those who can spin exceptionally well, most people are effectively left out of the discussion.

Secondly (and more importantly), as Christians we must remember that the ultimate goal is to lead people to Jesus Christ, to be saved for eternity, not to get people to follow the ethical rules in the Bible.  The latter would be nice, but it is temporary, probably until the next administration change, but definitely only for this life, not eternity.  And if we accomplish it via slanted, mean-spirited arguments, and political manipulation and coercion, we probably drive people further away from Christ and eternal salvation, rather than closer to it.

So for the Christian, this can not be the approach.  If you want to speak out on your position and be uncompromising in your beliefs, that’s fine (even admirable).  But if it is not done in the right way, it undermines the Christian witness.  The Bible does not tell us to mislead people into agreeing with our morals, so we can get laws changed to force everyone to follow the principles He wants us to.  That is so far from the true Gospel, in which God wants to change people from the inside out (a new creation, II Cor 5:17) and have them obey His morals because they have been saved/changed.  So instead of coercing people, the Bible tells us “But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess. Yet do it with courtesy and respect, keeping a good conscience, so that those who slander your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame when they accuse you.”  I Peter 3:15-16.

You might say that the other side isn’t playing by these rules, so we have to fight fire with fire.  But the very next verse in I Peter goes on to say “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if God wills it, than for doing evil. Because Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust…”  We must participate in the political discussion with respect for everyone, regardless of their views, being honest about not only what we believe, but also the aspects of our own position where it gets a little messy.  If we can’t “win” that way, so be it.  Whether we win or lose in a political battle is up to God.  He can control the outcome so that we win, even though the other side is playing dirty and we aren’t, if He chooses to.  And if He doesn’t, we need to accept that.  In the books of Joshua and Judges, when God was leading Israel to take over the promised land, God was very specific that obeying His instructions was what was most important, and that God controlled the outcome of battles, regardless of natural things like the number of soldiers on each side of the battle.  I think this is a clear principle that applies to politics in our country too:  we need to follow instructions He has given us in the Bible and remember/trust that He controls the outcomes.

God doesn’t promise government overthrow in His Word.  That’s what the Jews were looking for from Jesus, even his disciples were too.  And the Roman government would have been a good candidate to overthrow.  I think that is one of the reasons Peter objected vigorously when Jesus began to predict his own death.  How could a dead leader overthrow Rome and give Israel its independence back?  But God knew that political powers would continue to come and go, and that there was only 1 way to save people for eternity:  Jesus’ death.

When the Pharisees tried to entrap Jesus on the politically charged question of whether the Jews should pay taxes to the evil Roman government, Jesus answer was simple and profound:  “give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21).  The Bible is full of unexpected principles, and this is one of them:  we build the Kingdom of God God’s way, not in an earthly way.  That doesn’t mean we stop participating in our government and trying to influence it for good.  Just like we don’t neglect feeding starving people because food won’t save their souls.  But how we go about it is paramount.  We need to show people what God is like, full of truth, but also gracious and merciful.  If we don’t do that, nothing else will matter in the end.  In some cases the only victory will probably be showing Christ’s character and through that having some people want to pursue God and  find out more about Christianity.  But who knows?  Since God controls all of the kings and kingdoms of this earth, maybe he will also bless our obedience and give us some political victories, despite not using all of the political techniques that are contrary to His Word.

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