by Summer Mengarelli
Like all sectors of the American population, Christians vary greatly, not only in their political views, but also in their opinions on whether or not they should be involved in politics. Many Christians, like many citizens in general, make their voting decisions based on one or two specific issues. Christians may be admirably involved in the political process, participating in marches, contacting their representatives, and lobbying for their causes. On the opposite end of the spectrum, they may view politics as a field beyond their realm of moral responsibility. I would argue that while all citizens are responsible to participate in the political process, Christians in particular are called to approach the political realm with informed views and a loving desire to advocate for the less fortunate.
Above all else, the Christian is called to love. The love Jesus exemplified during his time on earth, and the love he continues to show, is often described as radical — radical in its attention to the marginalized, radical in its disregard for the norm, and radical even in its approach to those blatantly outside the law. For instance, in John chapter eight, the teachers and Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman caught in adultery, which is an act clearly defined as sin in the Hebrew law. She was about to be stoned for her offense, but Jesus stepped in — challenging anyone in the crowd who was blameless to throw the first stone. Her accusers slipped away one by one. At the end of this encounter, Jesus asked the woman, “Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” The woman replied that no one had, and Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more” (John 8:10b, 11b, New Living Translation). From a human perspective, this woman was unlovable; yet Jesus showed her mercy and honored her dignity.
The Christian should strive to fulfill this example. If we are to be a reflection of the Christ we worship and view as the ultimate moral exemplar, our expressions of love must surpass our boundaries of acceptability: we must actively, vocally, and publicly
If Christians truly believe that all people are people worthy of respect — whether white, black, Latino/a, Asian, undocumented, Muslim, Catholic, Buddhist, Indigenous, LGBTQ+, non-gender conforming, or otherwise unlike us — then all people fall under the umbrella of those we are called to love radically. Again, to love means first to affirm them and affirm their diverse life experiences. This requires action, activism, and advocacy; a politically complacent Christian is a complacent Christian. The Christian response must include informed voting that strives to benefit people groups outside our realm of normativity. It must include using our undeserved privilege to amplify the concerns of the underprivileged.
Matthew recorded Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:35-36, NIV). When the righteous heard these words of Jesus, they asked when they had ever cared for Jesus as he described, and he replied, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (verse 40b).
To truly care for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger in need of refuge, the poor in need of healthcare, and the imprisoned in need of an advocate, is to participate in the kingdom of heaven. If we believe in the seriousness of Jesus’ words, we must believe that righteousness is contingent on loving political involvement. We must believe that salvation is inherently communal — that we are counted righteous when we are concerned,not only for the spiritual salvation of the underprivileged, but also for their salvation on earth, their ability to live safely and flourish in spaces where they were previously unwelcomed. We must remember that we have the choice to live peacefully with those with whom we disagree; to many, the decision lies beyond their control. If we, in our privilege, choose to live in peace (as we should, if we desire to obey Christ), that decision requires advocating for those whose agency is denied.
This might mean voting for a policy which does not align with what your church deems acceptable. We are not called to act as Christians, but rather we are called to act as Christ. Though Jesus never advocated for adultery, he nonetheless advocated for the woman caught in adultery. Though he was a Jew and was thus well-aware that adultery was against the Hebrew law, his concern was not for legalistic righteousness, but rather for affirming and loving the woman. Though a Christian may not agree with some policies — the spectrum of tolerance and acceptance varies greatly across Christian denominations and individual congregations, but this may include welcoming refugees, fighting for the LGBTQ+ community, or advocating for women’s rights — they are called to approach the issue from a perspective of compassion and love. This entails considering the people affected by potential candidates or policies, and advocating for their rights to live freely, loved and accepted.
Such a perspective on a Christian’s place in politics necessarily argues for the separation of church and state, insofar as religious beliefs may inhibit the welfare of those outside the church. To love the underprivileged, the silenced, and the marginalized as Jesus loved the shunned and judged in his culture requires placing their needs above our personal religious convictions. Voting and advocating for policies that align with our specific beliefs, but limit some other group’s quality of life, is not love. It is certainly not an emulation of the Christ who willingly sacrificed himself for the salvation every person, making no distinction between the righteous and the unrighteous; those who adhered to the law and those who diverged; those who sit in church on Sunday morning and those who stand inside capitol buildings and congressional offices, fighting for their rights to work and live and worship and love.
This is not to suggest that Christians should abandon their convictions of right and wrong for the sake of political involvement. In Romans chapter 12, Paul admonishes Christians, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:9-10, New International Version). Christians should certainly be attentive to the evil in the world; yet they are also commanded to love sincerely, devotedly, and humbly. If we believe that every person is a reflection of the Imago Dei, and if we believe that God is by God’s nature good, then we must necessarily recognize the inherent goodness in every person, regardless of whether we agree with their actions, and cling to it. I suggest that to cling to the goodness in another person is to honor them, affirm them, and advocate for them. Obedience to Christ is inherently political.