The world today feels as divisive as ever. Abortion, refugee resettlement, immigration, gun control, and freedom of religion are just a few topics that have pitted neighbor against neighbor and even Christian against Christian as many cling to their tribes no matter the cost while others find themselves without a political home. Where does that leave us as Christians? What is our duty to each other and to God? How can we move forward connected, with respect for one another, and united in our mission for Christ? The Banner has teamed up with the Center for Public Justice to release a series of articles exploring these topics. This is the fourth of six.
New Years’ Day 2020 rang in a new year and a new decade. The Roaring ’20s was a popular New Years’ Eve party theme and indicated a desire that the best was yet to come. However, seven months later we regularly see memes indicating the attitude that 2020 couldn’t get much worse. Recent current events, specifically COVID-19, and incidents of racial injustice, have again revealed the broken state of our systems in health care, law enforcement, and, more broadly, government. But upcoming national elections beckon us to somehow engage our government and the political process, and we need not be discouraged.
A political assessment of modern Christianity reveals that followers of Jesus have varying conclusions about their relationship with the institution of government. Some believers of Christ participate in politics solely as a matter of civic duty. They might keep up with political news and cast their ballot with reluctance or with ambivalence. Some Christians find themselves on an opposite pole. These believers embrace government and the political process as the means to transforming the world toward divine ends. They envision a Christian nation that embraces patriotism and traditional family values; or they envision a Christian nation that implements a social gospel of equality for all people. This polarity reveals the church’s disunity in its understanding of the political arena and our participation in it.
There is, however, a robust third way to engage today’s political landscape. This approach entails advocating from a posture of public justice. Richard Mouw clarifies what public justice is when he says, “Our focus on ‘public’ life also has to do with a specific way of understanding what it means to promote human flourishing, and of the role of the state in promoting that flourishing” (Shared Justice Blog, June 20, 2018). When we seek public justice, we seek justice through state actions for the flourishing of all people and society.
However, the role of government and an individual’s political engagement is rooted in creation itself. Like every human being on earth, we are blessed by the Imago Dei. The image of God instills in us his virtues of justice and wisdom. We use these virtues to rule God’s creation. Our public life includes every God-given vocation, from agriculture, to the arts, to the marketplace, and to the political sphere. The ongoing work of public justice includes stewarding the power of the state and participating in the rule of society for the common good of all people. The development of government and civic engagement are the result of God’s people in community stewarding God’s justice and wisdom in public life.
While you and I might question whether things could get any worse in 2020, Vincent Bacote suggests this is the wrong question we should be asking ourselves. He states, “For Christians committed to cultural engagement and public responsibility, we have to continually pursue those things that make the world better” (The Political Disciple, p. 73). Public justice-minded Christians will ask questions like, “What will help to create a more racially just society? How can all communities be assured they are protected against COVID?” While the government will have a direct role in those answers, the government should also empower individuals, families, and other institutions to wisely contribute to those answers.
One of the challenges presented by COVID was the unreliability of food supply chains. This spring, food products were found in short supply. Shelves and refrigerator cases in grocery stores were regularly bare. But gardening retailers across the country reported as much as a quadrupled increase in home gardening interest. Much of this interest was fueled by fears about food supply. Local organizations who are public justice-minded, like Plainsong Farm, jumped into action. Their Good News Gardens program assisted households and churches with gardening programs with the materials and expertise in growing home gardens. Churches like First CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich., also partnered with Plainsong Farm to help protect individuals, families, and communities against this effect of COVID-19.
As Christians, it is also valuable for us to remember that while we have been given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:11-21) it is Christ who completes the work. The decisions made in capitol buildings and at the ballot boxes ultimately do not change the outcome of Christ’s work in our world. The Kingdom of Heaven will be realized despite the political actions or inactions of our countries. We have heard many roars of injustice already in 2020, and undoubtedly there will be many more throughout this decade. When we are public justice-minded Christians, we labor for the good of all people, and we make our political choices and public life practices with the virtues that God has blessed us with in the Imago Dei.