If the Republican debate is something you’re not planning on watching tonight, read this first.
Plenty of Christians just don’t “do” politics. Only half of all evangelical Christians in the U.S. voted in the last presidential election. Millennials are the most politically disinterested generation, jaded by the church “culture wars” of their youth and disillusioned with the Republican Party (I know, because I am one of them).
It’s easy to let the shortcomings of our leaders and the endless Twitter wars squander our enthusiasm for election season. Politics is a dirty game sometimes, but we can’t let the partisan banter distract us from the important role government plays in our daily lives.
Staying informed on current issues and engaging in the public square is part of our call to community as Christians, and it’s a minimum requirement if the church wants to truly transform culture. Don’t let cynicism stop you from civic engagement. You will find goodness beneath the racket if you know how to look for it.
Before you make plans for this evening, let me share with you a few tips that might make your debate-watching experience a little less disillusioned.
1. Remember that all issues are moral issues
When it comes to social policies like abortion and marriage, Christians are known for speaking strongly. These are certainly important topics, but they’re not the only issue in which Christians can claim a moral argument. What about economic policy, like income inequality and health care? Christians are broadening their political palate because God cares about these things too, and it’s a high cost on human life when we get them wrong.
Economic issues are moral to their core because economics deals with human life and well-being. More people died from bad economic policy under totalitarian regimes in the 20th century than from homicide and genocide combined. Though thankfully we don’t experience extreme economic oppression in the United States, this horrific truth acts as a reminder of how economic policy can impact human life.
Regulation, the federal deficit, and the tax code may seem like trivial, technical policies unrelated to theology, but these issues can build or destroy human well-being, especially for the most disadvantaged.
When watching the debate, listen for the moral components of each issue and ask yourself, “How does this affect human life?”
2. Forget the noise – focus on the principles
Underneath the personal jabs and bold self-promotions, political debates normally exhibit basic moral principles—principles that may or may not be compatible with how God created mankind. When you watch the debate, think about the issues as they apply to the principles of freedom, fulfillment, and flourishing.
God created humankind to be free
God created us not only for inner spiritual freedom (Galatians 5:1), but also for external social freedoms. Christ came not only to heal our souls, but to heal our bodies. He cares about the blind man’s sight and the crippled man’s legs, affirming our physical nature in a way that symbolizes our spiritual nature.
Just the same, inner freedom should drive external freedom. God cares about our liberty so much that he gave us the freedom to choose right and to choose wrong. He gave us the freedom to choose whom to marry, what career path to follow, what to cook for dinner, and with whom to share it. Our human dignity is affirmed when we experience these external freedoms.
God created humankind to be fulfilled
God wants us to live a fulfilling life in every way possible, and one of the ways we can experience fulfillment is through our work. Although the effects of the Fall make our work toilsome at times (Genesis 3:17–19), God gave us work as a gift before the Fall (Genesis 2:15). In working, we express our imago Dei, our creativity, and our uniqueness.
We are created in God’s image to enjoy not only the work of God’s hands, but the work of our own hands as well. When we are free to fulfill out unique calling in life, we become more fully who God created us to be.
God created humankind to flourish in every sense
God created us to flourish spiritually, physically, politically, economically, psychologically, socially, and so on. Flourishing is the opposite of poverty. It is the restoration of our relationship with God, our families, our communities, and the rest of creation. It is happiness, fullness of life, wholeness, abundance. Flourishing is brought about by loving God, neighbor, and self (Luke 10:27).
3. Apply principles to policy
This is where the legwork comes in: critically apply the above Christian principles to the issues. This will likely take extra research in understanding specific policies and their intentions and unintended consequences. Ask yourself,
- Which candidates uphold the dignity of the freedom or the sanctity of fulfilling work?
- Which policies advance human flourishing and which policies unintentionally hinder it?
- How might immigration policy promote freedom or entitlements affect our work?
Ultimately, we must discern which policies most allow us to live the freest, most fulfilling, and flourishing life as God intended. The church has a non-negotiable duty to carry out Christ’s transformational work in our culture through civic engagement in the public square.
For some, this probably means turning on the debate tonight and encouraging others to do the same.
*Originally published on the IFWE blog.