Politics and the Kingdom of God
Politics in contemporary American culture is a really tough domain. This is particularly true of the follower of Christ. What does it look like to honor God and engage politically? 1 Peter 2 provides for us some helpful instructions. Simply put, the biblical expectation for the follower of Jesus is that we honor those who were in governmental authority above us. This is easy to say. It’s often a bit more ambiguous in terms of application. How do we live this out? The best way I know how to illustrate and apply this text is by referencing the past and current president of the United States. There are many Christians who like one and dislike the other. The reverse is also true. And then there are plenty who are not big fans of both of them. Unfortunately their presidencies have revealed that, not only have we joined to the world in failing to honor God in our political engagements, I am afraid that many times we have led the world in failing in this regard. I know that I have failed many times.
So what does it mean to submit? To be clear, it does not mean that we must agree with everything they do. We live in a context where we have freedom and permission and in fact are often encouraged to be the opposition at times. Submitting to them, then, is not always agreeing with them. It is, however, an acknowledgment of their personal dignity and worth and the dignity of their office. Submitting to governing authorities hinges on these two theological realities. First, as followers of Christ, we have a sincerely held belief that every person is created in the image of God and is deeply loved by God, therefore every person on the planet deserves our respect. We honor them as a creation of God's made in his image and loved by him. If we would get this right political tensions and social tensions would radically decrease. We must beging by honoring the dignity of every human being.
The second theological hinge is that we honor the dignity of the position. Both this text and Romans 13 clarify for us that the position of governmental authority was created by God for the good of our culture.
So we honor the dignity of every person and we honor the authority of the office. We may diagree, but we do so in a manner keeping with the character of God and the Kingdom of God. It means we don't join in in the crass dehumanization that has become so prevalent in contemporary American culture.
Unfortunately across both sides of the political spectrum today we've devolved into a place where we not only can disagree with one another but where we perceive anyone who disagrees with us to be evil. This is incredibly flawed and deeply unbiblical.
Of course, all this begs the question, "What if they're really not a good person?"
Turn your attention back to 1 Peter 2. Peter writing this book to people under the authority of a heinous and ungodly Roman government who killed Christians for sport. If Peter can call those believers to honor their governmental authorities, then we can honor those above us as those given to us by God.
The difficulty is when the rubber meets the road. My fear is that that we like to 'Amen' this idea when the person we like is in office and we ignore this idea when the person we don't like is in office. In fact we justify our ungodly engagement when we do not like the politician in office. Recently I've heard some pastors and other prominent Christians engaging in dehumanization with respect to political opponents. They have engaged in name calling and ridiculing those they disagreed with. The argument that they often use to justify their behavior is that the other side is alraedy doing it. First of all, as every parent knows, "They did it first" is a really dumb argument that doesn't pass the parent/child test. Beyond that simple test of human decency, though, 1 Peter also addresses this. Consider verse 15.
We don't join the foolishness of our culture as it is displayed in the political domain. By joining them in their evil we suggest by our behavior that we are just like them. By refraining from the kind of crass dehumanizing that is so popular right now we demonstrate our citizenship in the kingdom of God. We do not participate in evil but instead we respond by doing good.
This is obviously not easy but this matters too much. This is one of the most significant ways in our current cultural climate that we might reflect the character of God and the kingdom of God.