Imagine a political conversation that was informed by the values of the gospel. Would it be a shrill, accusatory and divisive affair? Would it be an exercise in abdicating responsibility, constantly letting other people make decisions? Would participants approach pressing issues with impassive, calculating economy? Or would they be impracticable, activist humanists?
For the past 2,000 years, Christians have had to wrestle with the question of how to best engage the public life of the city or nation around them. There’s no universally applicable answer—every era, society and form of government ends up presenting believers with circumstances and questions that are new and uniquely challenging. Believing in Christ in ancient Rome, Medieval France, Renaissance Spain, Ottoman Turkey and Soviet Russia would each entail a starkly different—and sometimes fluid—approach to public life.
The contemporary west presents people of all stripes with its own issues and challenges, and Christians have responded in a multitude of ways, ranging from the violently imperialistic to the cavalierly laissez-faire. Either extreme, along with any number of approaches in between, could probably be justified by focusing on one aspect of scripture or another (“Jesus cleared the temple courtyards with a whip!” “Just give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” etc.), but I think the most complete approach was described by Leslie Newbigin in Foolishness to the Greeks:
…we have before us … the vision of the holy city, into which all the glory of the nations will be brought…This faith heals the split between the public and the private. There is no room for a political fanaticism that supposes that my political achievements will establish God’s kingdom, or declares a holy war against opponents…Equally, there is no room for a piety that seeks personal holiness by opting out of the struggle for a measure of justice and freedom in public life.
How can Christians live out the driving themes of the gospel as we engage in our national political discourse? What kind of attitude should the principles of the faith prompt as we look at the major (and minor) issues of our day? Would this require coming up with an entirely new approach to public life, or are there people, groups and organizations that we can use as models? And, as a result, what kind of impression do we make on the people around us who don’t share our beliefs?
I’m looking forward to figuring all of this out with you.