Mission Driven Political Advocacy

This series continues our discussion from my last two posts on Biblical principle for politics. Now, I want to try to take these principles and see how they shape a mission-driven perspective on political advocacy.

Christianity at its shallowest looks to the Bible as merely a reference guide, treating God as a life consultant, providing some sustenance and assistance here and there. It it’s truest form, God is not supposed to be a small addition, but He is to be the center and the Bible is intended to be transformative, not merely providing some small adjustments to our life. It is supposed to be the starting point, pulling our entire self into the mission of God. As we fully commit to God, we can properly read the Bible. Any other motivation can lead us to diminished or false understanding of God and, as a result our proper response to him.

Unfortunately in politics, Christians have often settled for the consultant God. Rather than letting God’s mission be the driving force, the priorities have been reversed. Whenever a topic receives a lot of attention in the media, we find a verse that might be vaguely applicable, and offer our opinions, just as we fashion our God to do. Gay marriage? We can find a verse on that. School prayer? Got one that is related.

It should not be surprising that an upside down view of God leads to an upside down view in Christian politics.

To truly follow Christ demands an entirely different perspective. Our singular aim is God’s mission. Involvement in politics is not an axiom of Christianity, instead political advocacy is something to be employed when it is a tactically productive tool as a part of the mission. This means that we only engage in advocacy when our activity can legitimately result in fruit  for our Christ-ward pursuit.

Building a large military, fighting for religious favor, regulating behavior won’t ever bring us more of the Kingdom, because the Kingdom of God isn’t about doing what makes our life easier and safer, or grabbing more power.

Our call is to be and to make obedient disciples, those who follow in producing the same fruit as Jesus. Jesus’ summarized the fruit of His mission at the outset of his ministry:

 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed,” Luke 4:18

Followers of Christ have brought truly substantive benefits to the poor, the captives, the sick, and the oppressed throughout the world as part of their mission, partly through their influence and advocacy to the government. When we focus on real opportunities for affecting change, subservient to our singular focus on God’s mission, only then can we have a proper perspective on politics.

Prioritization

When someone is driven by a singular goal, they quickly start prioritizing. One who is highly motivated towards their mission quickly begins to look at things in life in terms of what will be likely to bring me closer to the goal and what won’t. We must remember that we are people of limited time and money. We only have so many challenges that we can effectively engage in. If we really care about the achieving meaningful goals, it requires that we prioritize. When politics is not serving such purposes, it quickly devolves into ideological battles that accomplish little to nothing. Consequently I would suggest that even more important than trying to always be “right”, is prioritization, understanding where we can really make a difference. Decisions on public policy are really about priorities as well, virtually every policy decision comes down to weighing one priority vs another (for example, many are a question of monetary cost vs group benefit). If you care more about winning arguments than prioritizing isn’t important. But if you care about really benefiting people, we need to know on what issues we can make a difference and focus on them.

With a properly pragmatic perspective on public policy driven by the fruit of the Christ’s Kingdom and His intolerance for injustice, along with humility and meekness we can begin to approach politics with a better foundation. Biblically motivated involvement in politics isn’t a pursuit of making life easy as possible for us, for Christians, nor is it a battle for our moral ideology or being right. It is a pursuit of Biblical justice and compassion, and involvement in politics when (and only when) it serves that purpose. We are not called to some abstract theoretical notion of how the government should behave, we are called to make a difference.

While many are focused on the upcoming elections, I would suggest voting is one of the least of the political advocacy methods at our disposal. When we consider the large number of people that vote compared to those that actually engage in issues throughout the rest of the year, it demonstrates the relative influence our actions have. Votes go into a large pool, but relatively speaking, writing a letter to, or calling your congressman on a particular issue is a part of such a small pool of voices that it often has the weight, influence, and representation equal to thousands of citizens. Elections are primarily a consequence of the efforts of those who make their voices heard throughout the year, shaping and influencing opinions and perspectives, both of citizens and the leaders. Many of these priorities below are based on the potential we have to make a difference through all advocacy efforts, not just at the polls. But still, the elections are coming up, and so voting decisions are an important topic right now.

Based on the concept of being mission driven, I want to suggest some guidelines for trying to focus on priorities with a reasonably objective set of measurements. Now I know that the reality of justice and politics is far too complicated to really be reduced to number (and some may justifiably chuckle at my oversimplifications and mathematical/utilitarianism perspective). But, I believe that these guidelines can at least help us to measure our opportunity to have an impact through our political advocacy and voting. This guidance can help us focus on what can have the greatest positive impact. Here are three criteria for determining our potential for impact, and for prioritizing our efforts on any given policy or issue:

  1. How many people are affected by a policy?
  2. How extensively does a policy affect those people? This may be a dollar amount, quality of life, or it may be as large as a life and death impact (which surely would be the greatest impact).
  3. How much potential is there for change? Is the policy deeply entrenched or a lightly considered issue? It is very difficult to have much of an impact on a highly visible, deeply entrenched issue (although it may be an important voting consideration). Advocacy for issues that are not well-understood and rarely discussed can go a long ways in changing policy. When voting for a candidate, consider whether the issue is one that they will have a say in (for example local leaders don’t have much influence on international issues).

The product of these three measures gives you an estimate of the potential for changing lives. To be high priority issue, an issue must impact many people, impact them deeply, and have a reasonable potential for change. Some of issues may impact many people, but if there is little opportunity change, I may still rank them as lower priority. From these metrics, I have tried to prioritize some important issues which I will share with you tomorrow. In the meantime, I suggest you mentally begin to prioritize the issues for yourself.

Thanks for reading.

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10 responses to “Mission Driven Political Advocacy

  1. Pragmatism. A word I struggle with in relationship to following Jesus. One caution here is not yielding to God’s calling for us because something is too entrenched and unlikely to change. For example. that is the justification so many Christian leaders used to not stand with Dr. King in the civll rights movement. Most all of these leaders repented for failing to stand with him but 20 years later. Another instance is the deeply entrenched nationalism in Germany that prevented the majority of Christian leaders and Christians from standing with Bonhoeffer even as the horror increased. I know you are aware of these things and you may address them later. I see issues like these though becoming clearer and clearer in our country. I think we will see the day when we will suffer for our faith here if we have the courage to follow Jesus. Another caution I have is to try to accomplish something apart from God’s calling, especially for deeply entrenched issues that need to change but can’t without God’s calling. For example, times like the Babylon captivity. I pray God will help us to recognize God’s calling and have the courage or patience or whatever is required to faithfully obey in simple obedience. I know love of God and others is key.

  2. Sam, that is a good caution and a great point. In many ways God does call us to the impossible. However, I would suggest that many “impossible” wars are won by many incremental battles strategically chosen by their opportunity for success. I guess that is a combination an idealistic vision with a pragmatic march towards it. Anyway, I certainly will admit that I tend toward erring on the side of (or at least over-focusing) on the pragmatic side. Hopefully my suggestions can be combined with a faith that can uphold hope in the impossible.

  3. “We are not called to some abstract theoretical notion of how the government should behave, we are called to make a difference.”

    But doesn’t this mean we are essentially leaving the governing to others, and only speaking up when it’s strategic and issue-based? And won’t we be better able to make a difference under certain abstract theoretical notions of how the government should behave (such as democracy) than others (like fascism?)

    • Yes, certain (abstract) forms of governments certainly are advantageous for making a difference, which is exactly why we should pursue them. The point being that the Bible doesn’t teach that the end goal of the church is democracy or theocracy, we encourage democracy because it is a valuable tool for reaching our other goals (democracy in particular tends to give more voice and protection to less privileged in society)… Or am I missing something? It seems like your second question kind of answers your first question (in the same I tried to).

      • Yeah, I guess the second question was rhetorical, to voice my opinion on the first. I guess what I’m asking is if you think there are places where you think Christians ought NOT to be involved in politics at all – based on you saying

        “It is a pursuit of Biblical justice and compassion, and involvement in politics when (and only when) it serves that purpose.”

        it seems to me that everything, from tax policy to immigration reform to the death penalty, to well, everything should be informed by a pursuit of Biblical justice and compassion. Is that what you’re saying, or do you think there are certain political issues Christians should just stay neutral and quiet about? Could you give me some examples?

  4. I would definitely affirm that everything should be informed by Biblical justice, compassion (and all the rest of council of God) as much as possible. A politician should certainly attempt to be guided by the Bible for every bill that they consider. But I’ll try to offer a few possible reasons for being “quiet” in some situations or respects, at least IMO.

    Like I mentioned in the post, we are people of limited (and fungible) resources. With my priorities, I am very willing to invest time, energy, and even money towards endorsing policies that battle global poverty where small budget adjustments save/cost thousands of lives. I am *not* willing to pull my limited resources away from such a cause to support gay rights/DOM political efforts, for example. I don’t know that that counts as being quiet in absolute terms, but I think it does in relative terms.

    Second, with basically every issue that we debate today, both sides can appeal to at least some Biblical value or principle to defend it. It is often partisan rhetoric that fools us into thinking that there are contentious issues today that are so clearcut as to have explicit and unambigious Biblical support (or at least I can’t think of any that are clearcut). I think there are certainly times when we just need to admit that, at least with our limited knowledge (at a given moment in time), both sides have roughly equal amounts of Biblical support (as far as we can tell) and technical merit such that we simply don’t know which way to go. With humility as a guide, I don’t know we must be “quiet”, but at least not brazenly opinionated about that which we don’t know.

    Finally, I think I would appeal to Greg Boyd’s depiction of the Kingdom of the cross vs the kingdom of the sword manifested in government that derive their power from threat of punishment (the sword). This is not the way of the cross, and not how we get what we want. Of course I don’t think that means that we should never affect government, but to leverage our (small amount of) citizen-endowed force merely to gain changes for our personal preference is not the way of Christ, and being “quiet” would certainly be the better alternative. If an issue is at least neutral within our bounds of understanding, the best way to consider others before our selves, and defer to the preference of others is to not interject our own.

    Anyway, that’s my best attempt at giving reasons for being quiet at times, what do you think?

    • There were many times when Christ Himself was silent on an issue…and often, His silence was even more powerful than His words. For example, one of the most powerful moments to me is at the beginning of John 8 – where He silently writes in the dust, as though He did not hear the the accusers of the woman taken in adultery. Sometimes silence can be a refusal to “stoop to their level” – and can be particularly important during a political season.

  5. Pingback: Mission Driven Political Advocacy Scorecard | The Zyp Family

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