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.
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:
- How many people are affected by a policy?
- 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).
- 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.