by Scott Arbeiter
In its most noble form, politics is the art of creating good public policy. We know it when we see it. Good people with political skill weigh difficult options, listen to countervailing opinions, and make wise choices that more often than not bring about good outcomes.
But in real life, politics is increasingly messy. The very real issues of policy become lost in partisan bickering from which there are no solutions, only talking points. The result is political paralysis like few times in history, as the “art of the possible” has become a game with no winners, only losers.
Beyond what happens in Washington and our state legislatures (and dare I say within our churches), much of our public dialogue has lacked civility and respect. With the proliferation of blogs, podcasts, and 24/7cable news, we can now fine-tune our preferences, block any contrary thought, and serve ourselves a toxic stew of one-dimensional thinking. We have learned how to deftly discount the intellect, morality, and even humanity of any who disagree with us. And too often, we are proud of it.
As followers of Jesus, we have to ask, “What does the way I engage in politics reveal about my understanding of the gospel and the condition of my heart?”
What do my political views reveal about my view of power?
King David, reflecting on the nature of power, offers this,
Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power
and the glory and the majesty and the splendor,
for everything in heaven and earth is yours.
Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all – 1 Chronicles 29:11
Political power matters, and as citizens, we should be actively engaged in the political process. This is a gift that all too few in history have known and it should be celebrated and stewarded. At the same point, we could be deceived into thinking that a candidate, party, or policy can effect change that in the end only God can bring about.
Israel fell into the trap of thinking that having a king “such as all the other nations have” would be the answer to all of their problems. Then came Saul, and Israel learned quickly that human leadership will always be flawed. Even King David, “a man after God’s own heart,” brought judgment on himself and all of Israel because he too was broken and sinful. Human leadership, even under the best of circumstances, will inevitably remind us that we need God.
We do well to remind ourselves that these famous verses in Isaiah are not just to be read at Christmas:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. – Isaiah 9:6-7a
A good test of whether I believe that all authority in heaven and earth has in fact been given to Jesus (Matt. 28) is to compare how much time I talk about politics, worry about the condition of the world, or advocate for change versus how much I pray. Are you convicted yet? Me too.
Let’s celebrate that the government is on HIS shoulders and He has no term limit.
As a final word on power, it would be good for us to remember that as people of God, we are subjects of a heavenly kingdom and that our gospel will often be at odds with the wisdom of the world. If we are completely comfortable in our political systems or party, then we have lost perspective on the kingdom. Let’s recover the great tradition of God’s people to speak to power and not for power, even as we pray always for those in power.
What do my political views reveal about what I believe about people?
At World Relief, our mission is to “Empower the Local Church to Serve the Most Vulnerable.” Foundational to this is the belief that all people are made in the image of God and are therefore imbued with dignity and worth. This does not mean all are always acting nobly or are blameless in every point of the law. Rather, it means that just like you and me, dignity and worth are innate by the reality that we were created in the image of God and are objects of His love and mercy.
Beyond this is the belief that God has a preferential heart for the poor. Therefore, if we are political advocates, then it should not be principally to forward our own interests, but rather to protect the rights of those who are marginalized, oppressed, and victimized. If we follow Jesus, it should seem natural for us to think that we should fight for policies that reflect His nature.
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. – 2 Corinthians 8:9
The self-emptying love of Jesus should be the model for our activism on every front.
The great risk for me, and perhaps for you, is to think that as a Western Christian I have favored status before God. The freedoms and blessings I enjoy in this nation seem evidence of this. However, scripture dislodges this notion, reminding me that those who truly have favored status are the widow, orphan, and foreigner. If my political advocacy is not biased towards the vulnerable, then I have misunderstood the gospel and risk repeating the sin of Israel as they forgot that they were blessed in order to be a blessing.
I need God to reveal the hidden ways of my heart. Sometimes, He does so by holding my political views in front of me as a mirror. What do you see in your mirror?
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. – Proverbs 4:23
Scott Arbeiter was a partner at Arthur Andersen serving in a variety of functions over 17 years. He resigned to become Lead Pastor at Elmbrook Church in Milwaukee. He served previously on World Relief’s Board, including three years as Chairman. In 2016, Scott was asked to serve as President of World Relief. Scott has been married to Jewel for 33 years and they have daughters, Kelsey, Jacquelyn, and Karis.