The Role of American Christians in Politics

     Tim Keller wrote an opinion article for the NY Times regarding the role of Christians in politics: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/29/opinion/sunday/christians-politics-belief.html

     I agree with him that “Those who avoid all political discussions and engagement are essentially casting a vote for the social status quo.”  He gives the examples of early 19th century American churches and the issue of slavery.  To his example, I would add 20th century American churches and the issue of segregation.  Martin Luther King Jr came from a Baptist background and spoke vehemently against racial discrimination.  His “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” is essentially a message from an overseer imploring his fellow overseers to stop implicitly supporting the status quo by their silence and inaction.

     Lord Jesus commanded His believers to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Naturally, to faithfully follow that command would entail being involved politically to an extent.  Keller provides the examples of working for better public schools or for a justice system not weighted against the poor or to end racial segregation.  I agree with these platforms.

     The main thesis statement that Keller provides is this: “While believers can register under a party affiliation and be active in politics, they should not identify the Christian church or faith with a political party as the only Christian one.”

His reasons for this position are the following:
1. To identify the Christian faith with a political party as the only Christian one would give the impression that to accept the Christian faith, you need not only to believe in Jesus but also to become members of the Party; religion would simply be another voting block aiming for power.
2. Most political positions are not matters of biblical command but of practical wisdom.
3. “Package-deal ethics”: political parties insist that you cannot work on one issue with them if you don’t embrace all of their approved positions.

     I generally agree with Keller in the first reason that we should not identify the Christian church or faith with a political party as the only Christian one.  But we do have to point out to observers that Christianity teaches values that will lead us towards one party over another on several different issues.  On issues like abortion, immigration, climate change/environment, healthcare, public schools, gun safety, capitalism/socialism, appropriate police force, minority rights, and the like, the two parties have different perspectives that we should critically examine and peruse.  We will do our best to vote according to our values.  That will naturally mean that we might vote Democrat on one issue while we vote Republican on another issue.

     In other words, Christianity will lead us towards platforms that just happen to be considered liberal and/or conservative according to our modern political definitions.

     I understand how Keller says, “religion would simply be another voting block aiming for power,” since that is how the outside world would see the political dynamic, but I feel the paradigm would be better framed as “religion is working with the power it already has as an American citizen granted by the U.S. Constitution.”

     American Christians are also American citizens, and so we have power granted to us legally by the Constitution, and since that power ultimately comes from God, we should therefore, use that power as responsibly as we can.  In other words, we are using the legal opportunities provided to us to pursue God’s glory and the joy of our neighbors.

     I definitely agree with Keller that Christians could reasonably appear at different places on the political spectrum with loyalties to different political strategies.

     But the issue exists that even when one side promotes a particular strategy, sometimes the way they go about the strategy and the degree to which they pursue it needs to be considered and rebuked.

     If the United States is a patient, the government is the immune system.  Generally speaking, you want to have a healthy and intact immune system to function well for the health of the patient.  If the immune system is too weak or does not function frequently enough, the patient suffers from opportunistic infections.  If the system is too strong or operates too often, the patient suffers from autoimmune diseases such as lupus.  So on issues like healthcare, economics, or immigration, I personally find the matter to be one of finetuning the system for optimal performance.  The Democratic and Republican parties act essentially like dials.

     On immigration: Republicans would dial up while Democrats want to dial down.
-too strict: we risk being inhospitable
-too lax: we risk endangering our own people from violent criminal aliens.

On gun safety: Democrats want to dial up while Republicans want to keep the status quo or dial down.
-too strict: abuse of power, extreme power imbalance between the government and private citizens
-too lax: endanger public safety from people who should not have guns

On healthcare: Democrats want to dial up while Republicans want to dial down.
-too strict: risk for corruption and incompetence from government employees and their benefactors (think Venezuela)
-too lax: monopolized insurance companies and hospitals that jack up prices at patient expense.

     The conclusion that I’ve come to on issues such as the above, is that we do our best to approximate that happy middle ground between the two extremes, much as I would try to do for a patient with a dysfunctional immune system.  I do my best to consider where we are at as a country on a particular issue and seek to move towards that optimal middle.

     If you were to ask me where I stand on the above issues, I currently feel the Democratic position on issues like immigration and healthcare are too extreme, so I would vote Republican on those issues.  But on an issue like gun safety, I would vote Democrat because I felt the Republican position was too extreme on that end.

     Thus, in the context of American politics, liberal or conservative are not inherently good or evil.  Because of their “package-deal” quality, the platforms on the political spectrum should prompt Christians to practice the art of discernment well, and separate the wheat from the chaff.

     This “package-deal ethics” puts pressure on Christians in politics.  Tim Keller said it well, “Christians should be committed to racial justice and the poor, but also to the understanding that sex is only for marriage and for nurturing family.  One of those views seems liberal and the other looks oppressively conservative. The historical Christian positions on social issues do not fit into contemporary political alignments.”

     I’m reminded of how Joshua once asked the commander of the army of the LORD, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?”  I love how the commander, who I personally believe to be the preincarnate Lord Jesus, said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD.”  (Joshua 5:13-14)

     It should be expected that Christians and the church will not fit neatly into contemporary political alignments.  God the Son did not fit neatly with Joshua’s army or the Canaanites because both parties had sins, problems, and issues that are held accountable to God’s universal holy standards.  Even when Lord Jesus walked among us in 1st century Palestine, He did not fit in neatly with the prevailing religious political spectrum of the time.  He was neither a liberal Sadducee nor a conservative Pharisee.  Both religious parties had a hand in His crucifixion.

     Keller believes that Christians are pushed toward two options:
-withdraw and try to be apolitical
-assimilate and fully adopt one party’s whole package in order to have your place at the table.

     I can see how Keller could come to these conclusions, and he states that he does not believe either of these options are acceptable for Christians.  I agree with him that these options are not acceptable.  I would also add to his comment that Christians have a third option.  It’s the “be in the world, not of the world, and remember that we are sent to the world” option.

     As American Christians, we should be involved in the political process, since those are the circumstances we find ourselves in.  We find ourselves in a political position to make great change for our neighbors both inside our country and outside because of the way the Constitution made America a representative constitutional democracy.

     I do not believe Christians have to assimilate and fully adopt one party’s whole package in order to have your place at the table.  The possibility exists that you could choose either party and reform it from within, or you could leave one for the other in an attempt to rebuke the party being left in hopes of reforming it.

     You could also always write to your respective representative senator in hopes of changing their mind on a political issue.  My views on gun safety might be considered Democratic/liberal relative to some of my peers, but I still convinced my Republican Senator to vote my way on the issue.

     So my take-home points are:
-Christians should be involved in politics to faithfully follow Lord Jesus’ commands to “Love your neighbor as yourself”
-Avoiding all political discussions and engagement are essentially supporting the social status quo.
(Now there is a place for waiting for a more opportune time to discuss certain issues of the day, but sometimes some issues take priority because of their urgency)
-The Christian faith should not be solely identified with a single political party, especially since each political party take such different positions on different issues.
-The Christian faith will cause us to pursue platforms that just happen to be labeled liberal or conservative according to modern political definitions.
-We should rebuke “Package-deal ethics” because both Democratic and Republican parties occasionally hold views that need to be examined and rebuked according to God’s universal standards as revealed in the Bible.  Both of them have some redeeming qualities and some sins that need to be rebuked.  Christians will always have a prophetic duty to hold our neighbors and ourselves accountable to the Lord’s universal standards of justice.
-Sometimes the Democratic and Republican positions are dials on certain issues like immigration, gun safety, and healthcare.  I generally seek to find the optimal middle ground and avoid the extreme ends each side tends to make.

Rebuttal to Reverend Jim Martin

 
“Why do people hate migrants and refugees?”
-Wow, what a great way to start and frame the discussion.

“Some conservative Christians argue that they’re breaking the law by coming across the border.”
-Well this is true, we have procedures in place for migrants to come ask for asylum into our country, but some of the asylum seekers have not followed these procedures.

Consider your own house: when a stranger comes knocking on your door, do you just automatically open your door up to let him in as a guest? No, I would think you would at least keep the door closed at first, look through your peephole, and ask what business do they have with you.

If the stranger asks for hospitality from you, you might naturally be inclined to welcome them in, more so if they came asking at your front door.

However, if they do not come at “port of entries,” that would be like if the stranger jumped across the fence into your backyard and then knocked on your glass door for you to let him in. (Side note: I am open to the possibility of having more ports of entries available, but I haven’t seen that proposal being pushed.) It would be one thing if the stranger did it out of ignorance or desperation, which is a possibility, and you could kindly ask the stranger to come to your front door instead. But jumping over the fence into your backyard should naturally raise some suspicions that should not so easily be dismissed.
 
Other things you might have in mind as you process the situation would be:
-what time of day the stranger arrived; coming at night raises more suspicion than coming at day.
-how legitimate their request is
-can you trust this person to be who they say they are and not someone trying to take advantage of your kindness
-do you have any resources to provide for yourself, family members who may be living with you, and the stranger

“Seeking asylum is a human right.” This is true. But again we have procedures in place for screening applicants and welcoming them in just as most homeowners naturally would do if a stranger comes knocking on the front door.

“The law is not the only judge of morality. There are unjust laws. Like abortion and same-sex marriage. So why are they being so selective?”
 
Yes, there are unjust laws. Laws are codified ideas. Not every idea is equally good. Some are very bad, others very good or they could have varying degrees of goodness. Since not every idea is equally good, we have every right to be selective to choose the idea that provides the best public good.
 
-Abortion: taking the life of the unborn
-Same sex marriage: governmental recognition of the civil union of individuals with same-sex attraction.
-Slavery: treating another human being as property
-Refugee laws: screening a stranger to see if their claims for asylum is authentic.
 
The topics of abortion and same sex marriage can be discussed at another time, but for now, I just want to let my readers have the take-home point that behind every law is an idea that needs to be examined, because not all of them are equally valid.

Also since the topic is on immigration/refugee laws, the idea being discussed is essentially “screening a stranger to see if their claims for naturalization and asylum are authentic, and if bringing them in at this time would be good for them and our citizens.”
I really fail to see what’s so inherently bad with this idea as opposed to slavery which meant treating your neighbor as property.
 
“Jeff Sessions and Sarah Huckabee Sanders use Bible verses and talk about things being “biblical” to defend their positions.”

This is not a necessarily bad thing to do. Abolitionists used Scripture to justify their position just as pro-slavery advocates used Scripture to justify their own. Both of them used the Bible to defend their respective positions, but their arguments were different in weight. In other words, the key thing to keep in mind is which side has stronger support for their position when you examine their arguments.

Calling something “biblical” has similar moral weight to saying something is “constitutional,” which is really just saying that something is consistent with the legal and moral thrust of an established document.


“But they must know that the whole thrust of the Old and New Testaments when it comes to migrants and refugees, is that we’re supposed to welcome them.”
This is half true, the Bible does encourage us to take risks in the way that we love, but we have every right to count the cost of such compassion.
 
Taking risks in the way that we show compassion is morally different than having an open door policy.  When a stranger comes knocking on your door and asks for hospitality, the Bible would encourage you to consider uncommon compassion by welcoming them into your home and providing them a place to stay and eat. But you have every right to consider the costs of letting them in, as already discussed above, like if you have enough resources to provide for them, how long they can stay, if they are who they really say they are, etc.
 
Open door policy, on the other hand, would undermine this thought process, because you would already be letting everyone who comes to your door in, and you have no way of knowing whether they are good or bad people. That would be reckless and dangerous to both yourself and the people who may share your home with you.

The principle I am trying to convey is behind the point Lord Jesus made when He said,
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
He says we live in a world of wolves, and there are people who will love to take advantage of our compassion, so as we strive to be as innocent as doves, we also have to be as wise (prudent) as serpents.
 
So again, taking risks with our compassion is a big moral difference than open door.
 
”So why are so many Christians still against migrants and refugees?”
This is a dishonest and unfair characterization of our position: what’s so wrong with asking to hold on and wait as we screen the people who come to our borders to see if their claims for asylum are legitimate? Open door is reckless and dangerous, closed border is cold, but a semipermeable border with screening checkpoints is sensible. The cells in your body follow the same principle, and people who advocated for gun safety had a similar thought. I do not see why we cannot apply the same to our borders. If we asked for a more streamlined and humanistic screening process, I would think most of us could agree to that, but that’s not what’s been being proposed these days.

This speaker says refugees have been demonized and dehumanized. He states the president the other day said they were infesting the country, as if they were vermin. The speaker then compares the statement to those made by the Nazis regarding Jews or by the Hutu about the Tutsi. He then compares the refugee crisis to Japanese American internment.

The speaker ends his thought with: “It is much easier to treat people as dirt if they’re seen as animals.”
-The speaker is conflating a lot of moral issues together.
-There are many false moral equivalencies being made.
Nazis treated Jews who were legal German citizens as less than human.
Japanese Americans were legal American citizens being criminalized unjustly.
Illegal immigrants/refugees are strangers, not legal citizens, that we do not have perfect knowledge of, and who we need to screen to let into our country.
 
If a stranger comes knocking at your door, and you happen to refuse to let him in, should your neighbor call you unkind for doing so? No, what if you simply did not have the resources to take care of yourself, your family and the stranger and you would all suffer together? What if you found out the stranger has a criminal record, or the stranger appeared at a time when you heard that a shooter was recently spotted in the area? I mean these are some of the considerations that need to be taken into account when we’re discussing immigration policies. There’s a time to welcome people into your home, and a time when you should not.

“I think the only solution is for people to come to know the stories of migrants and refugees.” This is not a bad solution, but it fails to address the fact that we need sensible border control. I would advocate for a border that maximizes the number of migrants and refugees that we allow into our country while minimizing the number of dangerous criminals like MS-13 members into our country. But in order for this outcome to happen, we need a comprehensive immigration reform, but since a package deal is unlikely to happen through our current Congress, we would have to accomplish comprehensive reform through single issue bills.
 
I do not doubt that some of the people coming to our borders are fleeing warfare, rape, famine, and drought. Some of them are fleeing their homelands, at great risk, to find safety for their families. Some of them are hardworking, inspiring, and faithful; but the thing is, some of them are not. Even a small minority can cause a whole lot of damage to our society. Therefore we have to have a screening immigration policy in place that maximizes public safety as we seek to show public kindness.

We do not think of immigrants or refugees as animals infesting our country, we just want sensible border control, so we can control the stream of migrants that enter our country. Just think about hosting a party. When you send out a list of invites to guests, and you ask them to RSVP, you’re basically controlling the stream of guests that you expect to welcome into your home. You have to consider if your home can accommodate your guests in terms of space and food availability. Border control follows the same principle. If it doesn’t, then by all means, we can work together to change it so it does follow this principle.
 
The speaker ends the video with: “Ask yourself what you’re going to say at the end of your life when God asks you, “How did you care for your brothers and sisters who were refugees and migrants?”
 
To this question, I would say as we seek to help refugees and migrants, which is definitely a noble goal, we also have to consider helping our brothers and sisters who are legal immigrants, not the “white supremacists” the media constantly talks about. Sometimes the way we help refugees and migrants can needlessly endanger our fellow American neighbors (and I am not talking about just those with fair skin), so it is all the more necessary that we consider how we can best help both parties.