Religious liberty, political engagement, and the future of ministry
There is much that is abuzz in evangelicalism with a theology of work. We are thinking clearly, eloquently, and deeply about how God honors our work and what he calls Christians to be in their vocation. I cannot praise this enough. It is a wonderful step in the right direction of seeing how the gospel touches all aspects of our lives. If God is concerned with how we work, I think he is also concerned with how we engage in politics. We have wandered into what seems like a new land, without a Moral Majority, political mandate, or cultural momentum swinging in our direction. Indeed, the cultural tide has shifted beneath our feet faster than you can say, “Allons-y!” Indeed, college students and young adults are feeling the effects of this, and lament Paul Simon’s words: “Who’ll be my role-model, now that my role-model is gone?”
The Moral Majority is no more, and it has left many students wondering whether we should just “duck back down the alley” and leave the politics to the pagans. I think that would be a mistake, and a serious one at that. Students would be well served by developing a theology of politics, and in particular how your future ministry will be shaped by how or if you engage, politically, with the society around you. Christians are not called to pull back into our enclaves. Furthermore, apathy about political engagement is not a Christian virtue — quite the opposite. God is intimately concerned with not only the church’s life and doctrine, but also how his sword is wielded for the good of a society (Romans 13.1-4). Government wields that sword. In other words, God cares not only for his people who have covenanted with him in Christ but also for those who care very little for him yet carry the sword of justice he has provided. This includes how government cares for the least of these, the poor, those who’ve fallen on hard times, and religious liberty.
The daunting trajectory of religious liberty is one that will not only befall Christians in American society but also our fellow neighbor, whom we are called to love as ourselves (Matthew 12.28-34). Love for religious liberty is, in part, love for neighbor. As future pastors, teachers, and leaders, we need to be aware of the daunting task before us. We need to be willing to speak truth to power, and stand alongside those with whom we disagree on non-essentials to defend the essentials.
“It is no crime to be ignorant of economics,” Murray N. Rothbard once opined, “but it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance.” Depending on the reader, this may be condemnatory or you may find yourself in complete agreement. Indeed, this may be precisely why you have shown little interest in politics or have never sought to study it further. Certainly, you have a “loud and vociferous” opinion, whether it’s about the corruption of politics, or why we should have less concern for political engagement and more concern for the purity of the church. But it is one thing to have such ideas; it is another thing altogether to have informed ideas about political engagement. Like apathy, ignorance is not a Christian virtue.
A healthy gag reflex toward the political drama is good for the Christian, I think. Eschewing the process altogether is not. Learn about the nature of God and government, read widely the ideas that shaped our nation. Think hard about religious liberty and the church. You’ll find, I think, that your current and future ministry will reap the fruits of such labor.