America is caught up (and has been for quite some time) in a culture war of the kind of nation it will be or become. In other words, it is a fight over the future vision of American life (Hunter, Culture Wars).
Given the nature of this culture war, sides are created, and partisan politics are born. There are four characteristics to partisan politics that create a politically toxic environment.
Politics, in its broadest sense, is the activity through which people make, preserve, and amend the general rules under which they live.
What in the world is the church’s role in the American Culture Wars?
I think this is the question the church has been trying to answer now for decades and will continue in the days and years ahead.
As the people of God, we are not American elephants or American donkeys first, but we first and foremost belong to the party of the Lion of the tribe of Judah.
Our allegiance rests with him and him alone. Jesus never entangled himself in the politics of his day but was able to wisely and winsomely navigate politically toxic traps and point to another kingdom and another way of looking at issues.
Now, this doesn’t mean that we don’t engage politically. In fact, I believe we have an opportunity in the American experiment to play an important role in contributing to a flourishing society. And given the crises we have faced as a nation over the last several months, the church doesn’t need to be MIA, but highly involved.
God’s church will have people who see different paths, based on their understanding of Scripture, to making the world right—which means we will have people with different persuasions and political choices. The temptation here, for those on both sides, would be to join in with the world and hurl insults, vicious attacks, and disdain for the other.
While our differences and diversity of beliefs—theologically and [even] politically—may lead us to worship with like-minded believers, we must still follow the way of Christ. As his followers, we are called to unity—not uniformity.
Based upon Jeremiah, the people of God seek the “shalom” of a community, city, state, and nation by being a partnering peace—working together to make the city a great place to live. In addition, they are to be a preserving peace—caring (or helping to care) for the poor, marginalized, widow, and sojourner. And moreover, they are to be proclaiming peace—where they point to YHWH as the ultimate God and King.
It seems that governmental authorities in America have been under attack lately. As the church, we must remain vigilant in praying for our federal, state, city, and community leaders. In addition, we must remain committed to being partners of peace and of the common good with these leaders through our submission.
However, our submission to governing authorities is suspended when they give mandates or orders that contradict our allegiance to King Jesus.
This is where wisdom and discernment are key.
The Declaration of Independence expressed why our forefathers sought to separate from British rule, and goes on to note, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The Preamble of the U.S. Constitution explains, “We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Abraham Lincoln, in his famous Gettysburg address, expressed, “…that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of Freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Christians, given their position as American citizens, as well as their call in the world to seek the peace (shalom) and well-being (good) of all (Jer. 29:7; Gal. 6:10) in accordance to God’s common grace in the world, have the responsibility to work for the common good through voting, lobbying to change laws, organizing peacefully, and legal appeal.
I believe God is on mission to create a people (kingdom) from all peoples for his glory. This is the mission that God has been on since the beginning. Jesus is the climatic crescendo in God’s mission in that he inaugurated the kingdom of God, and through his death and resurrection sealed the future consummation of the kingdom in the New Creation.
In closing, there’s no denying the fragmentation of American politics, and thus American citizens. My prayer and hope for the church is that rather than entangle themselves in such culture wars they would seek to engage the culture missionally as a prophetic presence and voice that seeks to point people to Jesus —the ultimate king —while also working for the common good (the good life) for all Americans. Yes, this too is political, but in a more subversive Christ-like way.