Christians And Their Politics: A Brief Guide For The Mystified

    The way I see it there are three primary ways in which white, middle-class-and-up Christians tend to respond to or interact with politics. Of course, nothing can be categorized so cleanly without some degree of loss in the simplification; that said, for the purposes of this conversation--and given the current national climate--I find the distinctions useful and will apply them despite their limitations.

    The first way is basically apathy--not apathy toward life in general, or even toward the state of the lives of others (at least not at the conscious level). Rather, a de-prioritization, to the point of inaction, of the political process. The reasoning behind this lies in a fundamental belief that God is the one who is ultimately in charge, and with the government being by nature secular, it really doesn’t matter whom one votes for because our earth-bound leaders are not going to be able to save us anyway. Along with this point of view also often comes the perspective that the world as we know it will end relatively soon, when Jesus returns to Earth and every living and once-living soul (“the quick and the dead”) will be ushered into either eternal, ethereal celebration or permanent, torturous damnation. If such a thing is coming, who gives a fuck who the President is? Certainly not God, and thus why, in the end, should we? From this perspective, just about anything material and non-church related is unsacred, and as such becomes idolatrous if engaged in by those who should be worshipping the Lord instead.

    Another somewhat common--though not often publicized--version of Christian involvement in politics is, well, full involvement, on every level. This attitude is, at its best, based on a fundamental concern for social justice and a coinciding belief that God does indeed use humans (both politicians and their constituents) to do the work that Jesus seems to have insisted be done by his followers--namely, taking care of those who are most socio-economically vulnerable. It is not necessarily tied to any one party or candidate, but cares solely about the effects a politician or piece of legislation will have on the community as a whole. I didn’t see much of this going on in the Evangelical churches in which I grew up and was heavily involved. I came to know it later, first through learning about in seminary when I found out about what steady advocates the Quakers have been for those who are poor, environmental care, and the like. Then, I started going to an Episcopalian church that was (and still is) notorious for its political efforts regarding all kinds of legislation that directly affects “the least of these”. Although Jesus wasn’t particularly clear about the extent to which his followers should get involved in state matters--and we must remember that his political context was incredibly different than that of the United States of America in 2016--to me, this high level of participation in government seems the most ‘Christian’ option at hand.

    The third method of being a Christian in the political world is a bit of a meld of the first two, and is--again, in my particular experience--extremely “Evangelical”. I also have to admit that, in retrospect, it’s the one I’m most ashamed of having been a part of. This method is both participatory (in that one does vote, at least in the general Presidential election) and passive (in that one votes for the candidate one is told to vote for by the church). This method relies on a herd mentality--a herd mentality that got my pathetically ignorant (and perhaps brainwashed) young mind to stand for George W. Bush the second time around. This perspective sees certain politicians as almost-prophets, designated by God to wield influence in the governmental sphere in the name of the church. These “Christian” leaders are not necessarily voted for by believers in this scenario because their policies offer practical help to the suffering, but because they (the candidates) profess to be a part of the fold and because they promise that they do and will listen to God. If this sounds like a dangerous risk in terms of upholding the value of separation of church and state, it should, because it is. You see, these Christians don’t care for the separation of church and state; they might not even believe it’s possible. Everything has the potential to be under God’s rule in this scenario. And, the only alternative is that something belongs to the Devil. There is no neutral ground. The choice being thus, of course these people are operating out of fear and desperation. I mean, either we elect a confessing Christian or we’re voting for Satan? If this is what a person truly, truly believes, then good luck persuading them otherwise. In fact, there may be nothing left to do but pity them. It will take years of persistent influence to the contrary to chisel through the walls of their tunnel vision if they’re in this deep.

    So where does that leave us now, since it seems like group #3 miiiiiight end up siding with Trump whether the alternative is Sanders or Clinton? Honestly, I don’t really know what to say. I could talk about the irony of self-proclaimed Christians being vehemently opposed to taxes and social welfare programs (see: the Gospels), how selfish it is not to vote when clearly there’s no guarantee that Jesus is coming back anytime soon and real people are really suffering in our country, or I could mind my own business and just do what I can based on my own moral compass.

    I get the sense this is how many people feel: at a loss, and maybe a little (or more than a little) scared. In such a state, isn’t it at least somewhat understandable that those who believe wholeheartedly in a literal, saving deity would cling even more tightly to it, pray even more fervently to it, check even more closely to make sure that they and their candidate are following what they perceive as the moral or doctrinal requirements as laid out by it? Yes, it is understandable. Unfortunately, it is also both selfish and tragic, because you can actually do something here. Vast segments of the population need economic and social relief ASAP, and until Christians get their heads out of their asses and stop worrying about their own welfare and start doing some actual, intelligent research into what has proven to equalize oppressed demographics, all they’re doing is forcing those who suffer to wait with them, whether they like it or not. Either way, they’re imposing their belief system on the public.

    Of course, Christians aren’t the only ones who are tempted to prefer apathy over action when it comes to politics. I’ve heard plenty of secular people over the years say that they’re not going to vote either because one vote doesn’t matter, or they want to make a statement about the lack of good choices. Well, someone’s going to get elected either way, and I say at least make sure it’s the more socially conscious, more economically intelligent, more diplomacy-inclined person. Don’t fall into the same trap, you non-believers. If the church is going to abandon this world in favor of their sky-man (not to be confused with the Starman), then you be the one to take it back up in your arms. As Mahatma Gandhi supposedly said in his now near-hackneyed quote, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Sure, he was a problematic figure, but who isn’t? Make a choice. Get some real shit done, and stop waiting for perfection.