We’ve still got a year and a half to go until the 2008 presidential election — and the mudslinging and dirty tricks have been going full blast for months: Publicity over John Edwards’ $400 haircuts. Gossip about Rudy Giuliani’s multiple marriages. Internet ads that make Hillary Clinton look demonic.
As someone who was once known for political dirty tricks, I know, better than most, how ugly politics can get. Does this mean Christians ought to avoid the cutthroat business of politics?
The answer: an emphatic “no!”
First, as I write in my new book, God & Government, Christians have the same civic duties as all citizens: to serve on juries, to pay taxes, to vote, to support candidates they consider the best qualified. We are also commanded to pray for and respect governing authorities.
Second, as citizens of the kingdom of God, Christians are to bring God’s standards of righteousness and justice to bear on the kingdoms of this world - what is sometimes called the cultural commission. Among other things, this means bringing transcendent moral values into public debate.
The popular notion that “you can’t legislate morality” is a myth. Morality is legislated every day from the vantage point of one value system being chosen over another. The question is not whether we will legislate morality, but whose morality gets legislated.
Laws establish, from the view of the state, the rightness or wrongness of human behavior. For example, statutes prohibiting drunk driving, or mandating seat belts, are designed to protect human life. They reflect the moral view that values the dignity and worth of human life.
All Christians are supposed to express their views to government officials, all the way from school boards to the White House. We all need to be engaged.
And third, some Christians are called themselves to political office. President Bush, an outspoken evangelical, has led the fight against the evils of abortion and is engaged in all human rights crusades. I’ve seen many members of Congress, moved by their Christian convictions, take the lead in some of the greatest human-rights campaigns of modern times.
For example, Congressmen Joe Pitts, Frank Wolf, and Chris Smith, along with Senator Sam Brownback, have made a virtual crusade against human rights abuses. In 1998, Congressman Wolf traveled to Tibet, where he posed as an ordinary tourist. Pretending to be ill, he eluded his tour guide and began speaking with Tibetans on the street to get the real story of Chinese repression.
Senator Brownback has traveled to war-torn areas all over the world, and here in the U.S., he’s spent a night in prison with prison inmates, saying he wanted to experience what they were experiencing.
It’s easy to become discouraged, as some Christians are today, when we don’t succeed politically. We need to remember the example of William Wilberforce, who spent decades fighting the British slave trade. His persistence paid off. Not only was the slave trade abolished, a great awakening swept across England.
Christians who are called into the political realm must do their best — no matter how many dirty tricks are played, no matter how much opposition. And don’t get discouraged. Remember that success is not the criteria: faithfulness is.
In the end, Christians have the assurance that even the most difficult political situations are in the hands of a sovereign God.
This commentary originally appeared on BreakPoint. Used with permission.