This week, I want to suggest three things that politics is not. Two, I believe, are constructive in terms of expanding and helping us broaden our understanding (for which I am indebted to Jamie Smith’s comments at Regent College’s Faith and Politics Conference), and a third which serves as a corrective.
1. Politics is not merely electoral. When we hear talk of political engagement, most of us probably think in two ways: either we ought to think more about politics, or we ought to vote. Voting has become, for most of us, the extent of our political engagement. Yet if we believe that politics is not merely about who is in power, but much more about facilitating the good life (ultimately, shalom) for its citizens, then voting cannot be the only aspect of politics.
Indeed, the Christian perspective must see political life, envisaged broadly, as more than electoral, because our ultimate political call has to be to spread the gospel. This is because it is the gospel that has the greatest transformative aspect on the way a society interacts – one need only look at the early Church to see this. Thus, restricting politics to a vote ignores the fact that we, as Christians, live our daily lives in a political situation, engaging with others.
2. Politics is not merely federal. Perhaps this is most challenging to see as the US election draws (slowly) to a close. Again, on this point, the Christian perspective brings a powerful corrective. The call of Jesus to love our neighbor orients us to those immediately around us. Christianity carries a profound “parish mentality” (to reference Smith’s comments). It orients us to those we can tangibly love immediately, and reminds us that our political engagement is equally, if not more, important at a local level.
3. Politics is not apocalyptic. I have beat this drum before, but it warrants emphasis because the temptation to see politics this way is so great. Politics is not apocalyptic in two senses. The decisions of government will not bring the end of the world; God has determined when that will occur. But neither will the decisions of government bring the salvation of the world – there is one God-man who has done, and will bring this to consummation. It’s a simple idea, but one we often lose track of.
With these three adjustments to our view of politics, the boundaries are opened up, I believe in terms of how we consider Christian political engagement. Indeed, what was simply a matter of casting a vote becomes more about how we live in relationship to others and seek to love them, both through our personal lives and also through local policies. In this way, it becomes glaringly apparent, that Christ does have something to say about how we live our political lives, as he confronts us with his grace and calls us to deeper relationship with him and deeper care for the world around us.