A Humble Politician?
I don't enjoy political debates—at least not anymore. Allow me to introduce myself. I am a recovering political junkie who rambles on about past elections no one cares about. Give me an excuse to discuss politics, and I'll take the bait. I have an autographed t-shirt (safely concealed in my closet) from a former Republican presidential candidate. Sometimes, just for fun, I watch old debates on YouTube as the night slips away. C-Span is one of my favorite channels. Yet as a person committed to the way of Christ, I find it increasingly difficult to take political debates and campaigns seriously.
Political rhetoric in the media is drenched with feigned optimism, bloated clichés, and false promises of a future utopia—"If you'll only vote for me . . ." Both conservatives and liberals demonize the other, promoting their own ideals and policies as the obvious choice. If you're searching for humility, contemporary politics is not the place to look. Arrogance is rampant despite the fact our country is confronted with challenges that aren't nearly as clear-cut as politicians claim.
Most troubling, perhaps, is the number of politicians who either claim to espouse traditional Christian values or even profess faith in Christ. Both leading candidates in the 2008 election played this card. Another thing they held in common, ironically, was the tone of their campaign ads and biting speeches. While political policies differ, the way a candidate's ideas are conveyed is quite similar. Their claims are proudly asserted, not submitted for public scrutiny. Some Christian candidates act as though their policies are obviously superior because of their conservative credentials.
This runs contrary to Christian humility, which is essential to a believer's life both privately and in the public arena. More than anyone else, Christians have theological grounds for true humility: we were once alienated from the life that is in Christ. Yet God in His mercy—through the work of Christ and the power of the Spirit—has called us to Himself. Therefore, Christian citizens no longer have the luxury of pointing fingers of blame across the aisle!
In contrast, the truth of the Gospel is the one thing that promotes a sense of humility that clings to the truth and presents it in a humble way. The Christian knows that "except for the grace of God, there go I." In other words, Christians have to be Gospel-driven in their approach to political engagement if their message (policy birthed out of a Christian worldview) is going to penetrate the minds of those they are trying to persuade.
It's incredible to read Paul's defense of his apostolic authority and ministry in 2 Corinthians. He was bold and tenacious, yet his words were deferential to his readers. He did not appeal to eloquent speech or cunning tactics. He didn't even appeal to the innovative methods that "Barnabas and the gang" had concocted after they returned from a church growth conference. Instead, he pointed to two things: (1) the work of Christ and (2) the authority given by Christ to minister in His name. What is the lesson for us? One must know to whom he belongs and in whose name he ministers if his politics are to be humble.
This view transforms the way Christians approach politics. We need not flee voting booths. In fact, we are specifically called to a proper relationship with our governing authorities (Mark 12:17; Romans 13; 1 Peter 2:13-17). However, it is with a demeanor of humble submission and civility that we voice the truth. The fact that Christ humbled Himself to the point of death is our example. Peter goes to great pains in the second chapter of First Peter to remind us that Christ, though innocent, suffered for us. He did not revile His tormentors though He was mocked. If this is true, how much more ought Christians conform to the way of Jesus in their speech and in the political sphere?
The humility of Christ provokes the believer to submit his own arguments, ideas, and opinions to the same reasonable scrutiny he imposes on the policies of those with whom he disagrees. When we evaluate policy, we should not immediately reject the proposal simply because it comes from a liberal. This is logical fallacy. Good ideas are good ideas no matter where they originate. The question is whether the policy conforms to the Christian worldview. Does it promote the wellbeing of society, as God understands goodness? These are the thoughtful questions believers must begin to ask in their political engagement.
I gave up my political ambitions years ago. I didn't do this because I thought being a congressman was unspiritual. Sadly, many Christians who resist a career in politics do so because they've been told Christianity and politics don't mix. But Scripture and the witness of church history do not support this myth.
At the same time, many believers have gone to the other extreme, plunging themselves into the fray of public conversation with the same Christ-less, prideful rhetoric as those they hope to convert. If salvation is by grace, there's no room for boasting. In the end, the politics of Jesus don't parade through the streets riding on the back of a donkey or elephant. He comes instead as a lamb that was slain.
William Jackson Watts is Associate Pastor at Tippett's Chapel Free Will Baptist Church in NC, where he is also studying to complete his M.Div. at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.