The fall after I graduated from college, I got on a plane and headed to Colorado to participate in a year-long program at the John Jay Institute for Faith, Society, and Law. The program is designed to train young Christian leaders for future service in the public square. As I sat in class that first week, I remember the professor posing a blunt question to the class: “Is there any point in a Christian being involved in politics? Is it not a little like polishing the brass banisters on the Titanic as it sinks to its eternal destiny at the bottom of the Atlantic?”
The professor was prodding us to think critically on the “pragmatics” of Christian engagement in the public square, as many evangelical faith traditions during the 20th century intentionally withdrew from engagement with culture in the name of fundamentalism. If people were dying and experiencing eternal separation from God, why should Christians busy themselves “polishing the banisters of the ship” with pursuits such as politics, especially when more critical matters are at hand?
A close consideration of this question from the Biblical perspective reveals that Scripture does have something to say about the Christian’s life in the public square. We are clearly “exiles” venturing in a foreign land who are commanded to set our hopes on our sovereign King (Hebrews 11), while being tasked to “seek the good of our city” (Jeremiah 29). We are dual citizens, knowing that our true citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior (Philippians 3:17ff) who has called us to engage the culture in which we live. Engagement in the public square is not merely “polishing the banister,” but rather a legitimate culture-making activity to which we as Christians are called. We have the unique task of respecting those who are in lawful authority over us and seeking the good of our city while realizing our ultimate salvation is not found in a politician, policy, or political party. In light of this call to public engagement, here are two examples of how Christians can engage in the public square:
Historically, Christians have petitioned the Lord publicly and privately for the leaders of their land. Whether we happen to agree with the political party in charge or not, we are still commanded to pray. “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (I Timothy 2:1-2). Christians in the first century were living under the rule of Nero who was infamous for murdering Christians for sheer pleasure. While political circumstances may not be ideal in 21st century America, in no way are we close to the type of religious persecution endured by our brothers and sisters in the faith, both from an historical and from a modern global perspective . Imagine if Christians exchanged the vitriol of social media rants on political leaders for a few minutes on our knees in prayer for them? If you are not sure where to start, here are a few ideas:
Pray for our own recognition of the sovereignty of God in all circumstances:
“The King’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.” (Pv. 21:1)
Pray for the salvation of political leaders:
“…This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:3-4)
Pray that political leaders would delight in the things God delights in:
“…I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 9:24)
Use a prayer guide:
The Book of Common Prayer, (1928 Edition)
“O LORD our Governor, whose glory is in all the world; We commend this nation to thy merciful care. That being guided by thy Providence, we may dwell secure in thy peace. Grant to THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, and to all in authority, wisdom and strength to know and do thy will. Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness; and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve this people in thy fear; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end.”
John Piper, “How Can Christians Have an Influence in Politics” (2007 Transcript)
"We pray, Lord, that our leader would have a humble demeanor and be open to truth, that he would be granted wisdom beyond his native capacities, and that he would make no snap judgments or knee-jerk reactions but take all factors into account. We pray that policies, procedures and laws would be put in place that would not hinder the gospel but give free reign to its spread."
When the children of Israel were exiled during the Babylonian captivity, God commanded them saying “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon, 'Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens, and eat their produce. . . . But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.'" (Jeremiah 29:4-7). Even as social and political exiles in a foreign land, God commanded His children to seek the welfare of the city in which he had planted them- to pursue the good activities of culture-making, which evidences God’s grace to the surrounding community.
Christian engagement in the public square is vital, just like Christian entrepreneurs who employ workers with meaningful jobs and Christian teachers who educate students to engage culture with their God-given intellectual and creative capacities. When Christians participate in politics they can “seek the welfare of their city” by advocating for policies which promote justice, protection of life, religious freedom, and an economic framework which lends itself to job creation. Here are some basic suggestions as to how Christians can “seek the welfare of the city” by engaging in our civic society:
- Be an educated voter and attend public forums.
- Serve on a local city board (The City of Lakeland routinely solicits community volunteers. See https://www.lakelandgov.net/city-government/boards-and-committees_)
- Volunteer with organizations like Youth for Christ, Talbot House, Parker Street Ministries, A Woman’s Choice, or Florida Baptist Children’s Home which serve our local communities.
- Run for local, state, or federal office.
- Advocate to elected officials for policies which have a meaningful impact in our community (pro-life causes, marriage and family issues, access to quality education options, etc..).
- Be an educated voter and attend public forums.
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”- Matthew 5:16