Dealing With Political Controversy
With the passage of a controversial immigration law last week, a prominent Evangelical leader was quick to defiantly announce that churches in Arizona will not comply with the new law. Comments such as this are actually not that interesting in themselves, as it seems that with the passage of any controversial law Christian leaders from one side of the spectrum or the other decry the immorality of such legislation and boldly declare that the Church will not participate. Conservatives bellowed that health care reform was a ploy of the devil, while liberals are confident that Satan himself penned Arizona’s immigration bill. Throughout any controversial legislative policy a few basic reminders about God and government will help us keep our collective cool.
The first is that we cannot presume to speak for God in the legislative process. This does not mean that God does not have an opinion on the various laws that are passed, but merely that our ways are not God’s ways. We can know certain foundational truths about God, and sometimes we can clearly see how those should be applied to the legislative process. But with most controversial bills it is not so cut and dry. There are often competing interests with conflicting views of reality. Believers with the best of intentions dot the political landscape, showing that not only is God non-partisan, He is also non-ideological. A little bit of humility in responding to laws we don’t agree with will go a long way, and just because the person in the pew next to me feels differently about an issue than I do, does not necessitate that one of us is more holy or in better communion with the Father. Rather we should all recognize that we live in a fallen world, and that our own views are also tainted by this fallenness. Let us all rest together in the confident hope we have of the redemption that will one day come to our minds and our world when God’s cosmic plan comes to fruition.
Secondly, we cannot presume to disobey a law simply because we don’t agree with it. The only time that it is acceptable for Christians to not obey a law is when it directly contradicts with God’s law, as Acts 5:29 clearly demonstrates. And even in this example, Peter’s disobedience was only in response to the preaching of the Gospel, not the peripheral issues that we so often get upset over. This is not to say that there are indeed times where clarity of the Scripture commands us to not obey a law, but that should only be in instances where it is indeed clear, not just where we have an ideological predisposition against a bill. Furthermore, 1 Peter 2:13-15 shows that submission to governing authority can have an evangelistic impact. Peter was writing to a church facing persecution, and one of his solutions to such a problem was to submit to the government, thereby giving their persecutors no additional reason to punish the group of Christians. Our submission to laws we don’t like can silence our critics who see us as overly political and overly partisan.
Finally, we must recognize that government is an institution established by God. The creation account of Genesis 1 points to this, while passages such as Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-17 affirm the notion. The fact that government was established by God means that on issues of disagreement (that are not clearly defined in the Bible) we must defer to the law of the land. This does not mean we passively let government do whatever they want, but rather that we have a prophetic role calling the institution to live up to its God-ordained task of pursuing justice, while we are still acting in submission. The apparent tension here is indicative of the in-between time we currently live in. God has won victory over evil, but that victory is not yet fully here. In the meantime we live out our calling as members of Christ’s Kingdom, while still being participants in the various political kingdoms in which we reside.
Living the Christian faith is no easy task, and this difficult task only gets more complicated once we engage the culture we live in. But the rewards far exceed the costs, and the yoke of our Savior proves more than enough. Let us encourage one another to engage the political issues we have contention over with love, while still calling the Church to be holy and pure in our interactions with the world.