Every political judgment requires both a normative vision and factual analysis. The more carefully and precisely we Christians think about the complex details of both, the more clearly we will be able to explain our views in dialogue with others. A rigorous, persistent commitment to search for and submit to the best available factual information is essential.
Every normative vision has some understanding of persons, creation, history, justice, life, family and peace. As Christians committed to the full authority of Scripture, our normative vision must flow from the Bible and from the moral order that God has embedded in his creation.
Evangelical Christians seek to submit to the authority of Scripture in every area of life (2 Timothy 3:16–17; Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:11). Nevertheless, many contemporary political decisions — whether about environmental science, taxes or international trade — deal with complex sociological or technological issues not explicitly discussed in the Bible.
The resources of the whole Christian community are needed to understand our society and wisely apply our normative vision to political questions. Policy and subject matter experts will be called to do detailed social, economic, scientific, historical, jurisprudential and political analysis. Scholars and ethicists can shed light on the relevant biblical and theological resources. Only if we deepen our Christian vision and also study our contemporary world can we engage in politics faithfully and wisely. Pastors and other church leaders must prepare their people to engage as citizens and, where appropriate, should themselves speak prophetically on behalf of their congregations and denominations. The Church’s collective voice should be loving, reasoned, truthful and nonpartisan.
From the Bible, experience and social analysis, we learn that social problems arise and can be substantially corrected by both personal decisions and structural changes. On the one hand, personal sinful choices contribute significantly to destructive social problems, and personal conversion through faith in Christ and Christian discipleship can transform broken persons into wholesome, productive citizens (Proverbs 6:9–11; 1 Corinthians 6:9–11; Titus 3:3–8). On the other hand, unjust systems also create social problems, and wise structural change (e.g., legislation that strengthens families or increases economic opportunity for all) can improve society (Amos 5:10–15; Isaiah 10:1–2).
Therefore, Christian civic engagement must seek to transform both individuals and institutions. While individuals transformed by the gospel change surrounding society, social institutions also shape individuals. While good laws encourage good behavior, bad laws and systems foster destructive action. Lasting social change requires both personal conversion and institutional renewal and reform.
The Bible makes clear that God cares a great deal about the well-being of marriage and the family, the sanctity of human life, justice for the poor, human rights, care for creation, peace, religious freedom and racial justice. While individual persons and organizations are at times called by God to concentrate on one or two issues, faithful evangelical civic engagement and witness must champion a biblically balanced agenda.
Humility and Civility
As sinners who are thankful for God’s grace, we know that we do not always live up to our civic responsibility. Christians must approach political engagement with humility and with earnest prayer for divine guidance and wisdom. Power structures are entrenched, and perfect solutions are unobtainable. Cultural changes produce problems that are often not amenable to legislative solutions, so we must not expect political activity to achieve more than it can. Because social systems are complex and our knowledge is incomplete, we cannot predict all the effects of laws, policies and regulations. As a result, we must match our high ideals with careful social analysis and critical reflection on our experience in order to avoid supporting policies that produce negative consequences.
In addition, we will differ with other Christians and with non-Christians over the best policies. Thus we must practice humility and cooperation to achieve attainable goals for the good of society. We must take care to employ the language of civility and to avoid denigrating those with whom we disagree. Because political work requires persuasion and cooperation with those who do not share our Christian commitment, we must offer a reasoned and convincing defense of our goals and proposals.
As Christians who respect the image of God in all people and who confess our own limitations, we will seek to listen respectfully and carefully to those who disagree with us. In this way, Christians can model a way forward in times of bitter polarization and dangerous gridlock.
When we as Christians engage in political activity, we must maintain our integrity and keep our biblical values intact. While we may sometimes settle for partial solutions, we should not compromise core principles. Individual evangelicals rightly engage in supporting legislation, candidates and political parties. But we must remember that biblical faith is vastly larger and richer than every limited, inevitably imperfect political agenda and that commitment to the lordship of Christ and his one Body far transcends all political commitments.