We engage in public life because God created our first parents in his image and gave them dominion over the earth (Genesis 1:27–28). The responsibilities that emerge from that mandate are many, and in a modern society those responsibilities rightly flow to many different institutions, including governments, families, churches, schools, businesses, unions and civic associations of many kinds. Just governance is part of our calling in creation.
As members of the community of God, we are called to be obedient to his commands. The will of God is revealed to us through the words of Jesus who told us that the most important commandment is to love God with all our hearts, souls and minds and that the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:36–39). As Jesus explained in the parable of the Good Samaritan, our neighbors include those who are most different from us — socioeconomically, racially and religiously (Luke 10:25–37). Loving our neighbors as ourselves includes ensuring that they, as we, have the freedom and opportunity to enjoy the fruits of God’s presence and kingdom.
As bearers of God’s image, human beings have intrinsic dignity independent of how they behave in this world. Even when people — exercising their civil freedoms — choose paths antithetical to the gospel and to biblical teaching, they retain a dignity that is undiminished, because it is derived from God. Accordingly, government may properly protect some actions that, while not directly threatening other people, violate Christian ethics. For the sake of domestic peace in a pluralistic society, we do not insist that all sin be outlawed. While we continue to oppose same-sex marriage, for example, there is no longer a societal consensus on standards of sexual morality. We seek to preserve basic freedom for all and affirm equal human dignity for those with whom we may have profound differences.
As Christians, we also believe that the lordship of Christ extends not just to us as individuals, but to society as a whole. We believe that God created the world, and all of life is subject to him (Colossians 1:16–17). We believe that there is not a square inch of God’s creation over which he does not exercise dominion. We are therefore called to recognize the lordship of Christ and to engage with all of society to demonstrate and live into this truth. To restrict our political concerns to matters that touch only on the private and the domestic spheres is to deny the all-encompassing lordship of Jesus (Philippians 2:9–11).
We experience the kingdom of God here on earth even as we recognize the “already but not yet” nature of this reality. Following in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets, Jesus announced the arrival of God’s kingdom, or God’s reign or rule (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15). This kingdom would be marked by justice, peace, forgiveness, restoration and healing for all.
Though we experience many of the blessings of God’s reign and see initial signs of restoration, we continue to suffer many of the results of the fall. We know that we must wait for God to bring about the fullness of the kingdom at Christ’s return. But in the interim, the Lord calls the Church to speak prophetically to society and work for the renewal and reform of its structures.
The Lord also calls the Church to practice the righteous deeds of the kingdom and point to the kingdom by the wholeness and integrity of the Church’s common life. This requires us to demonstrate God’s love for all, by crossing racial, ethnic, economic and national boundaries. It also often involves following Jesus’ example by suffering and living sacrificially for others.
God calls us to bear fruit wherever he plants us. We are commanded to seek the peace of the cities where we live, fully recognizing that we are not there by accident but by the sovereign will of God, and he is able to use every situation for his glory (Jeremiah 29:5–11).
Additionally, we are called to love, to seek unity and to proclaim a message of peace (Romans 12:9–18). Therefore, as Christian citizens, we believe it is our calling to help government live up to its divine mandate to render justice (Romans 13:1–7; 1 Peter 2:13–17). From the teachings of the Bible and our experience of salvation, Christians bring a unique vision to our participation in the political order and a conviction that changed people and transformed communities are possible. In the power of the Holy Spirit, we are compelled outward in service to God and neighbor.
Our goal in civic engagement is to bless our neighbors by making good laws. Because we have been called to do justice to our neighbors, we foster a free press, participate in open debate, vote and hold public office. When Christians do justice, it speaks loudly about God. And it can show those who are not believers how the Christian vision can contribute to the common good and help alleviate the ills of society.