Every election season, some Christians remind us that “Jesus is neither Republican nor Democrat”.
But every election season, other Christians tell us that it’s wrong to vote for a candidate who supports abortion, or that Christians should only vote for candidates who will fight racial injustice.
With issues of grave moral importance on the ballot – human life, religious liberty, marriage, economic and racial justice, and health care for the vulnerable – surely God must care how we let’s vote. Yet it is also clear that Christians cannot agree on how to vote, even when issues related to biblical teachings are at stake.
Some Christians proudly wear MAGA hats, display large Trump flags and cheer on Republican politicians when they visit their churches, in part because they believe the GOP is the only party that will stop abortion or defend Christian rights. conservatives to act on their sexual beliefs. ethics.
Other Christians write op-eds claiming that supporting Trump is an abandonment of gospel values because they believe his actions and rhetoric (repeated by other Republican politicians) cannot be reconciled with the biblical injunctions of to love the stranger, to care for the poor or to treat others. people as bearers of divine images.
How, then, should Christians deal with other Christians with whom they disagree politically? Is there a way for us to find common ground in the gospel, even while being open to each other about our political differences?
Yes, but it will force us to move beyond an idea that has become pervasive in the United States: the assumption that our morality is defined by our political choices.
A 2020 poll showed that 38% of Americans would be “upset” if their child married a member of the opposing political party. “It’s not ‘just politics’ anymore. This is a serious moral fracture,” one person explained. And it was before the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol, the second impeachment of Donald Trump and the reversal of the Supreme Court’s decision Roe vs. Wadewhich sharpened the partisan divide on moral issues.
Followers of Jesus care deeply about opposing sin and seeking justice, and therefore it may seem counterintuitive to suggest that we should be careful about making our political choices a moral cause. But it is precisely because of our Christianity that we recognize the moral limits of politics.
We can and must use politics to achieve justice. there is no doubt. But we must also recognize our own fallibility in doing so. And we must be extremely careful about making our political choices a moral litmus test when dealing with other Christians who have made the opposite calculation. In other words, as Michael Wear argued in a recent CT article, we must avoid “political bigotry”.
In theory, at least, we can relate well to Christians of opposing political views when we recognize three key points:
1. Our two main political parties reflect certain Christian principles, but also mix these with heretical distortions of biblical truth.
Because the United States has been heavily influenced by Christianity, both the Republican and Democratic parties have been influenced by many Bible-believing Christians. Currently, ordained Christian ministers from each of these political parties sit in Congress. The platforms on either side reflect decades of Christian lobbying.
The Democratic Party’s concerns about poverty, racial justice, health care, and environmental stewardship have received support not only from mainstream Protestants and Catholics, but also from many black and Hispanic Protestant Christians and some evangelicals in all breeds.
The Democratic Party was deeply shaped by people of Christian faith. President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal social programs of the 1930s were created by believers in the social gospel. The party’s commitment to civil rights was never far removed from the concerns of the black church.
Although Democrats’ positions on some issues, particularly sexuality and abortion, do not align very well with those of theologically orthodox Christians, the party’s champion of equality and diversity is rooted in an ecumenical Christian vision. which was popular with liberal Protestants of the late 20th century.
Likewise, the Republican Party has been profoundly shaped by the language of the Christian faith. The 2016 Republican Party platform mentions God 15 times and affirms principles of religious freedom, protection of the unborn child, and the importance of marriage.
Since its founding just before the Civil War, the Republican Party has been a bastion of primary Protestant morality. But in the late 20th century, it also became the party of many conservative white Catholics and evangelical Protestants attracted to the group’s conservative positions on abortion, sex and religion in public life.
As a result, some of the party platform statements appear to be taken directly from the work of thoughtful conservative Christian scholars. The platform, for example, states that “children raised in a two-parent household tend to be healthier physically and emotionally, more likely to do well in school, less likely to use drugs and alcohol, commit crimes or become pregnant outside of marriage. .”
But while the Democratic and Republican parties were both shaped by Christian principles, they also distorted Christian truths, which means that believers who become staunch supporters risk confusing heresy with Christian doctrine.
The Democratic Party’s strong commitment to pluralism and equality, for example, has led the party to adopt strong affirmations of abortion rights, same-sex marriage, and other LGBTQ rights that cannot be reconciled with the historic Christian orthodoxy.
And the Republican Party’s invocations of God are coupled with numerous claims to American military might, American exceptionalism, gun rights, and the moral imperative for a growth-friendly (less progressive) tax code than some Christians disputed.
The realization that every major party affirms both Christian principles and heretical beliefs should give Christians the freedom to embrace other Christians who support an opposing political party.
As an American Christian, I know that the political party I support is deeply flawed, and I also know that the other contains elements of Christian truth. So I am heartened to see other Christians engage with another political party or, perhaps better yet, challenge both political parties to more fully reflect the principles of justice.
2. Political disagreements among Christians are often about strategy rather than moral principles.
Even when we argue about a political issue related to a clear moral principle, the commitments themselves may be clear, but the political strategies are not.
For example, Christians may agree that abortion is wrong, but disagree on which policies are most likely to save unborn lives. Some believe saving the unborn means electing politicians who will make abortion illegal. Others think saving the unborn means voting for politicians who will create expanded maternal health care policies and better family leave policies.
When we recognize that many disagreements are about politics rather than moral principles, we will be better placed to listen to Christians who have chosen a different political strategy and more aware that they can be just as orthodox and just as concerned about underlying moral. problems.
If this is true for some aspects of the abortion debate, it is also true for any other political debate based on morality. The imperatives to treat immigrants with dignity, to seek racial justice, to care for God’s creation, to support marriage, to reduce poverty and to seek peace are all undeniable aspects of Christian ethics. But believers can legitimately disagree on how to translate each of these mandates into specific policies.
While Christian theology can point us in the direction of what we should aim for as we bring the kingdom of God into contemporary society, we may need to turn to history, economics, political science, sociology, and more. other related fields for how to achieve this. And even then, the answers we arrive at will probably depend more on our assumptions than we care to admit.
3. Any attempt to make society more moral through legislation will inevitably be selective and incomplete and may offer mixed results.
What major political party in the United States is committed to solving the problems of divorce, gambling addiction, marital infidelity and alcohol abuse? Which party will do the most to protect the poor from being exploited through payday loans? Which party will fight against the pornography industry?
If you haven’t seen any political advertising this election season that addresses any of these issues, it may be a sign of the moral selectivity in our current partisan politics. It can also be a sign of the limits of politics. American Christians of previous generations created political campaigns to address almost all of these issues, but without much lasting success.
As a result, politicians don’t talk much about these issues anymore, but, of course, Christians should care about combating these and many other evils. The more we broaden our view of how to pursue God’s justice in the world, the less likely we are to define our moral compass by the very limited and imperfect measure of a political party’s platform.
The task of bringing the light of the kingdom of God to our society is so much larger than a partisan agenda – that is why we should never confuse the kingdom of God with partisan politics. Political choices are important, of course, but in most cases, for the faithful Christian, their significance is more a matter of wisdom and strategy than of morality.
Political parties do function as very imperfect tools for accomplishing particular goals, but they become horrible idols when we treat them as sources of our moral identity.
In this election season, let us use the election tools God has given us, but then let us unhesitatingly embrace a Christian sister or brother who makes a different political choice – knowing that the other Christian likely shares our moral concerns but adopts a point of different view on how best to apply them.
Daniel K. Williams is a professor of history at the University of West Georgia and author of Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-Life Movement Before Roe v. wade.
Speaking Out is Christianity Today’s guest opinion column and (unlike an editorial) does not necessarily represent the opinion of the publication.