Politics: Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?
We live in a society of constant political consciousness, where political affiliation and party commitments have even risen to the level of religious zealotry. How can Christians thoughtfully and charitably engage in politics when every party believes that they are on the correct side of history, and any disagreement with a political position is perceived as malice toward the individuals in that group? This week, Vince and Jo discuss the roots of our political conflict and point to the deeper reality at the heart of all our political strife, ultimately pointing to the God who treated his “political opponents” not as the enemies they were, but rather as inherently valuable creatures worth dying for.
Question Asked in This Episode: “I’ve noticed that everyone… has strong feelings and opinions toward politicians and politics. I’ve heard one professor say that Aristotle said that we are all political. Is there something in humans that makes us feel so strongly about politics?”
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Michael Davis: Hello and welcome to another episode of Ask Away with Vince and Jo Vitale. I am your host, Michael Davis. The primary citizenship of a Christian is never a nation or a kingdom ruled by human beings. Rather, our ultimate loyalty is to the kingdom of God. That said, politics seems ingrained in the consciousness of almost everyone and to some, politics has become their meaning, and devotion to their political party is complete to the point of religious zealotry. Complicating the issues further, is that many believe that they are on the side of the angels and that those who oppose their political positions are on the side of the devils. Why are humans so consumed with politics? Should Christians even engage in political discourse? But before we get started, Vince, can you tell our listeners a little bit about the Understanding and Answering Islam event happening at the RZIM Institute on January the 18th?
Vince Vitale: Yes, please join us January 18th. We'll be here in Atlanta at the Zacharias Institute for our annual “Understanding and Answering Islam” conference. But if you can't make it down here as well, you can also join us via live stream as you can almost all of the things that we do down here. We're excited about this year. We're going to be digging specifically into thinking about the Quran. Thinking about how it was originally formed, whether or not it was passed on in a reliable way, whether it's a reliable text today and in what senses. Depending on your answer to those questions, what impact does it have for the overall way of thinking that is Islam? Then how should we think about our own Christian faith in light of some of the questions that we're raising about another faith as well. It's going to be a deep conference. It's also going to be highly practical and we really have a team of experts coming to talk about these things and engage with your questions. I hope you'll be able to join us.
Michael Davis: Excellent. All you have to do is go to rzim.org/events and you will be able to see it there. Okay. Let's get to our question from Tom. "I've noticed strong feelings and opinions towards politicians and politics. I've heard one professor say that Aristotle said that we are all political. Is there something in humans that make us feel so strongly about politics?"
Vince Vitale: I think it's well said, Tom, and my initial inclination is to say yes. There's this sense deep down that we know something is wrong with the world. Oftentimes today at least, I think go looking for a battle in one form or another, whether it's a superhero movie or it's our obsession with MMA on TV or it's the left and right politics. We go looking for a battle and we can sometimes be just overly negative about that. There are some ways that we do want to ask some tough questions of ourselves with respect to the way we go looking for a battle.
But there's also something positive about that as well. Maybe we're connecting with an existential truth as well, that there is a battle going on and that we are supposed to be involved in it in some way. It says actually it's a different battle and it's a bigger battle. It's a spiritual transcendent battle between love and hate, which is at the very center of the universe. Sometimes I think our inclination to get involved in these smaller battles is because we're grasping at the invitation of God to participate in the even bigger battle that he's already won, but that he's offering for us to come alongside him in as that all gets worked out.
Jo Vitale: I think actually Aristotle was onto something here, so the quote from him is, "Man is by nature a political animal." And he makes that statement on the basis of both our power of speech and our ability to reason morally. In essence the idea being that we are by nature sociable creatures. We're always looking to form connections with each other, but also we have an ability to reason morally, which enables us to therefore create laws to structure a society, a community, which then leads us ultimately into politics. In that sense, we are all political and I think that occurs here with the message of the Bible as well, that we're made for relationship. We're made for a relationship with God and relationship with one another. As soon as you get outside the family structure it's getting big enough that it's going to wind up being some kind of political entity.
Of course we believe that God has put a moral law in our hearts, which is why we desire to form laws. Obviously initially in the Bible we believe that God has given us those laws, but now who are all going about forming our own within whatever society or structure that you exist within. I think it makes sense to say that we're all political creatures to some degree. Now how you define politics...Some say, "Well, politics is the art or science of government" is the first definitional you'll come across on Merriam-Webster dictionary. But this definition a few lines down I find really helpful, which says that politics refers to the total complex of relations between people living in society. I think on that kind of nuts and bolts level, that's really what it is.
We can talk about politics as if it's just something that happens in your nation’s capital, but actually it's so much more than that. It's the ways that we relate to one another every single day. Politics comes all the way down to the local level, to what's going on in your neighborhood. So in that sense, we all are politically motivated and involved.
Vince Vitale: Yeah. I guess at that most base level you only begin to govern when you say it's not all about me. When it's just a law of nature and you don't care about anyone else and it's just me trying to get mine, there's no government that takes place. At least on that base level, that step into politics, into government in that kind of fundamental sense, seems to be when we as a people begin to say in some way, “I need you and you need me.” What's important is not only my welfare, but your welfare as well. Of course, Jesus then raises that bar so high, “Do to others as you would have them do to yourself.” Such a challenging, challenging command. But I think that's some of what's at the foundation of the idea of government and politics.
Maybe another way to think about it is it's when we begin to value justice and fairness for people. I think that's always a great starting point between the connection between politics and faith because so often our political discussions are about what is just or what is fair, great conversation. I don't think the conversation makes sense if you take God out of the picture. I think the only reason we have a foundation for justice or for fairness is because each person is equally valuable. You've heard me say it before, if a person is equally valuable as everyone else, there's got to be something that's equally true about every person. I only think God can answer that question. Every single one of us has the image of God in us because God has created each one of us and bestowed that on us. That seems to me that it has to be the starting point for discussions of fairness and justice, which are, I think, at the heart of politics.
But interestingly, I looked at the etymology of politics and political and I found it really interesting that the definition of political from the mid-15th century had the sense of prudent or judicious. It was getting at that idea of justice. But then from 1749 it says, taking sides in party politics usually used pejoratively. So I thought that was really interesting even in terms of the historical trajectory of the term. It started in that place of justice and prudence, but a couple of hundred years later, the primary way it was being used was to talk about party politics and usually being used in a pejorative way. Isn't that exactly where we have gone in society?
Michael Davis: I think one of the questions a lot of Christians have, at least when I've talked to them regarding politics, is just the nastiness, especially politics in the United States, but all over the world has gotten. Can you guys maybe expand a little bit on that?
Jo Vitale: Yeah, it's hard to live with isn't it? I think what you often see as a result of that is, often the temptation is to run away and hide.
Michael Davis: Amen.
Jo Vitale: I think the same way as you reach a point where you're like, "Oh, I don't think I can read another depressing news story. Even worse, I don't know who to believe because everyone's accusing everyone else of fake news and depending on which outlet I'm watching, they're saying completely different things. How am I supposed to piece any of this together?" I think people genuinely feel such a sense of frustration that they want to bury their head in the sand and say, "Let's just hide away for a couple of generations, then reemerge after everyone else is just for each other." I think that can be a strong temptation because it's so nasty.
I think what we struggle with is we don't know how to engage with it without getting sucked in almost. When it's so vicious, how do you step into that in a way that's actually going to be helpful and loving? I think we are called as Christians into politics because I think the Christian gospel, the gospel of good news, if it's good news then it's holistic good news. It's good news for the world. It has implications for every level of society and therefore part of that is it has implications for the political arena as well. I don't think we can separate these things out and say, "Oh, as Christians, we're just called to preach the gospel and focus on that and not worry about what everyone else is doing."
I think that is in direct contradiction with Jesus' call to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. That might take many different forms but one of the forms I think that takes, is to love people through doing good politics. The kind of politics that help bless the most people because you are caring for the least of these, you are showing concern for the widow and the orphan and those who don't have. How else do you set up a society that's structured in a loving way so that the poor are cared for and we have concern for them, unless we involve ourselves in political structures. I think there isn't a way round it. But the question is how do we engage as Christians in a way that's actually effective and a blessing and rather than getting sucked into this nasty kind of tribalism.
Vince Vitale: In an odd way, to see the glass as at least partly full...
Michael Davis: Boo.
Vince Vitale: It's an incredible opportunity as a Christian in today's political climate to model disagreement, like to model loving disagreement. What an opportunity to step into that. I always feel like that is the heart of the gospel. You think about while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. In other words, while we were still sinners, while we still disagreed with God and fought against him, while we were at odds with how he thought the world should be governed, while we were in different political parties, then God, he died for us. That's unbelievable to have that sort of love towards the people who disagree with you and are actively rebelling against the way that you are trying to govern the world. That is so counter-cultural right now. If we could have something of that love even towards the people that we disagree with, even across political lines, I just think that would stand out and be set apart in such a significant way that people would have to say that's not from this world. There's something different there.
Jo Vitale: I think that's so good. I also think that the challenge here for us as Christians, because I think it's very easy in the culture that we live in to get sucked into a mindset that says, actually first and foremost, my identity is in my political position, my political views. But that really hits up against the fact that there are Christians, your Christian family, your brothers and sisters, in other political parties. It's not the case that all Christians are lumped together with one viewpoint in one party.
Michael Davis: What?
Jo Vitale: What does that mean then when we talk about people outside of our political views? If they're the enemy, actually you're talking about fellow believers in many instances. What does that mean for us because our identity first and foremost is not in how we identify politically, but actually it's that we're in Christ and the people who we have loyalty first and foremost are those in the body of Christ with us. How should that also affect the way that we engage in politics? I think the temptation would be to say, "Well, if you think differently from me politically, then you're so wrong that you can't even be a real Christian." That's very dangerous thinking I think. I think our first point has to be, "Hey, I'm defined by Christ. He is my head, he's my ultimate authority. My allegiance comes to him first and foremost. He needs to be the one that defines my mindset and the way that I approach politics in the first place."
But then as Vince is saying, when I come across people who disagree with me politically, how can I love them well? I think part of this comes down to...We often talk in this ministry about looking for the questioner behind the question. I think when it comes to politics, we need to look for the people behind the politics. Because I think as long as we're dealing in ideas and policies, it's very easy to get very angry and almost to demonize other people. But when you recognize, hey, even if I fundamentally disagree on the good we're working towards and how we should achieve that good, most people step into politics, as Vince has been saying, because fundamentally there's a desire for justice.
There's actually a desire to make the world a better place. It's just we may have different visions of what that is, but can we at least recognize that starting point that there's a good motivation even if we're coming at it from different positions and we disagree on what the outcomes should be. That can really help us to see people not as enemies, but as actually human beings desiring to do good in the world even if we might need to have some conversation about what that should look like in order to come to agreement.
Michael Davis: Yeah, so Vince, I think you've made a very valid and very convincing case that we should engage in politics, but what do you tell to a Christian who says, "Listen, I don't see any of the parties that actually align with my Christian worldview. There's parts of them that I just can't align with. How do I engage as a Christian and engage in politics when I just don't like the people who I have to vote for?"
Vince Vitale: Yeah, no, it's a great question and one that many people are wrestling with at the moment and there's serious issues at stake. We did an episode on abortion here on Ask Away not long ago at all. There are really serious issues at stake in multiple directions and it's not easy often to make that decision. I think that you need to vote based on your conscience and you need to vote in a thoughtful way, to be involved in the political process in a way which is thoughtful. That could mean at times saying, "You know what? I'm going to write in someone who I would like to have in that position and I'm going to trust that God in his sovereignty can make use of my vote in some way that he knows I'm trying to do the best I can in this situation."
Other good people would say, "No, that's throwing your vote away," and in fact you have to choose. But because you're saying I'm looking at two options and one I think is better for individuals, better for real people and I'm caring for them. I think that's the main thing. I think that at some point you do need to be led by God specifically in the personal choice you're going to make by your conscience. You can't do that unless you've been significantly prayerful about it, significantly thoughtful about it and actually have engaged with other people, including people who disagree with you so that it's among a counsel of wisdom and a counsel of prospective that you make your decision.
Jo Vitale: I think it's also helpful to recognize just as you may have trouble figuring out which way to vote at times in different seasons, other people are going to have that same struggle too. We just need to be careful. We don't talk about things as black and white as if we went through this really hard dissenting choice. But someone who chose to vote differently and did it on the basis because they just don't care about this or that. They've gone through that same struggle probably. A lot of us are struggling in the same way, but I think that's encouraging to me because with so many people who are trying to wrestle this through and thinking, but I care deeply about this issue, but I care deeply about that issue and they don't seem to come together at this point, that's something we can change.
That's the level at which you can be political and you can get involved in politics, at the grass roots level, looking at the long term. How do I get involved in the world and bless culture in such a way where I can help in my corner, whatever influence I have, whatever area I'm in, that at least I can speak about these things in helpful ways? Maybe there are different projects and programs that you can get involved in. Maybe it means sitting down and forming groups with people who disagree with you politically and just sitting around and saying, "Hey, can we just have discussions about these things? Can we take the heat off and just find ways? I want to know why you voted that way. Can we sit down and have a conversation about it?"
I think we often have such knee-jerk reactions without even attempting to understand why someone might've made the decision they made or voted the way that they voted. Just so many assumptions are smuggled in to what we think about people. I also think there's hope for us because how many times in history have Christians seemed to be in impossible political situations of unbelievable oppression where it looked like nothing could ever change in the culture. And then you look at the unbelievable history of the difference that Christianity has made. Whether it's outlawing exposure and infanticide in Roman culture, to ending gladiatorial games, to stepping into cultures and ending things like human sacrifice or bride burning. Then you look at the incredible abolitionist movement and the involvement of Christians in that.
Then you look at many of the things that we value today that we don't even think about the fact they're founded on Christian principles, biblical principles like human rights, democracy. So many of the things that we are blessed by today that people are now turning into a secular culture. But their roots, the values behind them, the equality behind them, the valuing of the human person came because of the influence of Christianity. A very, very minority and tiny little group of Christians in one corner of the world, changed the entire world. When you look at the number of Christians in the world today, I just feel very hopeful about what God could do with us if we're willing to be those lights shining.
I love what it says in Jeremiah 29:7. "Seek the welfare of the city where I've sent you into exile and pray to the Lord on its behalf. For in its welfare you will find your welfare." Often as Christians we kind of are in exile, aren't we? Our citizenship is in heaven. We don't quite fit in this world, but we're called to seek the welfare of the city, the community, the people, the individuals on whatever level, local to national that you want to get involved and you feel like God is calling you to serve. We can seek the welfare of others because God calls us to and we pray to God to make that difference because actually, we will find our own welfare within the welfare of others, within the communities that we build.
Michael Davis: Yeah, well guys, we are out of time. Vince, sum it up for us.
Vince Vitale: Well, there's so many interesting thoughts that have flown around, but I would say ultimately the primary way as a Christian and probably the most impactful way that I will be able to be involved in politics is because I'm a part of forming the people who will vote, not in 2020 but in 2060. I'm raising a child. I'm engaging with people. First and foremost, I'm trying to be faithful to the Great Commission. Ultimately Jesus' Great Commission was not for us to try to bring about some sort of political rebellion, but it was to make disciples of all nations.
I want to take seriously an election coming in 2020 and be faithful and prayerful and deliberate about that. But I also want to be thinking much further ahead than that and be thinking, am I part of the process of seeing God come to transform hearts and transform lives such that the people that I want to be voting in 40 years are the ones who are voting then? Then I want to look even further than that to see that all of this is just a glimpse toward the ultimate kingdom which God has in store.
Michael Davis: Amen. Vince, Jo, thank you guys so much for joining me. Thank you all for listening and we will catch you guys next time.
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