Dear Friend, I saw your post on Facebook today. And yesterday. And the day before yesterday. From what I can tell, you are pretty worked up about the bill that was just passed by the Senate. Furthermore, your frustration with the president’s signature on the bill was apparent. I get it. You don’t like laws that were just ratified in our country. I can’t say I’m a great fan of them myself. However, I’ve noticed a trend with your posts that has me a bit concerned. In all honesty, we need to talk about politics and our faith. We need to talk about how we treat others. We need to talk about the gospel’s relationship to these things. Of course, we are having the conversation face-to-face as soon as I finish typing this email, but I wanted to at least write down my concerns (for myself) before we meet to talk about the issues.
My Passive Sin
Let me take the “log” out of my own eye first. I know I don’t seem to care too much about the political atmosphere in our country. My own passivity on political matters is a sin to you because you see so much injustice and wrong being done by our government. I don’t act as I should act. My absence from the voting precincts for the primaries and general elections is apparent. I understand the argument “if you don’t vote you can’t complain,” and that reasoning is, to a degree, accurate. We have been given a great gift to be able to, through our votes, speak our minds about candidates and issues that are brought before us as a city, county, state, and nation to decide. My lack of involvement demonstrates that I do not care for legitimate means of stating my position on issues that I should care about. Education, health care, immigration, abortion and the like are gospel issues. My lack of caring for who is speaking and working to legislate those ideas demonstrates a lack of concern for the impact of the gospel on those we live around. In some ways I am showing that I don’t love my neighbor. I am disobeying the Word of God by not seeking the welfare of the city I have been sent to live in (see Jeremiah 29:7).
Furthermore, my passivity has caused me to be judgmental about those who are rightly and actively involved in talking and advocating certain political positions. I have been judgmental in my thinking towards you, and for that I am in sin. I have believed certain things about you that I have no power to discern, because I can’t know or see your heart. I have believed that, because you are interested in politics you must love your country more than you love God. I’ve believed that your first allegiance is to the U.S.A. and not to the Kingdom of God. Furthermore, I’ve believed that you only care about your prosperity, your comfort, your interests and if others aren’t as responsible and hard working as you then they can just suffer their own stupidity. I’ve demonized you in my mind because of the political stances you’ve expressed in your Facebook posts. Let’s be honest, I’ve wronged you by placing myself on a pedestal to look down upon you because you speak up about political issues. For this I am wrong and need to be reconciled to you. Please forgive me.
I need to be reminded of the gospel in this area. Christ has come and lived as the perfect righteous King over all kings. He has taken all the sins of political passivity and all the sins of political activity and died for them so that we might live under his perfect and gracious reign now and forever. I need to be reminded that his resurrection is the resurrection into Lordship and that the Father has given him the name above every name. All glory, honor, and power are his because of his life, death, and resurrection. I need to be reminded of this truth: Jesus as the King is good news for the world. I need to believe who Jesus is and submit to him as my King. My activity in working for the welfare of my neighbor, city and country, even through our political system, should be evidence of my devotion to Christ as my Lord. However, I am not believing the gospel changes things. I am not believing he can bring change through the God-ordained and appointed governments and our political system. My passivity demonstrates that I don’t trust the King who uses means like government to renew and recreate all things into his glorious image. By my passivity and judgmentalism of those who are active, I show that I don’t believe that the government is “God’s servant for your good” (Romans 13:4).
In sharing my failure with you, I now hope we can help each other through our sins. You see, I struggle with the way you talk about our government and particularly our governors on Facebook. I’ve seen the posts you’ve shared about how ignorant you believe our president is. Your rants about government control and abuse concern me by the tone they take and the frequency with which you post them. You aren’t the only one who does this. I see it from so many professing Christians that it deeply bothers me about what is being believed about politics in the church. Why did you post the story about wishing harm would come to our president? Why do you call him names or refuse to use the title that he has rightfully earned, “President?” Whether you agree with him or not, he has been placed in this position of power by God. Paul reminds us in Romans 13 that “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” and that our president is “God’s servant.” Those are incredible words. God has, by his sovereign design and purpose, placed the government and the president in place to accomplish his will. God's will is not thwarted by our president's views or mistakes. God chose our president. God is using our president.
Furthermore, it is sin when you disrespect him and fail to show him honor as Scripture commands. Peter tells us to “honor the emperor,” and I fail to see how you honor him. I know that our president does not see your Facebook posts, but your friends and family do. You are teaching non-Christians that the gospel allows us, when we don’t like something, to vilify and demonize someone else. You are displaying to the church that it’s okay to mock, disparage, and demonize God-ordained authority just because you disagree with them. How would that go over in the church if you disagreed with our pastors and treated them the same way you treat our governing authorities?
Where does submission to the governing authorities demonstrate itself in your life? I know we are Americans and it is in our cultural DNA to say “We serve no sovereign here!” But the gospel gives a deeper and better DNA. No, submission doesn’t mean turning off our minds and doing whatever we’re told. Submission means intelligently honoring, respecting, and obeying the authority over us. The Scriptures never tell us to overthrow government. Instead it tells us that God is the ruling one over all governments and that by submitting to the God-given authority we are submitting to his rulership. I don’t know if you are aware of the political cultures of Jesus’ day but his government was anything but righteous. The same emperor that Peter tells the Christians of his day to honor, Nero, saw fit to persecute and kill those Christians. Yet the Scripture stands. Paul’s submission demonstrated itself by laying down his “rights” and being imprisoned, even for righteousness sake. Jesus himself didn’t disrespect any governor or authority he stood before, even though they were about to crucify him. As believers in the gospel we are Biblically called to submit to our government, it’s laws, and leaders.
I don’t want to stop at challenging your surface behavior on Facebook. I am concerned about your heart. I am worried that you are not believing the gospel, just as I struggle to believe it. Remember the gospel tells us that Jesus submitted to the will of his Father, and this submission cost him his life. However, he died so that we could be forgiven for our lack of submission to our authorities. He submitted to enable and empower us, by the Spirit, to submit to those God has placed over us. This includes the governing authorities under which we live. Furthermore, Christ has been raised to live again to be King over all kings. We don’t just submit to the government as the end. Our ultimate submission is to Christ the King. By honoring the leaders God has placed over us, we uplift the value and dignity of all people made in the image of God, whether kings or commoners. We show the church that Christ is our King and that we care about his Kingdom here on this earth.
Active Submission to Authority
I know what you are asking at this point: “What does someone who is both politically active and submissive look like?” I think the way forward is reflected in our deeds more than our words. We need to be people who do the right things, in the right ways, at the right time. For instance we need to vote, write our congressional leaders, and be involved in the processes that have been set up for us to disagree. If you don’t like the law that has been enacted don’t petition all your friends on Facebook to join your cause. Write and speak to your representatives. If you do not find the president’s position on an issue in alignment with yours, you have the right to disagree, but do not disagree in such a way to slander, malign, or demonstrate hatred towards God-given authority. Submission doesn’t break the law of the land, nor does it violate the Law of God. In that vein I’m not sure that using Facebook to express your viewpoints politically is the right place. Short attempts to express a position often go mistaken and misunderstood. Furthermore, passing along meme’s to demonstrate your position aren’t humble or submissive. They are billboards of disrespect and dishonor. Submissive activity in politics will often go unnoticed by the general public, but if you use the right means to achieve the right end, God will be glorified and the emperor will be honored. You’d do well to read about William Wilberforce and his submissive political activity against the slave trade in Britain in the 19th century. He and his friends are fantastic examples for us to follow.
I know these are difficult words, but we need to remember the gospel even in politics and social media. Maybe the change that we both need starts with something we’ve both failed to do. We’ve both failed to pray for “kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quite life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:2). Let’s start by repenting of our sins together and then praying for our leaders and the governing authorities. I believe the Holy Spirit will be pleased to transform our insufficient views of the government and each other as we humbly pray together for these leaders that God has put over us. I love you and want to see us both be more submissive to Christ so that we will grow more and more to be like Christ even if we struggle with our politics.
Jeremy Writebol has been training leaders in the church for over fourteen years. He is the author of everPresent: How the Gospel Relocates Us in the Present (GCD Books, 2014) and writes at jwritebol.net. He is the pastor of Woodside Bible Church’s Plymouth, MI campus.
A great book on the impact of forgetting the gospel: Gospel Amnesia by Luma Simms.