Politics is a dirty business. Back stabbing, I promise breaking, and soul selling are everyday occurrences. I have witnessed firsthand such wickedness and more. I have seen men who were touted for their personal honor refuse to keep their word because it would cost them position or personal discomfort. I have seen leaders betray friends because of a minor disagreement over a trivial matter. Lying, slandering, gossiping, and bearing false witness — this I have, seen firsthand on numerous occasions. It’s a dirty, dirty business that is dangerous to one’s spiritual health, family life, and physical well being. But enough about the ministry ... this article is about politics in the civil arena.
Amusing, isn’t it? How often have we heard parents and church leaders warn their young people to stay away from the political arena because of the evil they would have to deal with? As a minister for over 29 years, let me tell you something you may not be aware of: the ministry can be even more dangerous. This is especially true if you are naive enough to think your fellow deacons, elders, and presbyters are all knights in shining armor or that the ministry will protect you from your frailties.
All fields of endeavor have their challenges, their peculiar traps that must be avoided, games that must be played, and sins that accompany the territory. If there is an unusually high degree of sin in politics, maybe it is due to so many Christians opting out of this particular field of cultural influence.
The Christian Politician of the Twenty-First Century
As I write this article, I am watching the Republican Convention 2000. Leader after leader is speaking ... or at least I think they are speaking. Their mouths are moving, but I can’t hear them over the babbling of the news commentators. Anyway, as I watch the parade, I am wondering about what sort of Christians we need in this arena.
Do we need people of character? Certainly we do. We need individuals whose yes is “yes,” and whose no is “no.” But having sound character is not enough. We all know many people of outstanding character who can’t remember the directions to the church they have been attending for twenty years. And there are plenty of people with character who couldn’t inspire their own friends to follow them to Wendys for lunch. Character is not enough.
Do we need people rooted in Biblical orthodoxy? Yes, we need people who believe the Bible is Cod’s Word and respect how the church has understood His Word regarding Who Cod revealed Himself to be and how humanity is to be saved. But even if a potential candidate has a degree from your favorite seminary, that does not guarantee that this individual knows how to apply his knowledge to the world in which he will be serving.
Will the individual need superior people skills? Absolutely. If you have yet to master how to attain and maintain rapport with individuals and crowds, how to expertly present and defend your ideals both overtly and covertly, and how to create and nurture friendships and team members, the odds will be stacked against your having much of an effect. But we all are familiar with politicians who have awesome people skills who are utterly without principle. And what of those people with character and people skills who have no vision or idea of where they wish to lead their followers? Such people may be all dressed up, but they have nowhere to go.
As I consider the political arena and all the confessing Christians that are working there, I believe one of the greatest needs is wisdom. By this word I mean a number of things. For example, possessing the ability to choose the most appropriate words and behavior in any given context or circumstance. And what would the most appropriate words and behavior be? Those that are ethically sound and are most suited to attaining the desired outcome.
How often do some Christian politicians fail to get their point across or the bill passed because they used words, phrases, gestures, and attitudes that repelled those people they were seeking to influence? And then they walk away and speak of how the righteous is made to suffer or how the evil blankety-blanks resisted their every move. While this certainly can be true in some cases, the wise leader will step back and first re-play the movie of what transpired, critique his words and behavior, and take responsibility for the outcome.
Wisdom also nods its head in agreement with Kenny Rogers’ lyrics in “The Gambler”: “You gotta know when to hold’em, know when to fold’em, know when to walk away, know when to run.” Wise people choose their battles well. They know that they only have so many resources (time, influence, money, employees, volunteers, etc.) and use them judiciously.
Wisdom understands that if you constantly swim against the current of popular opinion, you will be perceived as an insecure person who needs attention, an arrogant person who sees most everyone else as inferior, or a lunatic who needs to be avoided. (I am not suggesting this would be an accurate evaluation, only that this is how you would be perceived.) None of these perceptions are conducive to attaining one’s desired outcomes. The wise Christian politician will seek out ways where he can legitimately join the majority and cultivate the image of camaraderie whenever possible.
Wisdom requires the politician to seek to understand the times in which we live. This is not a culture that is familiar with Christianity, and what is thought to be known is hated. As Daniel was in Babylon, we are the minority report. This is a reality that some Christian leaders in the political arena seem unable to grasp. And because it is not grasped, the models they use in developing plans of action are often outdated, ineffective, and counterproductive.
In seeking to understand our times, I suggest that wisdom will lead us to see ourselves as Cod’s spies in a pagan culture and then to plan and behave accordingly. For example, prophetic-type utterances from the church or even a Christian lobby are one thing, but such a posture as a congressman may not be the most effective course of action over the long term. Daniel didn’t take on the powers-that-be over every breach of Biblical law. I f he had done so, he would have been executed before he ever graduated from Babylon University.
As we seek to engage the culture around us, we need to pray and work towards preparing and supporting those people who “understand the times” and are well equipped for effective service in the twenty-first century. While many appear to be feeling that political involvement for Christians is futile, I disagree. I believe that many of our failures can be traced back to a lack of discernment regarding where we were in history. Consequently, we held on to models that were effective for an age that had passed and did not build new models to serve us in a postmodern society. And, as everyone knows, newer models are most often faster and more powerful than the old ones.