Should Christians be Political?
Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary Intern, Amanda Holmes reminds us of our Christian call to engage in the political world through our Wesleyan traditions and the UMC Social Principles.
As I find myself in my second semester of my internship where I witnessed an election, a new Congress, and an inauguration, I find myself in the midst of discussions that frequently come up in the church- the question of should the church and/or Christians be political. To engage in this question, I always find it helpful to begin with a mutual understanding of what we are talking about. Political is defined as: “relating to the government or the public affairs of a country; or interested in or active in politics.” To dive more deeply into this question, I employ the use of the Wesleyan quadrilateral and consider its four aspects: Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. Reflecting on myself as a United Methodist, I want to consider what our UMC tradition says about this, particularly looking at our baptismal vows and Social Principles.
From the time we are welcomed into the church, our baptismal vows ask us to: “…accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves…and serve as Christ’s representatives in the world?” As an advocate for justice, I take this vow very seriously and recognize that evil, injustice, and oppression are very real in our world in a blatantly visible and tangible way. In accepting the vow to serve as Christ’s representatives in the world, it is my belief that I must engage in advocacy reflecting my faith and that faith calls me toward social justice for all people. Interning with Church and Society, I also rely on our Social Principles to guide me in the ways that I move not only as a Christian, but as a United Methodist. Our Social Principles are inherently political when you consider the definition of “relating to the government or public affairs of a country.” Our Social Principles guide us in the ways we should respond to and engage with the world around us.
One of the things that most attracted me to the United Methodist Church is found in the beginning of the Social Principles, that the church has a “long history of concern for social justice” and this has been historically demonstrated through the church’s work in the world. In an effort to “speak to the human issues in the contemporary world,” the Social Principles guide us as United Methodists in working toward “societies in which each person’s value is recognized, maintained, and strengthened.”
I cannot imagine a way to do this that does not involve getting political, or “interested or active in politics,” as the government guides and affects so much of our daily lives. The Social Principles directly note that we are part of a political community and not only that, but that we are “responsible to God for social and political life.” I think throughout all the Social Principles the idea that most directly stands out to me and guides my work as a social justice advocate is under Political Responsibility: “The church should continually exert a strong ethical influence upon the state, supporting policies and programs deemed to be just and opposing policies and programs that are deemed to be unjust.”
Throughout my time thus far at seminary and my time interning with Church and Society, I feel that in order to “serve as Christ’s representatives in the world,” we must be willing to directly engage with the world and cannot afford to not make a statement when we see or experience evil, injustice, and oppression. Engagement looks different for us all- some are called to grassroots community organizing, some to advocacy with legislators, and some to work behind the scenes, but we are all called to engage. So, I invite you to be political while also remembering that above all else we are called to the two greatest commandments: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Come join me in doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God.