Faithful efforts do not make for good copy and will never adorn the top of a newspaper. And yet, there are more Christians living out the gospel in this way than there are who exploit Christianity for their own ends. There can be a temptation to see only the good and turn a blind eye toward the bad, but there can be an equally powerful pull to only see the bad and never see the good. Ultimately, the story of God’s work in the world through His Church will always be a somewhat messy story, one marked by both pockets of hope and images of despair.
Too often, we willingly disobey the command to both love our neighbor as ourselves and to speak well of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Too often, we pretend as if the encouragements toward kindness and civility in Scripture are suggestions rather than commands. Still, we suffer from the myth that we can live in a fallen world and not see our faith conflict at all with prevailing ideas of the age.
Today, our politics, our “speaking out” is not really advancing any ideas or meaningful change, but is a kind of narcissistic hero creation. We get up in the morning, look in the mirror, and see Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms or Dietrich Bonhoeffer in every interaction. This is why we justify canceling and meanness. We see ourselves as the righteous ones and those who even marginally disagree, as the evil hordes we are called by God to battle.
For most of my life I’ve been involved in advocacy in one form or another, sometimes helping friends run for office, sometimes as a pastor helping Christians think through complex issues, sometimes marching for the sanctity of human life, sometimes using my pen, and, in the last decade, working at Christian organizations with advocacy as part of their mission. I believe in this work. Christians should be at work like this in the world and yet today it seems our activism has become so ... mean.
As a new administration is installed in the United States, we have a good opportunity to refresh ourselves on a Christian’s responsibility to the government. Romans 13, written by Paul to the fledgling Christian community that was increasingly seen as a threat to the Roman Empire, gives us ways to think about our relationship to state power.