A Theology of Political Engagement in the Church: Conclusion

Today, we conclude our series looking at a theology of welcome based on political engagement in the life of the church. In our discussion today, we will examine a strategy of response that points the church toward the 2012 election, which begins in earnest next year. I will also make some concluding remarks, as well.

It is my hope that these thoughts have opened your eyes to some of the deep problems with our engagement in the political world, and how each of us can fall victim to the world’s standards of demonizing the other for the sake of political gain and power. I admit that theology in the public square is a personal interest, and when I could engage my other interest of welcoming others and public theology into one dialogue, it was a win-win.

Strategy of Response: How to Welcome Christians with Different Political Views

There is a difficult task that remains. How do we put a theology of welcome and embrace into application in our interaction with those with whom we disagree? It is our application that is, perhaps, most important as we prepare for the 2012 election and beyond. For how we apply this principle is how others, especially non-Christians, will judge us and determine whether or not they want to hear our message or be willing to enter into relationship with Christ. It is crucial that we take seriously this application because much more than simply politics rides on proper application.

First, our interactions with political opposites in the church must be improved in the area of civility. Gone must be the days of name-calling and mockery simply because we disagree with someone who expresses a political thought in the church which is different than what we have.

Matthew 5:22 warns Christians to be careful of what they say about others, and this is true in the realm of politics.

Our words must be a reflection of Christ Jesus’ love for us and for the world. Thus, civility and respect for others must be our mindset in interaction with those who disagree with us. Part of being civil with one another, Richard Mouw writes, is seeing each other as humans. He says, “When we learn the skills of citizenship, Aristotle taught, we have begun to flourish in our humanness.”

When members of the church – both the Religious Right and the Religious Left – embrace the political other through actions of civility, we then embrace God’s call to love one another.

Part of this application of the theology of welcome in terms of political thought includes looking at our own positions. It is quite possible that we could be wrong.

When we engage in dialogue with the political other, part of the process means hearing what the other may have to say and be open to the possibility that we could be wrong in our application of Scripture when it comes to the political world. Tony Campolo writes, “Authentic dialogue on political issues cannot take place unless those on each side entertain the possibility that there may be truth in the opposing point of view.”

He adds that “[w]e must try to find common ground.”

We should not seek reasons to attack the other, but instead find places where there may be agreement or commonality between the two positions. To do this, we must be humble enough to hear from the other. Wallis writes that part of humility is being held accountable for what we say.

The church should hold members of the Religious Right and Religious Left accountable for their statements and their reflection of Christ Jesus. In this, the church should express a catholic or universal love to others, regardless of how one views politics. Wesley writes that “For love alone gives the title to this character: catholic love is a catholic spirit.”

Conclusion

It has been the intent of this paper to articulate the problem that exists in American politics today, especially within Christianity. We have allowed secular ideas of what is acceptable in political dialogue to shape our message, and the message of Christ, for too long. We must embrace a theology of welcome and hospitality of the political other and seek commonality. This is grounded in civility, respect, humility, and Christian love. This will not be easy; embracing a posture of hospitality and welcome never is, “because it involves hard work.”

But it is a work that we as the church – and the church represented by the Religious Right and the Religious Left – must engage in. We are all responsible for the message we proclaim and the way we proclaim it. If we articulate a message that is hostile and filled with exclusionary language in the realm of politics, then we will continue to damage the body of Christ and the witness of the church.

 

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