Let’s Talk about the Issues

We’ve been talking for the last three weeks about how followers of Jesus should think about engaging with the politics of their culture wherever they happen to be. The short version is that our engagement should always be considered through the lens of the Gospel. But, how should we actually think about the various issues at stake in this or any election? That’s what we’re going to talk about today. Thanks for tuning in as we continue our series, Being Good Kingdom Citizens.

Let’s Talk about the Issues

We need to make this election about the issues! How many times have you heard a politician use that line before? Probably more times than you’d care to count! And when a politician says something like that, what is usually the furthest thing from his mind? The issues, right? If you’re like me and more than a little bit cynical about politicians and politics, you hear that phrase as a kind of code language. It’s a code for: I know I’ve got this gigantic personal or political scandal going on over here and which should probably totally disqualify me from running for office, much less actually be deserving of your vote, but I’m not willing to give up this chance for power, and so I’m raising the red herring of talking about issues on which I disagree markedly with my opponent in hopes that it will distract you from paying attention to the man behind the curtain and rile you up to vote for me anyway.

Sound about right? It kind of makes you sick, doesn’t it? And then what usually follows this declaration of the importance of the issues? Well, it’s certainly not productive conversations about the issues. Instead, we get a litany of platitudes in which an enormously complicated issue has been condensed down to a soundbite that has been focus-group tested to rile up voters, because an angry voter is a likely voter. These serve as a substitute for real conversations about any significant issues. And, this is a desirable outcome as nuanced discussions filled with both conviction and civility are just not something anyone really has time for anymore. We’d much rather watch something like a TikTok clip that we can use to destroy our opponent.

No, the truth is that most elections nowadays, and especially the further up the national food chain you get, are not about issues at all. They are about a complex blend of personalities and soundbites and cultural assumptions that leave most voters more committed to supporting one candidate or another because of the letter sitting in front of their name than because they really understand and support all of their policies. Okay, so does that mean talking about the issues really isn’t worth it?

Not at all. In fact, it’s more worth it than ever. Even though our first citizenship is in the kingdom of God, part of being good citizens here is keeping informed about the most pressing issues facing our nation as well as understanding both what we believe about them and why we believe those things. So then, this morning, we are going to be talking about the issues. Are you ready?

This morning we are in the fourth part of our conversation about followers of Jesus and politics called Being Good Kingdom Citizens. If this is the first part of the series you are catching, you are welcome to go to either our Facebook page or my blog to catch up on what you’ve missed. We started things out three weeks ago by establishing a baseline for followers of Jesus when it comes to relating to the culture we are in at any given moment. The baseline was this: Our first citizenship is in heaven and that’s where our attention should be focused. The church’s first allegiance is to God, not the world. Because of this, we never have to be anxious about the challenges facing our earthly kingdom be those a national crisis of some kind or merely an election. However the election goes, God is still in charge. Finally, last week we talked about the fact that if we live by those first two truths, we are going to stand out from the world around us as different. The world won’t always handle that well. But, if we’ll make sure we stand out only because of our commitment to the Gospel, it will give us the chance to share that Gospel in some really powerful and personal ways. Standing out well creates Gospel opportunities.

All of that prepares us to think about engaging with politics as followers of Jesus, but it doesn’t inform us much about our actual engagement. Today will help fix that. If we are going to engage meaningfully and productively in the political process whether as followers of Jesus or not, we need to know not only what the issues are and what we believe about them, but how we should be thinking about them in the first place. What I’m getting at is this: If we are going to talk about the issues at stake in this or any election, we need to first understand what our worldview lens is for thinking about them. Now, on the one hand, we could just say that our worldview lens is the Scriptures and walk away, but that doesn’t quite give us the clarity we need. There are fellow believers, brothers and sisters in Christ, who come to vastly different political conclusions than we do in spite of having the same commitment to the Scriptures that we do. Our worldview lens for thinking about the issues has to encompass this reality.

Fortunately, Jesus gave us such a lens in His teachings contained in the Gospels. This is found in a place you might not have expected to find something like this. If you have a Bible with you and want to follow along with me, find your way to Matthew 6 and we’ll take a look at this together. Matthew 6 is the middle part of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount where He lays out in fairly extensive detail the ethical framework of the kingdom of God. There is a ton of incredible and important teachings here. If a person wanted to go a long ways toward getting following Jesus right, if you didn’t have anything other than this, you’d still get pretty far down that road.

Well, right near the beginning of chapter 6, Jesus talks about prayer. More than that, He gives us a model prayer that has been a centerpiece of the praying and worshiping of His followers ever since. I suspect many of you know this prayer. You’ve had it memorized most of your life. We could recite it together now on the spot. It’s automatic. Someone starts it and everyone follows. “Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be Your name…” My translation puts it like this: “Our Father in heaven, your name be honored as holy.” We are not doing a study of the Lord’s Prayer this morning. But what comes next is really, really important in terms of shaping how we understand and think about the various issues at stake in this or any election from the standpoint of our kingdom citizenship.

What’s the next line? “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We’re not going to go any further than that. We don’t have to. That’s the heart of our lens. Remember week one? The church’s first allegiance is to God, not the world. We are citizens first and foremost of the kingdom of God. Everything we do, think, say, and believe should be aimed in the direction of advancing the interests of our primary kingdom. However we happen to think about one issue or another, this is the lens through which our thinking must be filtered: What is the position I need to take on this issue in order to best advance the kingdom of God in this world? Now, we need to additionally keep in mind that whatever advances the kingdom of God best is going to be entirely consonant with the Scriptures, so they are our guide in this, but the kingdom’s advancement is our goal. In other words, whatever the issue happens to be, as followers of Jesus our chief issue is advancing God’s kingdom. Our chief issue is advancing God’s kingdom.

Okay, but what about the issues themselves? We’re doing the politician thing where we talk about them by not talking about them. Well, for our purposes this morning there are two kinds of issues. There are issues on which the Scriptures are abundantly clear, and there are issues on which they are not. For the first group of issues as far as committed followers of Jesus go, there is a right and a wrong answer. We can decide how much weight to give that issue when it comes to how we actually vote, but our position on it is made clear by the Scriptures. For these issues, there is a position that is the Christian position. For the second group of issues, things are murkier. We should still absolutely strive to hold a view that is consistent with the teachings of the Scriptures as far as we are able to understand them, but different followers of Jesus will carefully study the Scriptures and come to different conclusions about them depending on a whole variety of other factors. For these issues, while there is not one single position that is unquestionably right for Christians to hold, we want to strive to hold a Christian position. In other words, we want to strive to hold a position that to the best of our knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures will most effectively advance God’s kingdom. Our chief issue is advancing God’s kingdom.

Still not enough clarity for you? Let me get really specific, then. Here are some issues which for followers of Jesus are clear. The first one is abortion. There are a couple of truths that are really clear in the Scriptures relating to this matter. The first is that all people are created in the image of God and that this image is a part of us from the moment of conception. The second is this: the violent destruction of the image of God in an innocent person is murder. One more truth just to seal the deal here. The position of the Scriptures on murder is pretty clear, namely, we’re not supposed to do it. Ever. When it comes to the issue of abortion, the Christian position is that we must be opposed to it in all cases at all times. And, this is to be part of a larger pro-life position that thoroughly covers every life in every case no matter where that life happens to be on the timeline of existence.

How about another? The issue of gender is a bigger one in this election cycle than it has ever been before. This is another place where the Scriptures are clear. God created human beings as male and female. Period. He created them complementarily which impacts our understanding of the nature of marriage as well. Any policy position which allows or even encourages the conflation of male and female or which suggests that people can somehow choose their gender based on how they “really feel” cannot have our support. We must hold to this with the utmost of pastoral sensitivity, but from the standpoint of the Scriptures, our position on the issue is clear.

Shall we continue? Some of you are perhaps satisfied with what I’ve said so far. Others are fidgeting in your chair because of what I haven’t yet said. How about the issue of racism? There’s another one that’s front and center these days. This is another place where the Scriptures are abundantly clear and so is the Christian position. Racism is sin. End of story. Because all people are created of absolutely equal value in God’s image, we have a duty to oppose racism anywhere it even tries to exist. We cannot even give cover to those who would simply nod and wink at it as if it wasn’t as serious a sin as it is. On that front, while the Black Lives Matter organization is one that Christians cannot support because of the number of anti-Christian positions it explicitly endorses on matters that, frankly, have nothing to do with black lives, in a culture that has a long history of valuing white lives more than black lives and at a systemic level, we should be okay with the acknowledgement that while, yes, all lives do indeed matter, the reminder that all lives does actually include black lives is okay and even sometimes an important one to have.

Shall we do one more just to make sure we’re all uncomfortable? How about justice for the poor? God’s passionate concern for those who struggle to make ends meet and see their basic needs met in this life is one of the more important themes running throughout the whole of the Scriptures. Again and again His people are commanded to care for the poor and make sure they aren’t exploited in their vulnerability by those whose position in life is more secure. If we don’t share God’s passionate concern for the poor, and not simply as an idea, but as an active way of life, we’re off base as followers of Jesus.

While there are a few others, those are four major issues at stake in this election on which the Christian position is clear for followers of Jesus. The perspective I laid out very briefly for you is the one that will best advance the kingdom of God. And, for followers of Jesus, our chief issue is advancing God’s kingdom. There are some other issues, though, into which the Scriptures do not speak with the same clarity as these. Some examples here would be gun rights, tax policies, immigration (although not the treatment of immigrants; that’s clear), the environment, and entitlements. You won’t find a single verse clarifying one position or another on these issues as objectively right for followers of Jesus, and so while we might believe about it one way or the other, and are even commanded by Paul himself to have strong, Scripturally-grounded convictions on these kinds of issues, we need to hold those convictions with charity. Why? Because if we are going to effectively advance the kingdom of God, we will only be able to do it when we do it with the Scriptures as our guide. Anytime we run out in front of the Scriptures and insist they say something they don’t actually say, we do far more harm than good. And, for followers of Jesus, our chief issue is advancing God’s kingdom.

And this actually brings us to where I want to land this morning with you. Because there are more issues on the minds of voters in the election that will take place two weeks and two days from now than the Scriptures give clear guidance on the position Christians should take, followers of Jesus who are equally committed to the Scriptures are going to come to different conclusions about not only some of the secondary issues themselves, but also on how to rank them in terms of their relative importance. This will result in believers voting for different candidates while equally certain that their faith in Christ has directly informed their vote. And if you want an example, consider this: White, evangelical Christians overwhelmingly vote for Republican candidates and have for more than a generation. On the other hand, black, evangelical Christians—our brothers and sisters in Christ who are every bit as committed to the Scriptures as we are—overwhelmingly vote for Democratic candidates. Here are two groups who share a faith commitment and yet who tend to vote in paradigmatically opposite ways.

In a culture that has become as partisan as ours is, this fact could easily result in churches that are disunified and fractured and segregated along political lines. My friends, that’s not how the church was designed to work. Our chief issue must never be any single political or cultural issue. If we make it so, we are drawing up dividing lines that were never intended to be drawn. No, there is no single hot-button issue that is chief for us. Our chief issue is advancing God’s kingdom. We will always do that more effectively when we stand together, united in Christ, in spite of our differences. Our chief issue is advancing God’s kingdom.

When it comes to thinking about how to engage with the various issues at stake in this election or any election, then, here are three considerations we must make. First, how can we advance God’s kingdom through this issue? Our first citizenship is there and so whatever one party or the other may declare, those aren’t our measuring stick for how to proceed. Second, what do the Scriptures say? If the Scriptures do not support a given position, we can’t either. Our thinking must be informed by the Scriptures and never merely the culture around us. Third, how can I remain united in heart and spirit with my brothers and sisters in the faith who decide differently from me? How can I honor their Biblically-rooted commitment to advancing God’s kingdom even though I don’t personally think it’s the best way to do so through the lens of a particular issue? When the kingdom is our goal and not any one, single issue, we can do this. Our chief issue is advancing God’s kingdom.

So then, let us make just that our aim as a church. Let us commit ourselves in unity to advancing the kingdom of the God who sent His only Son to pay the price for our sins by dying in our place so that we can gain entrance to a kingdom that is truly eternal. There are all kinds of issues at stake in this election. Some of them have clearly Christian positions, some of them don’t. But our chief issue is advancing God’s kingdom. When we move in that direction together, we will always be in the right.

Okay, okay, fine. That may be how we should think about the issues, but how should we actually vote? Who should we vote for? Well, I know churches aren’t supposed to talk about that kind of thing, but if you’ll come back one more time next week as we wrap up this series, that’s exactly what we’re going to talk about. I’m going to tell you how to vote. But, if you’ve been paying attention so far, you know that may not look quite like you’re thinking. See you then. 

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