September 30, 2008
For the past several months I’ve heard two recurring themes from critics of my show: “You’re too political and unloving, Christians shouldn’t argue about politics,” and “You’re not fair and balanced, you’re close-minded and too biased against liberals.”
Perhaps many Christians believe these things because they don’t understand politics is really an exercise of theology applied—one way we love our neighbors as ourselves. Our political and social policies should grow out of our theology, not vice versa. We are not to reverse engineer our theology based upon our political and social agendas. Our faith is foundational to everything else. For Christians, theology creates and shapes our approach to politics; for non-Christians, politics creates and shapes their approach to theology—or at least their worldview.
A Christian becomes too political when their politics is no longer rooted in their theology, when their faith becomes merely peripheral and unnecessary to their political agenda, rather than the one thing that is fundamental and essential.
How we vote to spend our tax dollars, what economic and social policies we hope to advance through votes for particular candidates, and what domestic and foreign policies we hope our government advances—these things are the applications of the values rooted in our Christian worldview.
Just as how I choose to invest my time and treasure is the best expression of whether I’m living out my Christian values, so too what the government spends money on and what policy preferences it pursues is the best expression of our true American values.
The best way for me to love my neighbor is through those things I choose to do personally. The second best way is through votes for candidates who support policies that I believe will promote the common good. Thus, I am political because I am loving, and I am loving because I am Christian. Therefore, I should argue—albeit in a God-glorifying manner—about politics.
Perhaps many Christians don’t know how to argue without getting angry—though there are times when anger is morally justified. The two things that we should be willing to argue about are theology and politics. This isn’t about getting mad or letting your emotions get out of control. In fact, when we lose our cool and merely emote, we’re not arguing very well and we actually become less persuasive rather than more so. It usually escalates into a test of whose emotional intensity is strongest, rather than the strength of the arguments themselves.
Perhaps many Christians think arguing is bad because they can’t distinguish between a person and their ideas. Even for themselves, they can take it personally when someone is arguing against their ideas. But not arguing does make me a nice person. And the fact that I do argue about consequential things does not make me unloving. Nice people can be wrong, and mean people can be right. I can criticize a person’s ideas without criticizing the person. The challenge is to communicate my disagreement—to argue—in such a way that the person understands I disagree with their ideas, not them personally. Friends can and do argue over their disagreements, though it is most often the case that they are friends precisely because they do agree on so many things.
Finally, with regards to the criticism that I am “not fair and balanced” and that I am “close-minded and too biased against liberals,” I am perhaps guilty as charged. However, it is only because I have weighed the arguments on both sides and found the current expressions of modern liberalism deficient. I gave liberalism a fair hearing when I began to formulate my political philosophy and found it contrary to my Christian values. I am no longer struggling with moral equivalence between the left and the right. I would be close-minded and biased if I were unwilling to weigh arguments for liberalism. Having done so, I am a conservative precisely because I have found the arguments for liberalism unpersuasive.
Some Christians may claim, “Christians shouldn’t argue about politics” simply because they’re political liberals who are unwilling to actually engage in argument over their political views. Instead, they would rather attempt to stifle debate by taking the pseudo moral high ground, saying something like, “Truly spiritual Christians are above politics.”
That’s too bad. Christians can and should argue, especially about theology and politics—and hopefully in that order.