Don’t Fear the Collision

The Importance of Christians Engaging in the Political Process

While living on the East Coast a few years ago, I frequently engaged in political discussions with a neighbor. She was raised in New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania, and she worked for the government in what is viewed as one of the most liberal states in the Union; I was raised in Oklahoma. Needless to say, our viewpoints “collided”.

She had never been around anyone who approached issues from a conservative, Evangelical point of view (at least not as consistently as I did), and after having enough conversations with her to prove that I had actually given some thought to why I held certain beliefs—opposed to simply parroting talking points—she began to ask me some good questions. She started to trust me, and she genuinely wanted to know my opinion about certain issues.

While I was certainly not convincing her to change her party affiliation or vote “my way” at the ballot box, she began to question certain assumptions she had always held. It wasn’t that I was persuasive or even articulate; rather, I was simply offering a perspective that she had never encountered.

Then something bad happened.

After a few months of conversations, she shut down and stopped talking to me about political issues. To be sure, I was too aggressive in a couple of conversations, and I regret that I did not demonstrate a more winsome spirit at times. But the main reason she began to avoid those conversations was that her conversations with me had confused her. Suddenly, I was saying things that contradicted messages she was hearing from mainstream news sources—and while she preferred to get her information from those sources, she also knew that I was neither insincere nor malicious.

Unfortunately, she disengaged from political discourse altogether. Not only did she avoid political conversations with me, she stopped listening to and watching the news. She did not know how to make sense of the contradictory messages she was hearing. More importantly, though, she did not want to exert the mental energy it took to do so.

I sympathize with my former neighbor’s feeling of being overwhelmed by all things political. I used to feel the same way. Sometimes, doing the work of sorting through the media’s mixed (and often incoherent) messages can be overwhelming, especially for people who have not been taught the relationship between worldview and political action.

However, something being difficult is not always a legitimate excuse for avoiding it, and I am convinced that our nation’s path toward moral bankruptcy can be traced in large part to the political apathy of the Christian community. It’s no secret that millions of born-again Christians fail to vote in important elections. Many of them avoid voting because they believe their vote is inconsequential, but others fail to vote because of what I call intellectual laziness.

To my knowledge, not one of our nation’s founding fathers guaranteed that determining the best way to nuance a law or a policy would be easy—but a lot of them did call attention to the necessity of an informed and voting public.

I have thought a lot about the books of 1st and 2nd Kings and 1st and 2nd Chronicles this year, and my mind keeps returning to the story of King Josiah. After centuries of kings and citizens who refused to do what God said and destroy all of the idols in the land, Josiah went on an idol demolition derby throughout Judah—and blessing followed. Even though God had already determined to bring disaster upon Judah because of generations of idol worship, He promised Josiah that He would stay His hand while Josiah was alive. And let us not miss the fact that the citizenry who lived during Josiah’s time also received the blessing of God’s stayed hand.

For too many decades, a lot of Christian Americans have been like the complacent people of Israel and Judah centuries ago. We have not destroyed our nation’s idols, many of which we have the opportunity to destroy every November. We need to take advantage of that opportunity.

And lest we think it too hard to do the sometimes-difficult mental work that’s necessary for casting an informed vote, we would do well to remember that not doing that work might demonstrate that we are ignoring one-fourth of the first and greatest command—“love the Lord your God with all your heart…soul…strength…and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27).

I am thrilled to work at a university where professors help students work through the collision points between worldview and politics, because when the ramifications of worldview are communicated clearly and honestly, the intellectual work required at the voting booth becomes much less arduous.

Guest Post by Dr. Gentry Sutton
Dr. Gentry Sutton is OKWU’s Interim Vice President of Academic Affairs, Dean of the School of Arts & Sciences, and Assistant Professor of English. “In a culture that constantly spews complicated and confounding information and often cheapens the gift of language,” says Dr. Sutton, “I consider it an honor and a serious responsibility to teach people how to communicate effectively and with integrity.”
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