Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.
By Stephanie Summers
May 9, 2014
This article is the first installment in a series on political campaigns and public justice.
At a time when many Christians, if asked, may identify only one of their political responsibilities (voting), let us consider another. God has called us as citizens to shape the political community according to a vision of Christ’s kingdom, which has not yet been revealed in its fullness. Not all of us will be called to serve as elected political officials, but we must all face the question of how the vision of Christ’s kingdom should be reflected in and guide political campaigns.
Campaigns are a topic that generates intense revulsion among many Christians. It is indeed sad that so many political candidates and campaigns do not meet a baseline of speaking with civility, engaging in campaigns that are based on true statements, and upholding ethical practices. But while this revulsion feels cathartic, it is fraught with danger. We perpetuate the degradation of the dignity of persons created in God’s image if we nurture righteous anger into sinful and unforgiving attitudes towards them and towards government itself. We must acknowledge our grief, examine our hearts, and pray for and extend forgiveness.
And then, as citizens, we need to stop being people with logs in our eyes.
We must recognize that political campaigns informed by a vision of Christ’s kingdom aren’t only the work of candidates and their campaign staff and volunteers, but rather are the shared political responsibility of us all.
In his book The Good of Politics: A Biblical, Historical, and Contemporary Introduction, Jim Skillen reflects on the vision that must inform the scope of human political engagement, “The obvious starting point should be to heed the teaching and example of Jesus whom we confess to be the Christ. We should do what he taught his followers to do: serve your neighbors in love, do justice, seek to live at peace with everyone, do not lord it over others but act as servants (Luke 9:23-27, 46-48; 22:24-32).”
While this “starting point” is not meant to be exhaustive, it does help begin an important conversation. What are the implications of this biblical vision for political campaigns? I see several, the first of which is to serve our neighbors in love.
As Christians, we easily identify serving our neighbors in love with our works of charity and mercy, organized through our congregations, voluntary associations, and families. We rarely apply this call to serve our neighbors in love as the basis for our work in political community. Rather, we show our neighbors as we pass by them on the road that our true political interests are in securing freedoms for those we find easy to love and live with.
An example of following Jesus in this call to loving service in political campaigns is perhaps easiest to think of at the most local level. There, we as citizens--not as candidates for elected office-- can shape and promote a political community that recognizes who is, in this case quite literally, in the neighborhood. It means that we ought to actively promote and collaborate with existing candidate forums or organize them where there are none.
Candidate forums are not meant to enable candidates for public office to identify which individuals and institutions have power and influence, or to learn who should get special favors or undue consideration in making promises in an effort to secure votes. Candidate forums are not for the purpose of giving candidates a platform to serve up sound bites or score points against opponents in front of their supporters.
Candidate forums are instead an opportunity to create an exchange of ideas and information, where the true diversity and internal differentiation of the local political community’s members and institutions is made clear to candidates for office. Our active engagement with these forums helps to articulate the roles and responsibilities of families, churches, businesses, and voluntary associations and brings the fullness of what the community looks like before those seeking public office. Serving our neighbors in love in this way equips candidates with the vision and information necessary to wisely and rightly uphold public justice for the good of all.
- Stephanie Summers is Chief Executive Officer at the Center for Public Justice.
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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”