Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.
A Post-Election Opportunity for Perspective
By Vincent Bacote
November 17, 2014
One consistent theme in the aftermath of the recent election is the triumph of Republicans and the significant losses for Democrats, complete with bragging rights and counter narratives. For many people, these party affiliations are a significant aspect of their identity, operating as emblems of their personal convictions and public commitments. These are often indicative of religious commitments as well, sometimes to the point that one’s fidelity to Christ can come under suspicion if you are for the “wrong” party.
What happens when we put these political labels in tension with some dimensions of Christian identity that we find in Scripture? For example, how does the Bible’s proclamation that we are created in the image of God factor into our perspective? This is an important question because this aspect of identity has implications not only for our self-concept, but also for our view of others, including those “others” of a different political party who might have views we find not just wrong, but perhaps even offensive or disturbing. To regard others as fellow bearers of the divine image means that we have to consider our commonality as humans and the tremendous dignity bestowed upon us simply because it is the way God has made us.
Consider also our view of God in relation to our political affiliations and our national identity. If we recall that God is the creator of the universe and that the promise He makes to Abram in Genesis 12 ultimately extends to all the nations, it is very difficult for us to say God is “ours” in a manner that suggests He cares about either our party or our country exclusively. It is dangerous for any of us to forget that we have a limited perspective, even if we are convinced of the correctness of a political party’s platform or the greater commitment to justice in our nation. Since we “see through a glass darkly,” we would be wise to remember that we may unwittingly ignore public commitments that are very important to God. Humility that flows from such a perspective should not dim our political commitments and love of country, but should lead us to consider that God cares about other countries, and that beyond our shores, other nations may have areas of resonance with God’s truth that have eluded us.
Last, if we consider some of the ways that Christians are a people who belong to God, we discover more points of tension. Here are three examples. A robust definition of “church” reveals to us that we are part of a community that God has chosen and is bringing together from every part of the world. A good shorthand for church is “the people of God.” Related to the idea of peoplehood, Christians are brothers and sisters across time and geography, children of God brought into a growing family. As the church comprised of God’s children, we have a reoriented sense of family identity that cannot be reduced to narrower conceptions often associated with political loyalties. Ultimately, Christian loyalty should be reflective of our primary citizenship in God’s kingdom. This citizenship does not undermine fidelity to the countries we call home, but gives us a larger perspective that sets our loyalties and priorities in proper order.
As we do the hard work of translating that fidelity into actual commitments and practices, we should be hopeful that an ultimate allegiance to God’s kingdom will enable better stewardship of our rights and responsibilities as citizens in our respective nations. While our political identities such as party affiliation are not insignificant, they can never be ultimate.
- Vincent Bacote is an Associate Professor of Theology and Director of the Center for Applied Christian Ethics at Wheaton College. He is also a Trustee of 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.”