Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Politics: A Christian Duty

Michael J. Gerson


April 15, 2011
by Michael J. Gerson

This is a transcript of a radio address broadcast on KDCR radio in Sioux Center, Iowa.

At a recent Center for Public Justice event in Chicago, I met several people who are involved in their community, deeply committed to their faith—but seriously disillusioned by the political process.  Some were disappointed by leaders they once admired. Others wonder if their views and voices really matter in the larger scheme of things.      

These attitudes are not uncommon.  Political engagement is difficult and sometimes disappointing.  The tone of modern politics can be bitter and distasteful.  Many Christians are tempted to retreat into the security of their families and into the sanctuary of their churches.  Some Christian leaders have even recommended a sabbatical from politics, arguing that it would be better for believers to focus on living faithfully and shaping the culture instead of changing laws.  

It is true that the pursuit of political power can become a consuming substitute for faith. For the Christian, the most important victories concern a kingdom not built with human hands.

But laws are not irrelevant to our lives, or to the cause of justice.  They define the boundaries of a community and the duties we owe to our fellow citizens. They embody the ideals and expectations of a society.  Even as Christians abandon their political illusions, they cannot avoid their responsibilities as citizens of America and of the City of man.  

Politics is the realm of necessity.  At any given moment in a democracy, great issues of justice and morality are at stake. The idea that people of faith can take a break from politics to collect their thoughts and lick their wounds is a form of irresponsibility.  It is, in fact, an idea that could only be embraced by comfortable Christians.  If one lives in a neighborhood plagued by poverty, dominated by gangs, and served by failing schools, there is no sabbatical from the failures of politics.  If one lives in a foreign country without medicines for AIDS, or ruled by a cruel dictator, the policy priorities of the American government matter greatly.  Retreating from the cause of justice, even temporarily, is only conceivable for those who have few needs or justice themselves.  

A little political maturity is thus in order.  During the last few decades, Christians have sometimes done politics poorly. So do most other groups in our democracy.  The answer is to do politics better.  

At its best, politics is about the right ordering of our lives together.  It cannot be unimportant because justice is never unimportant.  Political rhetoric and ideals can raise the moral sights of a nation and point men and women to responsibilities beyond self and family.  Creative policy can serve the common good, in improving a local school, or providing medicines on the other side of the world.  

It is true that politics is not our hope.  But for all its frustrations, it is still our duty.

 —Michael J. Gerson is a nationally syndicated columnist who appears twice weekly in The Washington Post and is the author of Heroic Conservatism (2007) and the co-author of City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era (2010).


“To respond to the author of this Commentary please email:
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.”