John’s note: This post was written by a good friend of mine, Tom Milton. Tom is a former Phoenix City Councilman as well as Vice Mayor, and teaches a class on Christianity and Politics at Southwestern College. I will offer a little extra insight at the end.
As Christians in America, we should fight for the Christian political agenda, right? It includes issues like opposing gay marriage, outlawing abortion, removing evolution from public schools, keeping the words “under God” in the pledge of allegiance, fighting for prayer in public schools, displaying nativity scenes anywhere we want at Christmas, and keeping the Ten Commandments posted in public places. This agenda is about winning the culture war and electing Christian men and women to public offices.
The conflict is less about this agenda and more about our means of accomplishing it.
In his book The Myth of a Christian Nation, Gregory Boyd describes a fundamental conflict relevant to the question of how Christians should be involved in politics. He describes this conflict between “the Kingdom of the Cross and the Kingdom of the Sword.”
The Kingdom of the Sword is in the world and upon us now. Although worldly governments can be good and useful (Romans 13:1-7) they also have an evil influence. In the wilderness, Satan offers Christ authority over all the kingdoms of the world. Jesus does not refute Satan’s authority to offer this to Him, although he does resist the temptation. This shows Satan’s authority in the world. In the Gospel of John, Jesus refers to Satan as the ruler of the world three times (John 12:31, 14:30, and 16:11). Every nation on earth, no matter how good, is still influenced by the ruler of this world. A government’s authority lies in its ability to make people do (or not do) things based on its power and might. In the Kingdom of the Sword, order is kept with a sword, has worldly influences, and God has declared that it will someday end.
Contrast this with the Kingdom of the Cross. This is a kingdom without worldly power and might. In John 18:36, Jesus tells Pontius Pilate “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” Jesus is actually explaining how His followers will not abide by the Kingdom of the Sword. His was a ministry of humility, grace, and service. Jesus came to change hearts. The Kingdom of the Cross began with Christ’s ministry and will continue through eternity.
In the Kingdom of the Sword, people might not murder because they fear the earthly consequences. In the Kingdom of the Cross, people will not murder because their hearts will be transformed and loving. Both of these kingdoms can achieve the same outcomes (people not murdering). One will use the threat of force; the other will use a converted heart. One is controlling; the other is transformational. One of them is temporary; the other eternal.
So how do we apply this to Christian political involvement? For some time now, Christians have had their agenda backwards. We try to force people’s behavior to fit a Christian idea of morality and presume their heart will follow their actions. Everything I have experienced in my Christian walk has been exactly the opposite. As Christ affected my heart, my actions followed. Christian activism should focus first on hearts!
Is there a case for political activism among Christians? Yes, but I would suggest we rethink our traditional approach to politics. We have been using the methods of the Kingdom of the Sword to attain outcomes only achievable through the Kingdom of the Cross.
We MUST resist fighting a spiritual battle for the hearts of our neighbors with worldly approaches. We can’t allow homosexuals to only be defined in our eyes as sinners. We must stop throwing anger and shame at women (and men) who have had (or supported) abortions. We must quit battling over superficial debates that alienate non-believers and don’t serve the Gospel. We have to stop preaching a one-dimensional God who only values holiness. We have to demonstrate love in all of our political activity. Some day all of the things of this world will pass, but the Kingdom of Heaven will reign forever.
Change their actions and their hearts MIGHT follow, but they might not.
Change their hearts and their actions WILL follow, and there will be a great rejoicing in heaven.
First off, thanks to Tom for the interaction. Secondly, notice the main argument against political activism in evangelicalism today. The argument says that we should focus on changing hearts, because change from the inside out makes a difference in both kingdoms while change forced from outside affects only the kingdom of man. So the argument says to make the Gospel the main thing and the political issues a secondary concern (if at all). Let God change people from the inside out, and don’t expect the world to meet the moral standards of Christianity.
Next week I will post my interactions with both sides.