Dual Citizens – Distinguishing Between the Pastoral and Political
What really gets my goat is suggestions that Christians may not and should not participate in political conversations. The idea that we shouldn’t even be present, let alone passionate, while certain groups wage a war of attrition on the foundation of family and society is reckless and harmful. I understand that some will point to past hurts in individuals and say we should avoid that. I agree, but not at any cost.
The best argument against Christian participation in political conversations is that Jesus came to bring peace, love, forgiveness, grace, mercy and everything the opposite of yet more Pharisaical moralising legalism. The argument is put that nowhere in the Bible are we called to be the world’s moral police.
I respectfully disagree, and will offer to help explain the duality of our ministry here on earth.
When we call Jesus Lord, abandoning reliance on our own wisdom and completely trusting in the wisdom and sovereignty of Jesus, and believe in our heart that God raised Him from the dead, we become spiritual alive and new citizens of His Heavenly Kingdom, our highest allegiance.
But we do not relinquish our place in this world. We are still citizens of Australia, and still stewards of the freedoms and obligations that that entails. We are not absolved of paying taxes, obeying laws, or voting.
“Learn to do good;
Seek justice, rebuke the oppressor;
Defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.”
And so when we meet a homosexual person at church our response must be different to when a proposal is put to the nation to change laws affecting everyone – as laws always do. We have to understand the difference between pastoral conversations and political conversations.
By pastoral, I don’t mean the conversation one has as an ordained member of the clergy in a formal counselling session. Rather, it’s the posture all believers have daily in one on one, incidental ministry when relating face to face with individuals.
A homosexual person (for example) should always be treated the same as a divorced person, or someone who’s had an abortion, or someone who stole a cookie as a child, or someone who’s never looked sideways at a fly – no differently at all!
It’s simply none of our business to change or challenge people in the world. It is the Holy Spirit that leads us to repentance, not persuasive logic or public policy. When we called Jesus Lord, our spiritual journey was between us and the Holy Spirit. Our individual and corporate job is to love everyone unconditionally, personally. That is pastoral, personal, one on one, treatment of the individual and real identity – made in the image of God.
Of course we preach repentance and Truth, the uncompromising Gospel of extravagant grace – but that is never anything less than welcoming and accepting of the individual as they are, in need of a Saviour.
By political, I don’t mean the conversation one has as an elected member of a parliament in a press scrum. Rather, it’s the context of conversations about laws and society when responding to proposed legislation or present injustices.
There are large groups of people that are simply determined to be offended, and this presents us with an unavoidable decision between unintentionally causing offense and the harm done by silence on important social issues such as marriage, abortion, and other moral relativism.
The important thing to remember is that we are seeking to understand people, and so pastorally-minded people ought not to assume a strong position is motivated by callous legalism. It will be correct more often than not that politically-minded believers are motivated by compassion and concern for the harm done to individuals by the corrupting consequences of sin.
Indeed, the Bible explains that, “the laws of God are not burdensome”. The inverse is equally true, that ignorance of God’s will and design for life is burdensome, the hard way of living.
When speaking about the direction of society and the general nature of right and wrong in any given issue, the sensibilities of pastoral conversations are simply of limited usefulness. Please don’t infer things I haven’t said. I haven’t said people’s feelings don’t matter. I haven’t advocated cavalier disregard for individuals. I’ve only said that making our important pastoral concerns primary in political conversations is often going to be unhelpful, if not harmful, to more people.
Argue To Understand
We can gain a lot of ground and reclaim some missing unity by listening to each other’s arguments. This is far more productive than simply arguing to win. In all honesty, I’ve been wrong before, and I might be now! The greatest insult would be to simply dismiss each other’s sincerity or possibility of proof. But sincerity doesn’t equal truth.
We need to argue to understand instead of to win, and be prepared to be persuaded and to be persuasive. Often nobody will be persuaded, but at least we can get a better understanding of each other’s perspective, and that’s progress.
An observation I’ve made is that both approaches to Christian conversations are sometimes right. We should be really concerned about the impacts on individuals and be incredibly careful to avoid offense – wherever reasonably possible. We should also be really concerned about the damage of silence and the fear of confrontation.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, “Righteousness and compassion are not mutually exclusive.” Jesus’ encounter with the woman caught in sexual sin demonstrated perfectly His ability to be immovable on morality and still refuse to condemn the sinner.
The pastoral approach to Christian conversations points out that Jesus suggested imperfect people weren’t qualified to execute sinners and that He refused to even condemn her. The political approach to Christian conversations points out that He didn’t say they were wrong to criticise her immorality, only that they weren’t qualified to kill her, and that He still told her to stop sinning, clearly implying she was and shouldn’t.
When we slow down enough to understand the other perspective, we can see there’s plenty of room for it as well. Both are right.
Getting the Balance Right
As with so many doctrinal debates between two positions, the best answer is “yes”. A little bit of both.
We do have to have both pastoral and political conversations. We do have to represent and extend the Kingdom of God through the Gospel of grace and redemption – the greatest hope for every human issue without a doubt. We also have to represent the Truth of God’s planned blessings for society as stewards of the democratic freedom and opportunity to leave our world a better place, politically.
We cannot be anything less than passionate and present in conversations about the direction of our social future. We have an assured eternity, but a lost world. It would be ultimately indulgent and selfish to leave them to their own devices, even if motivated by a fear of causing offense.
That’s why Jesus told the woman caught in sexual sin to stop it – He cared about her future. That’s why John the Baptist told Herod his marriage to his half-brother’s wife was immoral – he too cared about Herod and society.
We have the same prophetic voice to the world lost and in darkness. The light is ours to shine, and that is done differently when one on one to when we advocate for the voiceless and defenseless. The same need for legislation to define the immorality of murder, stealing and speeding, abortion and prostitution is present in many other, if not all other issues.
But when murderers, thieves, speeders, post-abortive parents and prostitutes come to church, our conversation must be pastoral, not political. They must find acceptance, not condemnation. Again, Jesus had no qualms condemning sexual immorality without condemning the woman caught in sexual sin. It’s not hypocritical. It’s the necessary balance.
So, no, we are not called to be moral police. But we are called to be a prophetic voice to society, a city set on a hill, lights that shine set on a stand, and salt that has not lost its flavour. Neither cities nor lights nor salt are apologetic or reticant, else they’re useless.
Truth is by nature exclusive of everything that is not true, and that will offend everything that’s wrong. The Truth isn’t ours, it’s God’s. We’re not superior for having it, we’re aware it’s equally offered to all, and that’s the inclusive nature of the exclusive Truth.
Let’s argue to understand. Let’s love individuals and society as we engage them differently. Let’s embrace our dual citizenship of kingdom and community. Let’s better learn to distinguish between pastoral conversations and political conversations.
“Open your mouth for the speechless,
In the cause of all who are appointed to die.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
And plead the cause of the poor and needy.”