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By Fred Van Geest
Why should Christians be politically engaged? Because Jesus tells us that the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:9). Our neighbors include everyone, but the Scriptures give special attention to those who are needy, like widows, orphans, foreigners and the poor. Of course, there are many ways to show love to our neighbors, but political engagement is one important way.
There are several reasons why thinking about political life in this way makes sense. First, there are countless practical ways political engagement lets us show our love. For example, we show love for abused children when we insist on fair laws to protect them and ensure adequate funding for child protection services. We show love when we insist on a regulatory framework for nursing homes that offers protection and care for vulnerable, elderly people. We show love when we establish laws and administrative means by which wages can be garnished from “deadbeat” parents who refuse to support their children. And, we show love for victims when we seek justice for those who commit violent assaults, and restoration for perpetrators who languish for years in prisons.
A second reason for approaching politics in this way is because Christians will be perceived in a much more positive light if we are known for seeking the common good of our fellow citizens. As the song goes, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” Too often Christians in political life get a reputation for seeking mainly their own interests, or trying to control others through political means. In contrast, when we seek the common good and the good of the most needy, we do a better job of reflecting Jesus Christ to the world.
Political engagement for the common good helps us live out a number of Bethel’s core values, namely that we seek to be world changers, reconcilers, and salt and light in the world. Of course, there are many ways to live out these values, but consider some very specific political ways. World changers include diplomats who negotiate peace agreements and help forestall war. They include public servants who work to reduce human trafficking, or negotiate fair trade agreements. Reconcilers include people who work to reduce racial conflict by lobbying for effective anti-discrimination laws, or restorative justice procedures in our criminal justice system. We can all be salt and light in public life, whether as public employees, or as citizens who lobby for policies that serve the common good.
Political life is not neutral. The decisions our representatives make affect whether or not citizens pay their fair share of taxes, or whether there is justice for workers. It affects whether or not our children have an education that’s adequate to help them flourish in life. It affects whether or not a poor person has access to healthcare and it affects whether or not there is justice for refugees and migrants.
Many Christians seek to live out the calling in Micah 6:8: “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Acting justly and loving mercy is important for us as individuals, but justice and mercy also have an important collective dimension. Just ask a worker who experiences sexual harassment in the workplace, or a judge who tries to fairly apply sentencing guidelines, or a vulnerable person who is preyed upon by pay-day lenders. Seeking justice in these situations often requires political measures, and it is surely a way of showing love to our neighbors.
Finally, approaching politics in this way helps avoid confusing the kingdom of God with America. The common good of the Kingdom of God is a global common good. We are to be “world changers” not just citizens who only see the interests of their country. The principle of solidarity in Catholic social teaching reminds us that the image bearers who we are called to love and serve live all over this planet. Earthly kingdoms come and go, but the kingdom of God reigns now and forever!