On Sunday, our country celebrated its 245th birthday, giving each of us a chance to say, “Happy Birthday America.”
I intentionally stay away from political things in my columns. However, since this week I am suggesting we as people of faith should share our values, some readers may assume my motivation is political. I am not writing to promote either the Republican or Democratic Party. To make this point allow me to share the words of two leaders who preceded both of our current political parties.
Our first president, George Washington, said the following in his 1796 Farewell Address, “of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.” He went on to warn “morality can[not] be maintained without religion.”
John Adams, our second president, made a similar point when he said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Based upon these statements author Mark Pulliam made this incredibly perceptive observation: “Abandoning the public square is not just a disservice to organized religion; it is a threat to the survival of a free society.”
Allow another observation. During Jesus’ 33 years of ministry, he consistently stood up for what was right, but refused to participate in political debates. Two men he called to be his apostles were from diverse political groups. Simon the Zealot was part of a group committed to overthrowing the Roman government—while Matthew was a tax collector for Rome.
Religious leaders of Jesus’ day tried to trick him into making a political statement they could use against him. They asked, “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Jesus immediately saw through their plot and confronted them, “‘You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Here, show me the coin used for the tax. Whose picture and title are stamped on it?’ ‘Caesar’s’ they replied. ‘Well then, give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God.’” (Matthew 22:17-21, excerpts, NLT) Jesus stayed away from politics, but he stood up for truth.
Doing all we can to make our neighborhoods and nation better is godly and appropriate, Jesus did that. But focusing on politics instead of promoting truth rarely makes things better and often makes them worse.
Christians are to be the best citizens we can. We are to promote godly values and good morals as our first two presidents suggested we should. However, allowing ourselves to get drug into the political weeds and trashing those with whom we disagree, promotes neither civil dialogue nor the higher standards Jesus expects of his followers.