*The following was originally printed in The Llano News on Feb. 8, 2024.
One of my favorite podcasts is called Truth over Tribe, and comments on current events from a level-headed, evangelical Christian perspective. They proudly boast that they have been labeled too liberal for conservatives, and too conservative for liberals. As a mentor of mine once remarked, “when people from both sides are throwing rocks at you, you’re close to occupying the same space as Jesus did.” In a recent episode, the difficulty of holding out any positive outlook on the national political scene was addressed. “What is the Christian response in such a setting?” it was asked.
The answer to this predicament borrowed the advice Peter gave to Christians scattered throughout Rome in his first circular letter in the Bible: with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming (1 Peter 1:13).
I think this is an appropriate exhortation for Christians, today. At the beginning of this letter, Peter refers to its recipients as “exiles” (1 Peter 1:1), due to the way their culture contrasted with the values of God’s Kingdom. By this, Peter is not inferring that Christians should not participate in the civic and political systems of the world; but rather, that they should not place any lasting CHRISTIAN hope in them.
Contrast this mentality with a renewed focus on Christian nationalism by some political and religious leaders in our public sphere, which asserts not only that the American nation was founded upon Judeo-Christian values, but ALSO that the government should take active steps to promote and favor it.
Hear me out: I favor my faith! I promote my faith - it’s called evangelism. But I DO NOT want my government, which cannot seem to run healthcare efficiently for our veterans, or even deliver a package without any hiccups, to serve as any kind of official endorser of Christianity.
But this is where some activists place their hope. You will hear their pleas in the form of phrases like, “Unless you vote for ______, America will never get back to its Christian values,” or in imperatives to “take America back for God.” Is this what God tells us to do in Scripture?
Peter does not tell Christians in Rome to force their communities to be Christian, or even to advocate that Christian values be upheld by the government. He tells them to set their hope on Jesus. We should do the same.
I understand that this is a difficult Word for many of us who grew up in days when Christianity was the unofficial, civil religion of our time. But in spite of this shift in our culture, we can still share and embody our faith in the public sphere in various ways. The following are just a few ways I try to do so, included not in an attempt to “toot my own horn,” but to provide ideas for others.
I am welcomed into our elementary school on a weekly basis to read with students, many of whom know me as “Pastor Matt,” even if they have never set foot inside our church. I provide this same school with Vacation Bible School fliers that they circulate yearly. I have led a Bible study with teachers and administration on this campus, and strive to continue to build relationships with them. I have also been able to speak to a high school class, during instructional time, about services offered to our community by our church.
Does this mean our public schools completely reflect Christian values in all they do? Of course, not. As a father, I regularly talk to my children about this fact. In the course of their education, they WILL encounter beliefs and attitudes which are contrary to Christian teaching. This could come in the form of remarks from their peers, ideas in curriculum, and yes, even books in their campus library. To a degree, this is expected from a public education system that does not share my explicit, Christian values.
Some feel it is their full-time, Christian duty to ensure that public spaces like this conform to their ideas. While I do not doubt the sincerity of such efforts, I find them misguided; not only because they place a disproportionate amount of hope in secular systems to “Christianize” a public space, but also because they discount the witness and influence that individual Christians can have in such spaces.
I am proud to know numerous, faithful Christians who work for our city, county, government, and schools. While my Christian hope is not ultimately in these public institutions for which they work, it IS in their commitment to share Christ in the culture in which they find themselves.
To quote a favorite hymn: “my hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”