this weekend between the Republican and Democratic National Conventions—a brief
pause between “Please like us; we’re
nicer than we seem” (the Republican theme) and “Please don’t leave us; we’re doing the best we can” (the Democratic theme)—I
am remembering a few principles which shape my view of politics.
God does not
play favorites—with nations or political parties
.  God is neither an American, nor a Democrat,
nor a Republican.    Charles Marsh,
professor at the University of Virginia, was right to say, “God would be in
every way God without America” (Wayward
Christian Soldiers
, p. 49).  I’d add
that God does not live in sweaty anxiety over America’s national elections, as
if the tender strength of God’s love waxed or waned with the rise and fall of
parties and candidates.
The agenda of
the Kingdom of God transcends, something judges and sometimes affirms, aspects
of all “political” arrangements
.  Christians understand the
charter of God’s realm to be the Sermon on the Mount, our understanding and interpretation
of which, like our understanding and interpretation of all other sacred texts, are
partial and incomplete.  What’s more, implementation
of our understanding is complex. 
Political alignments are not ultimate. 
We make them in full recognition that political processes and governmental
policies, like all things human, “fall short of the glory of God.”   
God, whose
character, I believe, is most fully revealed in Jesus, works by persuasion, not
One result of
this conviction is a strong commitment to freedom of conscience, faith, and
opinion for everyone.  Since God does not
coerce, neither should we.  Since God
works by persuasion, we honor the liberty of all people to express their
opinions, advance their views, practice their faiths, and vote their
convictions.  The only limits on such
liberty are those which prevent one person’s freedom from infringing
unreasonably on another’s.  John Leland
(1754-1841), Baptist minister and religious liberty advocate, said: “Let every
man speak freely without fear, maintain the principles that he truly believes,
worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or
twenty Gods; and let government protect him in doing so.”
The most
powerful witness the church can bear is by being the church, not by exercising political
When the
church is a community of compassion and servanthood, it shows the culture a
viable alternative to a jungle of competition and selfishness.  When the church practices generosity, because
it trusts in God’s abundance, it provides a compelling contrast to the
marketplace of consumption and greed. 
When the church lives by truth and truthfulness, it shows people that society
need not be a vanity fair of hype, deception, and distortion.  When the church treats people the way Jesus
would treat them—not as strangers, but as friends; not as constituents, but as
neighbors; not as “them” but “us”—the church points toward the possibility of a
world at peace, reconciled, and healed.  The
church makes its most powerful “political” statements when it lives like
Jesus.  As  Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder put it:
“The most effective way to contribute to the preservation of society in the
old aeon is to live in the new” (The
Priestly Kingdom