Every election season reignites perennial debates over Christianity and politics. This time, at least in the Twitter-verse, they seem even more intense than usual, especially for a midterm election. While some voices loudly call the Church away from any political involvement to focus on more “spiritual” tasks, others appeal to the faithful to get more political. Just as the volume has escalated to a seemingly intolerable level, a set of tweets has come from across “the Pond,” offering a contribution both historical and helpful.
Glen Scrivener is an evangelist and the director of a ministry called Speak Life. He composed a tweet thread that pointed out—by looking at three key social transformations in history that were influenced by Christianity—essential insights about the “choice” between prayer and politics, between evangelism and voting. In each of these three cases, Christians helped change the world for the better by ignoring the either/or options presented today on social media.
For example, Christians played a central role in ending infanticide, especially by looking for and rescuing babies before the Roman emperor Valentinian I created laws against the killing of unwanted babies. In the case of the gladiatorial games, Christians did not only preach, but a monk named Telemachus martyred himself attempting to stop a duel, ultimately changing the heart of the Roman Emperor Honorius. And the abolition of slavery required both inspired preaching and British parliamentary law.
Scrivener’s point is that these three transformations occurred through not just the Church, and not just the State, but both. He offered five observations about the Church’s “Cruciform witness” which are worth quoting at length.
- Cruciform witness and political power have sometimes allied to achieve world-transforming goods. Let this challenge the quietists who have no place for political involvement.
- Each of these political transformations has included extraordinary shifts in hearts and minds. It’s therefore not naive to aim for social evils becoming “unthinkable.” In fact, that aim is a pretty good sign you’re after a thoroughly Christian transformation.
- Having said that… laws teach. The crowd that stoned Telemachus was not suddenly happy with the end of the games. Popularity should not decide whether evils should be outlawed. And sometimes laws play a role in teaching people what they should have learned from preaching.
- The Church carries a very different sword to the State—the sword of the Spirit, not the sword of violence and coercion. The Church must put away that sword. If the Church derides cruciform witness (dying well—dying in hope), it may be a sign we’ve taken up the wrong sword.
- All these historical transformations have been thoroughly Christian, but have not been uniformly left or right wing.*
Chuck Colson often talked about how God has given His people two commissions, not just one. The Great Commission, to make disciples of all nations, includes more than mere evangelism or good works. And, it is only properly understood in light of the Cultural Commission, which describes the original purpose and plan God had for His image bearers. Chuck Colson said it this way:
Christians are agents of God’s saving grace—bringing others to Christ. But we are also agents of His common grace: We’re to sustain and renew His creation, defend the created institutions of family and society, and critique false worldviews.
In each of the three cases Scrivener described, the Church did not impose anything. It proposed a better way. We do the same today, when we support unwed mothers at pregnancy resource centers, when we vote against ballot initiatives that threaten children, such as Prop 3 in Michigan, when we love those with gender dysphoria by sharing the truth about the harms of transgender ideology, or when we urge legislators to protect parental rights. This is what our “Cruciform witness” will look like today: faithful devotion to Christ leading to a loving engagement with a watching world.
Recently, Glen Scrivener was a guest on the Upstream podcast. You can listen to his interview with my colleague Shane Morris wherever you get your podcasts. And please, go vote today.
*Scrivener’s Twitter thread was edited for standardized conventions.
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