Americans are just a week away from Thanksgiving, one of my favorite holidays. What better way to turn your mind to God than to hold a feast to remind ourselves that we receive so many blessings thanks to a good God who controls the circumstances of our lives.
It’s a reminder I need—I think we all need—after a brutal year, including a brutal presidential campaign.
Two days before the U.S. election, a neighbor told me how she can’t wait for the pandemic to ease so she can take another trip to Washington, D.C. “Just driving by the monuments,” she said, “you feel this energy—this is where it all happens.”
Then on election day, I spoke to a British friend who enthusiastically became a U.S. citizen this year—even after his initial citizenship ceremony was delayed due to COVID. I asked if he had voted, since he now could. “No, I didn’t get around to registering,” he said. “I don’t want either one of these guys, anyway.” What he was excited about though is Thanksgiving. “The food is just SO good. I eat for days.”
While I think both of these attitudes are a bit off target, my British friend is closer to the mark. We should vote and engage vigorously in politics—it too is part of God’s world. But life does not, as my neighbor claimed, all happen due to political decisions. In fact, very little of it does. There is so much else to life—things to enjoy and even things to worry about. We shouldn’t make it all about politics.
No Christian would say they do this. But I worry we’re trending this way.
Check out the chart below, published by Eastern Illinois University political scientist Ryan Burge over at Religion Unplugged. In it, white evangelicals (like me) were asked to place themselves, Republicans, and Democrats in ideological space. And as you can see below, there is so little difference between being evangelical that you can hardly see the gray circles marking evangelicals. In most years, they are almost precisely overlapped by the circles marking Republicans.
There are many good reasons for evangelicals to be aligned with Republicans—reasons I myself continue to find persuasive. The party tends to be for religious freedom, against abortion, and against expanding the size of government to the point it crowds out valuable work done by private organizations, including churches, private schools and hospitals, and parachurch ministries.
But this tendency to equate religious and political identity has, I fear, resulted in a narrowing of our key religious beliefs to those that are key political issues. At the very least, this tendency narrows our cultural engagement to primarily the political. The Bible gives us wisdom for all of faith and life. That should include politics, but it should also include so much more.
That life-size worldview means we should be active in politics, but also in churches, schools, offices, and neighborhood barbecues. It means our attitudes about whether the country is going in a good or bad direction should be based on more than whether our preferred politicians won the last election or the last news cycle. It means we should spend more of our time cultivating relationships and communities of relationships than we do reading and raging about the news out of Washington, D.C.
It may even mean we side with our political opponents on some issues, because they have rightly identified a gap in our communities that is going unaddressed—even if we disagree with their method of addressing it. Because improving our communities is more important than politics. In fact, it’s why politics even exists.
Improving our communities takes more than politics to do well. But in God’s grace, he has given our communities so many blessings—so many that people from all over the world still want to move here to be part of them.
So when I sit down for the big meal at the end of this month, I plan to say thanks that I was able to participate in politics this year. But I’ll also give thanks that life is much more than politics.