A classic challenge to Christian involvement in the political realm is “Why waste time with politics when we ought to be focused on proclaiming the Gospel?” Or, more recently, the question seems to be, “How can we defend marriage legally when Christian marriages are in such bad condition?” Rather than fighting the so-called culture wars, some Christian leaders say we need to focus our energies on living as healthy examples of the values we claim to hold dear. Should Christians disengage from politics in order to focus on Gospel proclamation and living as examples to the world?
Last week, I exhorted our readers to remember our brothers and sisters in Christ who are being heavily persecuted in Egypt and Syria. As I’ve been reading about the atrocities committed throughout Egypt this week I’ve been struck by a few simple reasons why political engagement and Gospel proclamation ought not to be an either/or proposition.
1. It’s better for churches to not be fire-bombed than it is to be fire-bombed. Priest Selwanes Lotfy of the Virgin Mary in Minya, Egypt sadly reported earlier this week, “We did not hold prayers in the monastery on Sunday for the first time in 1,600 years.” The reason services were cancelled? Mohammed Morsi supporters destroyed the monastery which included three churches. Weekly preaching within the walls of a church building may not be the only form of Gospel proclamation available to us but it’s a pretty good one. Preserving the freedom to do so requires political engagement, no? I’m sure many of these Christians lived decent, godly lives serving as examples and witnesses to their community but their church was still set on fire. Is it worth the effort to preserve political and cultural environments where Christians have the liberty to exercise religion without fear of being fire-bombed? Or is that fighting a culture war?
2. It’s better for Christian teachers to not be seized and sexually assaulted than it is to be seized and assaulted. Sisters Manal, Abeer, Demiana, and other school employees suffered through a six-hour rampage of the Franciscan school in Bani Suef where they “saw a mob break into the school through the wall and windows, loot its contents, knock off the cross on the street gate and replace it with a black banner resembling the flag of al-Qaida.” According to the AP, the nuns were taken from the school and paraded through the streets like “prisoners of war.” In what Sister Manal called a “very nasty” incident, two female employees of the school “had to fight their way out of the mob, while groped, hit and insulted by the extremists.”
Sister Manal had previously been warned that her school was being targeted by Muslim extremists because “it was giving an inappropriate education to Muslim children” despite the fact that the school an equal number of Christian and Muslim students. Preserving the freedom to operate Christian schools requires political engagement, no? Those who are calling Christians to withdraw from the culture wars would probably applaud alternative efforts such as operating schools to provide a high-quality education to children of all races and religions. Don’t we want the rule of law, religious liberty, and freedoms of association and conscience to be preserved in order for Christians to offer such an education? Or would that be culture warring?
3. It’s better for Christians to not have their heads sawed off than it is to have their heads sawed off. In July a 60-year-old Christian merchant, Magdy Habashi, was abducted from the town of Sheikh Zweid and murdered by “militants.” Egyptian authorities discovered his decapitated body in a cemetery with his head placed upon his chest. The blood of martyrs may be the seed of the church but I’d really rather not be beheaded by jihadists.
On August 6th, 10-year-old Egyptian Jessi Boulus was shot and killed on her way home from Bible class. Her parents, along with anyone using common sense, believe she was targeted because of her religion. Jessi’s father stated, “I’m telling you in the West that your taxes and government money go towards supporting the killing here – by funding Islamist political parties.”
If I live an exemplary life as the most pious man in my city, will that have any effect on my lifeblood in the form of taxes being used to support Islamists in Egypt? Is it possible to be totally committed to Gospel-proclamation while also involving myself in efforts to call for the cessation of U.S. funding of foreign extremists? Christians all across America had no problem speaking loud and clear when a 17-year-old was shot and killed on his way home from a convenience store. Are we wasting time fighting a culture war if we speak out just as loudly and clearly when a 10-year-old girl is shot and killed on her way home from a Bible study?
Yes, this world is not our home. We’re merely exiles passing through. So, do Christians have a vested interest in whether or not the American experiment continues? We still have many freedoms in America but that may not always be the case. Do we really believe that what’s happening in Egypt could never happen here? In order to preserve our liberties, we have to understand them and be prepared to defend them but, practically speaking, that’s fighting the “culture war.” Jesus taught us that we are blessed when others persecute us on his account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven (Matthew 5:11-12). Persecution may ultimately come for us all but we don’t have to hasten it’s arrival by leaving “politics” to those who have no regard for liberty.