“You have to pick one of us!”
The year was 1985, and two spunky blondes from my fifth-grade class at Winfield Elementary School in Carroll County, Maryland, had me cornered. There was no place for me to escape. They wanted an answer — and they wanted it now. For the past few weeks, I had been writing notes and flashing smiles to two different girls in my class. I liked both of them, and after a few weeks’ exposure to my boyish charms, they both liked me. I thought this was a great situation.
The same heart that aches to see the salvation of the lost should yearn to see a nation return to its rich moral heritage.
Boy, was I wrong.
We were on a class field trip to a nearby museum when my two lovebirds swooped down on me by surprise. At that moment, I wished I was the bird that could fly away. “You have to pick one of us!” they demanded. It never dawned on me that these two girls might compare notes, but they were obviously much smarter than me. Now they were demanding a reckoning. Right here. Right now. Choose.
Many Christians find themselves in a similar predicament today when they feel pressured to choose between committed Christianity and political involvement. The tension is just as real as what I experienced in my elementary-school love triangle.
On the one hand, Christians know God calls us to an unwavering allegiance to Him and the eternal values of His kingdom. We are commanded to love Him with all our “heart, soul, and mind“ (Matthew 22:37) and to “seek first His kingdom” (Matthew 6:33). For the Christian, heartfelt worship, Bible study, spiritual growth, and seeing others transformed by Jesus are the things that should matter most. Do we really want to dirty our hands with the ugliness of American politics?
On the other hand, Christians also understand that as long as we live in this world, God wants us to be a force for what is true and good. When God gave the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:38), He was speaking to people living on earth — not in heaven. As we consider the present state of our nation, what could be better for our neighbors than fully engaging in the political process, so that everyone can benefit from better laws and more competent leaders?
Are you feeling the tension yet? Do you wish you could fly away? These two issues demand a reckoning.
Thankfully, Jesus gave us some much-needed counsel in the Gospels that can loosen the vise grip on our hearts. In Matthew 22, some snarky religious teachers tried to paint Jesus into a corner, hoping to humiliate Him. They wanted Him to choose a side between spiritual allegiance to God and participation in secular, civil matters — in this case, paying taxes.
Right here, Jesus. Right now. Choose.
But that is when Jesus gave a remarkable reply. “He said, ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.’ When they heard this, they were amazed.” (Matthew 22:21-22)
With this astounding answer, Jesus revealed that two unique spheres co-exist in our everyday lives. They are the spiritual and the secular — the heavenly and the earthly. Just like a parallel set of railroad tracks, these two realms run side-by-side while maintaining their individual distinctiveness. Jesus indicates that the answer to our dilemma comes when we realize we can be a passionate participant in both realms.
Christians can fulfill their spiritual responsibilities for God, while at the same time embracing their citizenship opportunities for the nation. In other words, it isn’t an either-or proposition.
The same mind that studies the Scriptures in pursuit of wisdom for living, should study the political candidates in pursuit of righteous leadership for government. The same hands that fold together in prayer should write to legislators pleading for better laws that protect our friends and families. The same heart that aches to see the salvation of the lost should yearn to see a nation return to its rich moral heritage.
What encouraging news this is for today’s stressed-out souls! We don’t have to decide whether we should be a devoted Christian or a politically involved citizen. We don’t have to choose between Bible reading on Sunday and casting a vote on Election Day. We can be both, and we can do both, as each opportunity arises.
As I look back now, I can’t help but chuckle when I think about those two little girls who saw right through my love notes and toothy grins. I learned a powerful lesson that day about romances: You have to make a choice, because only one at a time will work. But 30 years later, when I stop to assess what it means to be a committed Christian in a world filled with politics, I know exactly what the right choice is.
Right here. Right now. I choose both.
Ryan Day is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, where he has served for 17 years. He and his wife have six children.