We sometimes have tunnel vision with famous bible verses. This is certainly the case for Jeremiah 29:11. God certainly has a plan for us, but we frequently confuse our plan with God’s plan. The preceding verses to this well-known one offer great insight for what I will call our “public witness” as Christians.
For those who know my temperament and teaching style, you probably notice I rarely discuss controversial political issues. I shy away from these discussions because I simply believe that politics is one of the biggest idols in American culture. We worship the political process. In my own experience, the average person gets worked up more over a political issue they see on the nightly news, than a religious issue facing Christianity. Likewise, I don’t think many people consider themselves “Christian” in our culture as much as a “liberal” or “conservative.” You can see it in how they act. It deeply saddens me to see how angry people will get, ranting and raving on Facebook over an idea so trivial as taxes or demeaning a political opponent. (As a side note, I think I’ve “solved” this personal problem by not “hanging out” on social media that much. As they say, ignorance is bliss.)
But despite my conversational aversion to politics, there is an interesting point in Jeremiah 29 that I find convicting and insightful. God commands the Israelites to better the lives of those in their community (verse 7):
But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
Notice what Jeremiah doesn’t say in chapter 29. He never said to impose your values on others, forcing others to follow God. This is where I think many Christians mess up in the political arena. Instead, we must simply seek the best for others. If they benefit, we all benefit.
This is an important topic for Christians to grapple with. We should never be content serving our own needs. Instead, we ought to seek the betterment of society as a whole, regardless of whether people are Christian or not. We are called to live out our faith in public life. That includes how we invest our time, donate our money, vote in elections, and treat our neighbors. In the words of Jesus from Matthew 5:16, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
The Methodist tradition has a rich history of letting our light shine through our public witness. Many Methodists were involved in the abolitionist movement, fighting against the inhumane and evil practice of slavery. Methodists also helped with the temperance movement, noting the harms of abusing alcohol. Methodists have been involved in labor causes, promoting better working conditions and hours for those at the bottom of society. Methodists have also spoken out about funding programs for children, the elderly, and the disabled in our country.
I think our denomination’s approach to political issues is admirable. In our Social Principles we outline what the church teaches regarding many issues. I think we also “rise above” the noise and offer unique insight into highly controversial topics. An example of this would be abortion, which I’ve previously written about here.
You might be aware that there have been many prominent politicians from our denomination. George W. Bush and Elizabeth Warren are both Methodists. I think it is encouraging to see that there is enough diversity in the Methodist church to have two people on differing ends of the political spectrum. I’m sure if you talked with both, you would find a deep conviction that they want the best outcome for society.
I still think politics is a dicey issue. But my hope and prayer for my life and for other Christians is that we would always seek the welfare of the city. We do that through church missions. We do that through being welcoming of other people. We do that with how we behave in public. Jesus summarized this idea perfectly in Mark 12:29-31:
“The most important commandment,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second commandment is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”