Teddy Roosevelt’s speech, Citizenship in a Republic, contains his remarks on being in the arena—they are some of his most famous and most oft-quoted words.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat….
Christians know our true citizenship is in heaven. What are we to do as citizens of a country on earth? The Bible is clear that we have a duty to obey the law, except when that would mean disobedience to God. We’re also to pray for those in authority over us. In some countries Christians have little opportunity to have a direct influence on government or a voice on public policy, although the witness of their lives and of their words about Christ can bear influential fruit and be used by God to change the course of a government. Those of us who are citizens of a country like the United States have a unique opportunity to speak and act. We have a Christian heritage from the days of our early settling and the founding of our nation. Indeed, we were founded by Christians who stepped into the political arena.
In Sitting on Sidelines “Not an Option” for Faithful, Ken McIntyre links to an excellent column by Jennifer A. Marshall on Christians in the political arena, The Christian Calling to Citizenship. This is one of the best things I’ve read on Christians living as citizens in this world. Here is a small excerpt. Consider her words.
…A biblical worldview ought to produce a distinct political apologetic about why and how to engage in politics for the glory of God and the good of our neighbors.
Whether daunted by the complexity of the issues, reacting to partisan rancor, or dubious about the value of the political process generally, many believers simply keep their distance from politics. But disengagement is not appropriate—or even possible. The exercise of citizenship is a matter of stewardship for the Christian….
Christian citizenship begins with solid systematic theology. A political philosophy is most secure when it rests on the bedrock of biblical anthropology. A biblical worldview provides a unique vantage point on the individual as image of God and on institutions ordained by God for certain roles and responsibilities in society. What we believe about the nature and purpose of human beings shapes our perspective on public policy, from abortion to welfare to international relations. What we know about the roles and responsibilities of family, church, and government influences our understanding of the society ordered toward true human flourishing….
A former pastor used to say that God has morally underwritten His universe. Even as fish were created by God to swim in the sea and birds to fly in the sky, we flourish as human beings when our institutions reflect God’s moral order. Short-term hedonism brings long-term harm. This isn’t setting up a theocracy, this is the reality in which people live whether or not they believe in God. Are we happiest when we know the love and support of our family members and demonstrate compassion for each other? Are our children happiest in the security of a mother and father who love them and each other, and are committed and faithful for life? Are we happiest when met with truth and kindness from our fellow human beings? Are we happiest when government acts justly to secure our rights and protect us from those in society bent on doing us harm?
Politics brings together fallen human beings with transcendent longings to sort out our temporal lives together. Christians are called not just to engage in but to ennoble that endeavor. With a biblical understanding of the nature and purpose of human beings as individuals and in God-ordained institutions, Christians are equipped to pursue human flourishing in its fullest sense.
As citizens of a self-governing society, one of our callings is to steward the rights and responsibilities of our political order. Sitting on the sidelines is not an option. Some are called to public policy; some have an avocational passion for politics proper. But all are called to basic stewardship of the gift of political freedom and the goal of true human flourishing….
All Christians are to be informed and know the issues of our day. God has different roles for each of us. William Wilberforce and his colleagues were used by God to abolish the slave trade in the British empire. Theirs was not the social “gospel” of liberal theologians severed from the gospel of Christ; they worked against the slave trade because they were Christians and loved their neighbor as themselves.
Some of the hottest issues of today revolve around replacing home and family with the state and around a view of man that denies his worth and value as a being made in the image of God. We have children, relatives, friends, and neighbors who are assaulted with the propaganda and teachings of the world. As Christians we can speak to these issues and help keep them from a path that leads to destruction. Some of us are more adept than others in explaining our faith and explaining a Christian under- standing of institutions of family and state, but stepping into the arena can bring growth to all of us in our understanding and dependence on God. It can also bring profound gratitude as we understand the benevolence of God in ordaining these institutions for our well-being.
There is a spiritual element to the political arena that we dare not forget, and we are depend- ent on God. It is easy to lose our way and lose our balance. We cannot become so mired in this world that all we see is our temporal surroundings.
“At heart, all political problems are moral and religious problems.” Our understanding of God and man and our understanding of right and wrong in responsibilities and relationships deter- mines our culture and our politics. You and I may not have great influence in and of ourselves, but that is not our concern. Our concern is to be faithful to God at the point in the battle to which He has called us—however public or private, however lowly or influential—we are to be good stewards where He has placed us.
Step into your arena.
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