Is it still possible to live as faithful Christians in the public sphere? Increasingly, it feels like it is a struggle for many, especially when we feel like we’re always having to choose between two evils.
North American society is genuinely more divided than ever. So, too, are Christians. Everywhere we turn there seems to be disagreement on every major and minor issue. And Christians who want to be faithful to Jesus often feel stuck.
Many of us see the views and attitudes presented by social and political progressives as problematic, to say the least.1 Actually, problematic is too soft a word. They are issues we recognize as damaging to human flourishing. Matters of human dignity for women and children at all stages of life—and even human identity—are chief among them.
But even so, we feel the relentless pressure to accept and celebrate attitudes and beliefs we cannot. We’re concerned about being accused of being racist, bigoted, or phobic in some way, even as the definitions these terms are stretched beyond their breaking point by self-appointed activists and the perpetually offended.
Likewise, many of us see the views and attitudes presented by social and political conservatives as problematic.2 Again, problematic is too soft a word. They are issues we recognize as damaging to human flourishing. For this wing of ideological politics, those matters revolve around matters of human dignity, and of justice, mercy, and compassion.
As with their progressive counterparts, we feel the pressure to accept and celebrate attitudes and beliefs we cannot. We’re concerned about being labeled as “woke,” “sheeple,” or whatever other pejorative is pressed into use by weirdos craving a dopamine hit or needing to sell ad space.
Are we really stuck in the middle of two evils?
We’re stuck in between two competing ideologies, both offering the same two choices. We can enlist in the culture war or capitulate. Fight our ideological opponents using their tactics—fight fire with fire as it were—or surrender our convictions. Fight or flight. Succumb to un-Christian belief or to an un-Christian spirit.
We feel like we’re stuck between two evils. But we’re not, at least not entirely. I think Spurgeon was right to say, “…of two evils, choose neither.”3
The better way beyond two evils
Being faithful Christians means we don’t have to accept false dichotomies, as though one of two evils is less bad. We don’t have to only choose A or B in every ideological debate. The better way—the harder way—is to refuse to compromise on either our doctrine or our character. After all, we cannot separate the great commandments. We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and strength. At the same time, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 26:36–40).
Jesus didn’t feel the need to separate these two commandments. And if Jesus didn’t feel that need, neither should we. Instead, recognizing that he intentionally put them together, we must follow his example. And in doing so we can pursue convictional kindness.
Convictional kindness and faithful witness
While the language isn’t in the Bible, the concept of convictional kindness is deeply rooted in it. It’s what Peter describes in 1 Peter 3:8–9. Of maintaining a focus on the gospel such that we readily hold steady to our love for God and our love for others. That we can be sympathetic—and empathetic—to the experiences of others. We can show compassion to those who are tempted to fight, those tempted to flee, and even those who want to discredit us.
It’s a perspective that requires us to pursue humility, which naturally means it’s really difficult. But it’s worth pursuing. It’s worth making this our aim because it is truly what it means to live faithfully. To be Christians in the public sphere.
Convictional kindness in practice4
Convictional kindness calls us to live in harmony within the church and to reject the temptation to repay evil for evil. it keeps us focused on Jesus and allows us to be a blessing to the world through our conduct in it—even if that blessing is seen as a curse by those around us. And this means that if Jesus is who and what we’re all about, then we can expect to experience conflict.
We can’t not, especially if so much of what the world says is good is opposed to God (which it is). When we defend the oppressed, when we speak up against evil, when we engage with the world to bless the world, we’re going to be opposed. So we need to embrace this truth because it is better to “suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3:17).
Regarding Christ as holy—all the time
When we do experience conflict because of our faith in Jesus, do you know what we’re supposed to do? We don’t need to run away, and we don’t need to put our hope in people who will let us down. Instead, Peter says, “Do not fear them or be intimidated, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, ready at any time to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:14–15).
To regard Christ as holy means to remember who he is—remember that he is God. He is the literal king of the universe, the One who came into this world as a human being, suffered, died, and rose again to save people like us. People who reject him, who put their trust in people and structures and pretend gods that will always let them down. The very kinds of people who insulted, demeaned, abused, and ultimately murdered him. And what did he do? He did not repay evil for evil. He did not respond in kind to those who mistreated him. Instead, He blessed them. He blessed us.
When we think about the kind of Christians we ought to be, that’s what it comes down to. We remember Jesus, we focus on him, and when we eventually are disparaged for our faith, when we are given the side-eye by fellow believers, or called ignorant or bigots because of what we believe, we point to Jesus as the answer. We believe, and we don’t stop believing, and we keep acting out of our belief because Jesus is real. He is God, and someday, either when we die or when he returns to this world, we will live with him forever (Revelation 22:3–5).
The life we should want to pursue
So back to the question: is it possible to still be a faithful Christian in the public square? Absolutely. But culture warring isn’t the answer, and neither is capitulation. Convictional kindness is the answer. It’s the answer that allows us “to seek to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, so that you may behave properly in the presence of outsiders and not be dependent on anyone” (1 Thessalonians 4:11–12).
To be the kind of people who love the Lord with all our being, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. It is difficult, and we’re going to make mistakes along the way. But this is the vision that I believe we need. It is the vision I aim to live by. And, by God’s grace, it is what I want to see take root in the hearts of everyone who claims the name of Jesus. Because when we get this, we might feel a little less like we’re stuck between two evils, and better equipped to show the world—and one another—that a better way is possible.
- For what it’s worth, I don’t believe that progressive ideology is actually progressing anything. It all generally points to a degradation of humanity.
- And for what it’s worth, I don’t believe many conservatives actually are. To be a conservative requires exercising prudence in light of a clear vision for society based on identifiable principles.
- The full quote is found in a footnote in this article: “And, dear friends, we need keeping from an evil spirit. I do not know which I should prefer, – to see one of my dear Christian brethren fall into doctrinal error, or into an un-Christian spirit. I would prefer neither, for I think this is a safe rule, – of two evils, choose neither” (MTP 52:315). While the author of the cited article suggests this quote has nothing to do with politics, I disagree. Insufficient and simplistic approaches to politics almost always try to force us to choose between these two.
- The following is adapted from I’m a Christian—Now What?: A Guide to Your New Life with Christ (Bellingham WA: Lexham Press, 2023), 129–131.