Over the last few months, as the election neared, I found myself in conversation with members of my church and broader community not only about politicians running for office, but also about policy that shapes our country. Perhaps because of a growing number of non-partisan organizations such as the And Campaign seeking to educate Christians on issues of public policy and civic engagement, it seemed that many Christians I know were eager to engage in policy discussions in this election cycle. But one dynamic that became clear in these discussions was that not all Christians are equally concerned about all policy matters. Of course it would be naïve to expect that, but as I listened to friends and neighbors I noticed some trends.
As I engaged with other pastors and ministry leaders I found that, not surprisingly, the policy matters we discussed most were mostly “social issues” that tend to have a moral component. Even in traditions that shun overtly endorsing candidates or parties, many pastors feel compelled to speak to societal issues that they believe are addressed by Scripture – from the expected, issues like abortion and religious liberty, to more contested issues such as immigration and healthcare.
Economic wisdom is about more – and less
Not long before the election David Platt published a very short and helpful book entitled Before You Vote in which he gave some guiding questions for Christians as we engage the political process. In the final chapter he proposes a framework by which Christians can evaluate policy issues in terms of two factors: biblical clarity and practical consequences. For good reason pastors tend to speak more to issues that are high on the biblical clarity scale, regardless of practical consequences. Economic wisdom issues, by contrast, are relatively low on the biblical clarity scale.
You will be hard-pressed to find a proof-text from Scripture to inform how the US should negotiate trade with foreign nations or regulate large businesses. But these issues may be much higher in practical consequences than we realize from the vantage point of our profession. As I engaged in conversations with other Christians who work in the marketplace it became clear that while they do care about social issues that pastors are more inclined to speak to, many of them are also equally or more concerned with economic issues. And I must confess that as a pastor in a fairly affluent community, I have often assumed the worst about these concerns.
There is no doubt that money is one of the greatest idols of our community and to the extent that one votes only in the interest of increasing their personal wealth, we as pastors should be quick to remind our churches that even in our voting we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. But it does not take much digging to figure out if the economic concerns of someone in business are more than self-centered idolatries.
The working lives of those in our local church
Simple questions begin to reveal that in many cases, questions about potential changes in taxation, regulation, or trade can affect how many people a company can employ or cost of production (which, of course, affects costs for consumers). These realities have a significant impact on the flourishing of workers and entire communities. While a community’s holistic health cannot be measured in purely economic terms, it is also impossible to imagine a flourishing community in which the material needs of people go unmet or people are deprived of meaningful work opportunities. And of course the politicians we elect significantly shape the policies that determine those economic outcomes.
All too often when pastors discuss the state of the economy it sounds like the only important economic outcome is congregants’ ability to give to the mission of the local church. Even if we know that the implications of economic policy are far more complex than that, perhaps we are missing a valuable opportunity to engage the working lives of our congregants. I am not suggesting that pastors all of a sudden become experts in economic policy or begin stumping for candidates for the sake of economic outcomes. But one lesson I hope to have learned in this election cycle is the opportunity an election provides to learn more about the work of people in my congregation and community.
Simple questions like, “How would you expect the outcome of the election to affect your business?” can result in all sorts of insights into the vocational lives of our congregants.
Our role in flourishing communities
My immediate community has an unusually high number of medical professionals. Changes in our healthcare system significantly impact their vocational lives. I recently talked to a pastor in Texas and, not surprisingly, he shared how the impact of every presidential administration on the oil industry affects his community.
Church communities in big cities, in which many people work for large companies, will be affected differently than communities in places where small businesses employ most of the population. Even policy around immigration, while not overtly economic, obviously influences industries that depend on immigrant labor to survive.
As pastors, we will always have more to learn about the nuances of jobs and industries that we only observe from afar. But my hope is that in the future we can take advantage of some of the unique opportunities of an election season to continue that learning process for flourishing communities, churches, and our neighbors.