The last thing Eugene Cho wanted to write a book about was politics.
In fact, Cho said he quit writing his latest book, “Thou Shalt Not Be A Jerk: A Christian’s Guide to Engaging Politics,” four times.
The pastor, author and founder of the nonprofit One Day’s Wages kept imagining the criticism he would receive. Nowadays, he noted, it seems like there is no “middle ground” in politics or anything else, “no nuance in how we’re navigating certain conversations.”
But he also kept feeling compelled — by the Holy Spirit, he said — to finish the book.
“There’s a lot of folks in the middle that are trying to bumble and stumble our way through,” he said. “We take our faith seriously, we know politics matters because it informs policy and that impacts people, and we’re just trying to figure that out as best as we can as followers of Jesus.”
“Thou Shalt Not Be A Jerk” released this weekend ahead of Super Tuesday (March 3), when the largest number of states vote in primary elections and caucuses on one day.
In the run-up to November’s general election, Cho said, “I would say obviously this is an important election.”
He’s not naïve, he said. He believes God is sovereign. But he also believes that doesn’t preclude him from caring about what happens.
“God is sovereign and I choose to care and I believe that it matters,” he said.
“Politics and foreign policies impact real human people, and so, yes, it does matter. But, you know, I won’t go as far as to say it’s the most important and everything for all eternity is going to hinge upon this election.”
He also would never encourage Christians to vote reflexively with a single political party — either Republican or Democrat.
Cho talked to Religion News Service about the 10 commandments of engaging in politics in his book “Thou Shalt Not Be A Jerk” and about a better way for Christians to take on the subject in a contentious election year. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You write in the introduction to this book that you are “deeply concerned and, at times, deeply grieved by the state of political affairs in our society.” Why is that?
I wrote the book for three groups of people: There’s a group of folks that have altogether disengaged from politics for whatever reason, including some folks that believe politics isn’t really part of the responsibility of Christians in any form or fashion. I’m also writing this book for a group of folks that I feel like have made politics our idolatry of our time — that we’re so obsessed by it, it justifies everything we do because of our ideology. And then I think there’s another group of people that are kind of enamored by the power of politics, and rather than our theology informing our politics, it feels as if our politics informs our theology.
I think this is part of the reason why there are a lot of folks just wondering why and how are Christians acting in the way they are or choosing to say certain things during this political climate and season.
Your first commandment is “Thou shalt not go to bed with political parties.” What do you think is a better way for Christians to engage politics beyond voting for a particular political party?
I think it’s actually OK to identify with a political party. I think it’s OK to support a politician. I think it’s OK to donate to a campaign. I don’t think those things are bad. But I think there is a distinction when we’re so immersed in a particular party and its power that we’re unwilling to think objectively and to discern and realize that it’s just crazy to think a political party can monopolize or encapsulate the kingdom of God.
It’s a question I often get from folks that are just trying to navigate these waters: Are you a Republican or Democrat? That’s the question we often ask people. We want to box them in and identify them in this way. And my response to people is, “Well, what are we talking about? What is the topic we’re talking about?” Because it’s impossible, at least for me, to identify exclusively with only one political party.
And I think that’s what I mean: When we go to bed with a particular political party, if we’re not careful, we end up being more tribal, and we’re unwilling to challenge our own party or sentiments or views. One of the things I write about in the book is my concern that our politics is shaping our theology rather than our theology shaping our politics.
Why is it important for Christians to bring their faith into their politics?
The word politics has kind of a negative connotation for some, and I think what we have to understand is that politics is just a natural process of governance of any healthy society. And, as Christians, we’re called to love God and love people. When we read the Sermon on the Mount, when we read the Beatitudes, it gives us an ethic of how we’re to live our lives, including how we interact with other people, as well.
So the reason why politics matters is because it informs policies which ultimately impact people. And the last time you and I checked out the Bible, God cares about people, including those who are forgotten or marginalized or vulnerable. So, yes, I think it really matters.
I hear a lot of pastors also push back at me and say, “Christians — and pastors especially — shouldn’t discuss politics at all.” But if we’re not discipling our church folks, if we’re not having these conversations, the reality is they’re being discipled by other things, other people, other sources, other cable news, other pundits. And that’s, I think, part of the reason why we’re in this conundrum.
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Source: Religion News Service