Last year, as I pondered a New Year’s resolution, I came to terms with the reality that my penchant for sugar was slowly and unhealthily increasing my weight and likely putting me at risk for diabetes. I resolved to limit my intake of sweet things—cookies, ice cream, cakes, pies, candy, soda, juices—to one per day. While I’ve made a few exceptions (particularly during the holiday season), my ‘one sweet thing’ has been a relatively successful way for me to practice the principle of stewardship. This is the biblical teaching that everything we have and are belongs to God, not ourselves, and we have merely been entrusted with their care. Scripture tells each of us who follow Christ our “body is a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19); our bodies are not our own, and faithful discipleship compels us to be good stewards of our bodies.
As I begin 2012, I’m making a new resolution that relates to the principle of stewardship. I’m resolving to be a better steward of the influence God has entrusted to me as a citizen in the United States. It is both an incredible blessing and an incredible responsibility to be a citizen of one of the most powerful countries of the world. Because we live in a democracy—where elected officials make policy based on their understanding of the will of their constituents (or risk losing re-election)—every single American has a disproportionate level of influence over public policies that have dramatic impacts on billions of people both in our own country and around the world.
As a Christian, I don’t believe that it’s an accident I—or you, if you’re a U.S. citizen—have this influence because I believe in God’s sovereignty. I also don’t think those God allowed to be born as U.S. citizens merited a greater degree of influence, such that we might use it merely to better ourselves. Rather, like Esther, Nehemiah, or Moses in the Scriptures, I believe we have been entrusted with a certain degree of influence of government to serve a purpose larger than ourselves-to challenge those in authority to seek justice.
Many Americans doubt democracy really works, or that their voices—as opposed to those of lobbyists, campaign donors, or media personalities—really could influence how legislators vote. That’s probably why so many Americans—more than half of eligible voters—didn’t bother to vote at all in the 2010 general elections. In reality, though, elected officials are incredibly interested in the opinions of ordinary citizens who vote, and those who speak up—by calling, writing to, or meeting with their elected officials—provide the best data that elected officials have on how their approach to a given policy question is likely to affect their re-election prospects.
For example, not long ago, a Member of the House of Representatives—a very conservative Republican, who is also a strong evangelical Christian—told a group of pastors that I had organized to meet with him that he personally agrees with the sort of immigration reform that we were there to ask him to support. He said he receives so many calls and letters against that sort of legislation (including, he supposed, from members of the local churches they led) that it was a tough political decision for him, and he wouldn’t commit to voting for the legislation. Likewise, when Comprehensive Immigration Reform last came to a vote, under President Bush’s leadership in 2007, a number of legislators who had once supported the bill changed their minds when messages coming into their offices were running ten to one against in the days preceding the vote. The bill ultimately died. Ordinary citizens absolutely have a dramatic influence on policy decisions, but only when they care enough to speak up.
Those Americans who do vote or contact legislators tend to do so out of self-interest: which candidate will lower my taxes, or increase my access to governmental services? As Christians, though, we are called to think beyond ourselves. The Apostle Paul instructs us to “value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Phil. 2:3-4). The Church is, as William Temple once said, “the only institution that exists primarily for the benefit of those who are not its members.” What’s more, many of those affected by unjust political structures, both within the U.S. and around the world, actually are members of the Church—are our brothers and sisters in Christ—and stewardship of the influence God has entrusted to us requires that we speak up on their behalf.
In particular, Scripture commands we “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute” (Prov. 31:8). In a system where only the voices of those who can vote are of interest to most politicians, we should particularly seek to speak up for and with those who cannot vote, including children (born and unborn), those in other parts of the world affected by U.S. policies, and non-citizens living in the U.S.—including, of particular interest to regular readers of this blog, undocumented immigrants.
My resolution for this year is to consistently share my concerns for those who are vulnerable by writing at least once a week to one of my elected officials. For all that I write, talk, and pray about immigration reform issues, it’s been several months since I took ten minutes to write a letter—but I’m going to change that in 2012. I challenge you to do the same- if you plug your address and zip code in at www.votesmart.org, it will tell you who your elected officials are and their contact information.
You’re represented in Washington by two Senators, one Representative, and by the President, and you can rotate your letters to each of these individuals (as well as to state and local officials). You can write on any issue, but I ask you to consider including the need for immigration reform as you write: World Relief has prepared a sample letter you could use as a template. Resolving to write weekly to an elected official is one practical way we can steward the influence God has entrusted to us.
Matthew Soerens is the co-author of Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate (InterVarsity Press, 2009) and the US Church Training Specialist at World Relief. His blogs appear here on Mondays.
Please note that the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of everyone associated with G92 or any institutions with which the blogger may be affiliated.
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