Impose or Propose? Why We're Involved in Politics (part 1)

With so many offices and issues on the electoral ballot this coming November, I’ve found myself thinking about the bigger picture lately. As I brace myself for the two major party conventions and the onslaught of political information and advertising that will drown us after Labor Day, I’ve been thinking about a much larger question: why are Christians involved politically? Or to put it another way, what exactly are we trying to do when we vote, campaign, call or write a congressman, or use our political voice in some other way?

I want to suggest that broadly speaking there are two very different ways that politics can be approached. And I submit that most people make one of these two assumptions whether they realize it or not. The first way is to Impose, while the second is to Propose (I’m borrowing the terminology from Chuck Colson, but what follows is pretty much my own thinking). I should also add that these assumptions apply equally to those within the Christian faith and those outside it, but consistent with the purpose of this blog I’ll focus on Christians.

Impose: using our voice to make things the way we think they ought to be.
This view sees politics as a debate over power: a gigantic dogfight over who will get the biggest slice of the public policy pie. And the winner is expected to use his bigger slice of power to further his agenda, running roughshod over the loser in the process. The impose view:

  • Sees politics as a tool to shape culture
  • Views politics as the primary battlefield. This is the feeling that “our guy won, so therefore we’re making progress!” A legislative win is a life win.
  • Is what focused. This perspective rarely reaches beyond which candidates get elected, which laws get passed, and where the dollars are flowing.

Propose: using our voice to advocate for a better way of life.
This view sees political involvement as one of many facets of my life. Further, it recognizes that my entire life as a Christian (including politics) is a witness to the truth of Jesus and the reality of the Biblical worldview. In contrast to the impose view, the propose view:

  • Recognizes that politics is downstream from culture. In a representative government like ours, public policy is a reflection of the attitudes and values of the citizenry, rather than the other way around. In other words, passing laws isn’t likely to change many people’s opinions.
  • Guards against a “salvation through legislation” mentality. This view recognizes that there’s more to it than getting the right people elected or the right laws passed. The hearts and minds of people are in view.
  • Is why focused. While not ignoring laws or candidates, in this perspective I stay focused on why people disagree with me. And I make it my aim to propose a better way of life than the one they’re convinced of.

The impose view seeks to defeat the opposition. The propose view seeks to convert them.
The impose view talks down to opponents. The propose view talks with them, and anyone who will listen.
The impose view gloats with victory. The propose view recognizes political wins as one piece of a much larger puzzle.
The impose view shouts and demeans opponents. The propose view learns how to make the case that its ideas are a better way to live: a great proposal.

In the next couple posts I want to play a bit with the difference between these two in real life, and look at two great historical examples of Christians who pursued the propose view, and radically changed their world for Christ in the process.


Ken said...


Uh oh. You are mixing politics and religion. Are you trying to make some people’s heads explode? Don’t worry about me – I’m always up for a good discussion.

I would say that the current political mood in this country, as portrayed in mainstream media, is one of Impose. In the last fourteen years, it’s been about winning. And, in my opinion, it has only gotten worse the last eight years. The power plays in both houses of Congress, between Congress and the White House have brought this country to a screaming halt. There are serious issues facing our republic, and it simply cannot be boiled down to one or two hot-button issues.

It will be interesting to see where this goes. I have my own way of approaching things, but they don’t always fit in with mainstream views. You know I’ll tune in for the follow-ups.


PS – Did you post this from your local Peet’s?

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