In the 2022 Leadership Institute plenary session, “Pursuit of Public Fidelity,” Vincent Bacote and Sandy Willson took questions from the audience in a variety of topics related to ministering in the public square.
In response to a question about discussing politics in the church, Willson noted that “we want our nations to have righteous laws, but we also want to be the people of grace.”
“You have to love people, but in doing that you will take some heat sometimes,” Willson said. “It’s always both/and in society as Christians. I think Peter is saying in his first epistle, ‘just behave yourselves.’ If there is injustice, let’s address it in the most humble and generous way we can. There are moments that we are just misbehaving like teenagers who don’t want to be told what to do.”
Addressing a question about political candidates, Bacote said “don’t expect candidates to be Messiah.”
“We act like we are electing a king, and then when they don’t act like we want we say, ‘I thought you were going to act like a monarch and rule by fiat.'”
Bacote reminded the audience that not all Americans are Christians.
“So how are you making some penultimate good in terms of public policy?” he asked. “It can’t just be a single-issue thing because most of politics is not a single issue. What kind of person are they? Do they want to be a public servant, or just someone being skillful in using rhetoric but their desire is for status or power. Are we in the service of their ambition?”
He emphasized that power itself is not necessarily a problem,
“How do you use it? How do you steward it? How do you direct it?” Bacote asked. “How are you going to implement justice if you don’t have power? So power is not the problem. The unique agency and opportunity we have is to be in this thing with sinful people. We recognize that some people will misuse power, but the fact of misuse doesn’t make the power itself the problem. Anything can be misused.”
Bacote is Professor of Theology and Director of the Center for Applied Christian Ethics at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. He is the author of The Political Disciple: A Theology of Public Life and The Spirit in Public Theology: Appropriating the Legacy of Abraham Kuyper.
Willson currently serves as Interim Senior Minister of Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Birmingham, Alabama. He served as Senior Pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tennessee, from 1998-2017, when he was named Pastor Emeritus.
The Leadership Institute is part of the EPC’s 42nd General Assembly, June 21-24 at Ward Church in Northville, Mich.
A recording of Bacote and Willson’s session will be available on the EPC website soon.