Eugene Cho wants Christians to stop being jerks, especially in today’s increasingly contentious political climate.
In his new book, Thou Shall Not Be a Jerk: A Christian’s Guide to Engaging Politics, Cho urges readers to stop demonizing those they disagree with and instead follow Jesus and reflect His teachings.
Cho draws on personal stories, pastoral experience, and biblical examples to encourage Christians to vote their convictions while remembering that hope already arrived in the person of Jesus Christ.
“This book is meant to encourage and exhort readers with practical things, yet remind that God is still in control,” he told The Christian Post. “That’s not a license to disengage, but we need to remember that our hope rests in the good news that Jesus is Lord and Savior, and He will accomplish what He says He will do.”
Cho founded Quest Church in Seattle in 2001 alongside his wife, Minhee, and served there for 18 years before stepping down in 2018.
Passionate about the pursuit of God’s Kingdom here on this earth, the Korean-American pastor also founded One Day’s Wages, a nonprofit organization dedicated to alleviating extreme global poverty. Last week, he was announced as the new president of Bread for the World, a leading Christian anti-hunger and poverty organization.
Read CP’s interview with Cho below.
CP: In your book, you say you felt “called” to write Thou Shalt Not Be a Jerk. However, you’ve also expressed some trepidation about it. Why is that?
EC: There’s always a little nervousness anytime you write a book, but the topic itself in today’s cultural climate seems a little more contentious. Like Paul or Jesus, you want to be mindful of the context of the world you live in. I care about people; I’m shaped by the bookends of loving God and loving people. Yet we’re called to engage politics. It’s one expression of our discipleship.
As a follower of Jesus, I’ve been burdened by this chaotic and confusing time. About 10 years ago, I gave a sermon on the Ten Commandments of how Christians ought to engage politics. The genesis of this book came out of that sermon back then. As I wrote this book, fear enveloped me. There were at least four occasions where I stopped writing it, thinking it was too difficult and messy and there would be too much pushback. But I felt the Holy Spirit prompting me to keep going and write this book as an important resource for Christians at this time.
CP: Your first chapter is titled “Thou Shalt Not Go to Bed with Political Parties.” This can be a counterintuitive idea for many Christians in particular. What are some dangers with blindly backing any one party?
EC: I’m not suggesting we can’t be behind a particular candidate or give to a party, but there’s a borderline obsession that we’re seeing today. I wrote this book for three groups: those who have disengaged with politics for whatever reason, those who are engaged in politics but have become byproducts of what I would call cultural Christianity, but also for those who are obsessed with politics and allow politics to inform their theology as opposed to the other way around.
When we allow that to take place, it feels like we’ve gone to bed with political parties, that we’ve lost a sense of discernment and loyalty. We’re so behind a political candidate or party that it becomes idolatry. I believe politics are one of the main idolatries of our time.
CP: You talk about how being a Christian means embracing tension. What do you mean by that?
EC: If we’re human, if we live in this world, on this side of Heaven, we have to acknowledge that we’re resurrection people living in a broken Good Friday world. As a result, while we believe in the truth and beauty of the Gospel, we understand that the Kingdom has not yet fully arrived. The word to describe that is tension. Oftentimes, we want a black-and-white, binary perspective of everything. To be a Christian is to acknowledge we never relinquish the hope of the Gospel and resurrection, yet we’re living in this world. We need to learn what it means to be faithful in times of conflict.
CP: How can Christians engage in politics and be informed without sliding into fear or, conversely, pride?
EC: We have to acknowledge that no political party monopolizes the Kingdom of God. In my pride, I think I’m right, but I have to acknowledge my blind spots and imperfections. I’m not God and there’s no way my thoughts and views encapsulate the Kingdom of God. I think it begins with humility. Now, convictions are important, I’m not endorsing being soft. It’s good and important to have convictions about our views, our thoughts, and about the Gospel.
We need to be informed. There are lots of new sources, lots of headlines and clickbait on the internet. We need to make a commitment to be informed and stay informed so what moves me in my decision-making process isn’t fear or pride, but wisdom.
CP: You stress the importance of relationships for building bridges and for listening. Talk to me about why that’s important.
EC: While we live in this tension, it’s important to remember that the Great Commandment that encapsulates all laws is to love God and love people. To love people, we have to acknowledge it doesn’t mean we’re called to just love those who think like me and vote like me. Jesus gave us the beatitudes to be a guiding light for us. There’s a difference between being political and partisan. Sometimes, we become so enamored with a political party that we become fundamentalistic in our views, forgetting that parties change over time.
We need to have a commitment to listen and make sure we’re not surrounding ourselves with a bubble or echo chamber. That means breaking bread with people we disagree with. It may not change our views, but it helps us humanize those who disagree with us on passionate issues.
CP: How has your work with One Day’s Wages influenced your political views?
EC: One Day's Wages is a grassroots humanitarian organization that my family started over 10 years ago. What compels us is our faith. It’s the most important thing in our work, marriage and family. And as imperfect human beings who love Jesus, we don’t just want to have a theological concept of what it means to love Jesus, we want to live this out in our community and have it impact everything we do.
Faith isn’t just about me and myself. My faith informs my politics, as opposed to the other way around. One Day’s Wages is about followers of Jesus loving their neighborhoods and cities and defining what it means to be a good neighbor to those who don’t share my zip code, facial features and religious affiliation. As followers of Jesus, we need to remember “Imago Dei.” We are all made in the image of God.
CP: How should Christians navigate the 2020 election?
EC: That’s the quintessential question a lot of people are asking me. I’m not going to tell people who to vote for, but I think we should be reminding ourselves: What are we about? What are the values we’re about? What are the ethics that guide and shape and inform us? Are we caring for the vulnerable and marginalized?
It’s a very complex question because I have a Gospel-conviction about the sanctity of life, from womb to tomb. I believe the sanctity of life goes beyond American life to around the world. That’s why I mentioned there’s no possible way a single party can encapsulate my convictions. It’s about being informed, prayerful, discerning, doing due diligence to vote and to engage, but also reminding ourselves that if we reduce our civic engagement as citizens and Christians to one vote every two or four years, we’re part of the problem. This isn’t something we just do every two or four years. To love our neighbors means to be light and salt every day.
My prayer is that this book will encourage and challenge the church, and that means people on all sides of the political spectrum.