Even if they come via fortune cookies.
I recently had lunch with my wife at one of our favorite Chinese and sushi places in Radford (of course, it's really the only sushi place in our small town, but Nagoya is delicious nonetheless). Within my fortune cookie, I discovered a profound little statement: "Faith is personal, but never private." While this profound quip might sound like it arose from Confucius’s own lips, there’s no discernible record I can find that attributes this saying to him or other Eastern wisdom teachers.
However, as I mined online and honest to goodness paper libraries for the quote’s origins, the closest thing to a progenitor that I found was a Jim Wallis quote: “faith is always personal but never private.” Maybe Wallis found the same fortune after his meal one day and added the "always," or maybe some fortune cookie conglomerate heard Wallis's quote and modified it to avoid legal action.
Regardless of the origin, I had something of a spiritual moment as we returned to the car after our lunch-hour date. In a country that elevates the individual and seems to celebrate the privatization of most everything, the notion of private faith has become practically sacrosanct. Many people refer to their own religions or religious paths. Though you might assume this comes mostly from individuals who claim a "spiritual but not religious" identity, or even of those openly agnostic about faith, I've found this disposition at least as frequently in people who claim members in the world's five most influential religions - Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, or Islam - as well as those who practice lesser known traditions. Many seem to consider faith an entirely private matter.
Followers of Jesus must wrestle with the incredibly public nature of Jesus's ministry and Jesus's invitation to a faith lived publicly. Of course we find Jesus calling us to private expressions of faith in Matthew 6: “Be careful that you don’t practice your religion in front of people to draw their attention. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven...But when you pray, go to your room, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you." Certainly, portions of our piety ought to remain private.
Yet Jesus also lives a life of public ministry. He performs miraculous healings in public (John 9), teaches publicly about faith (Matthew 5-7), publicly challenges theological misinterpretation and misapplication by religious authorities (Mark 7), and even commissions his disciples to work on his behalf in public (Luke 10; Matthew 28). The Holy Spirit's even more problematic. On Pentecost, Holy Spirit falls on the disciples and gives them the ability to publicly share the good news of Jesus across the boundaries of language (Acts 2). In that same chapter, the church forms as a public community that shares meals, shares teaching, shares worship, even shares responsibility for all who have need. We can't isolate truly Jesus to certain parts of our lives.
So yes, our faith should inform how we vote. This doesn't mean we should always vote for a particular party, but that God's presence in our lives ought to inform how we think and act on every issue. Indeed, our faith should inform how we shop. Who made our clothes, our computers, our toys, and our food matters, as does how they're treated and compensated by their employers. Surely, our faith should inform how we relate to people in the world. To paraphrase Paul, if we don't live the love of God, we're useless (1 Corinthians 13). No one can experience the fruit of the Spirit if we keep our faith private.
This doesn't mean we ought to become the kind of public Christian who preaches hate on college campuses or hands out Bible tracts on street corners. But it does mean we should go beyond the oft cited, "Preach the Gospel, use words if you must" mentality (and by the by, St. Francis never said that). The problem with this isn't that it's bad advice. It's that people who tend to quote this almost never use words to speak the name of Jesus or invite people into God's good news. A public faith that's truly personal to us will be most certainly lived out, but it will also appear in our conversations, in our invitations, in our work, in every pore of our existence.
As a follower of Jesus, take your faith personally. Just don't forget that it's got a public purpose. After all, God's at work reconciling all things through Jesus.