Politics in a Christian Life

There are two topics that many consider to be taboo: religion and politics. Oh man! Two topics that I LOVE having intellectual discussions about. When you blend Christians with a political discussion – watch out!!  I believe that Christians are placed into three distinct categories when it comes to politics: 1) some bury their heads in the sand and ignore it, don’t want anything to do with it, 2) some monitor it but keep their thoughts completely to themselves and will not discuss political topics, it is private and no one else’s business, 3) some will openly debate anything. Which one do you think I fall in?  I love political debate but I do get frustrated when the other person(s) have an opinion on a political matter but have no knowledge of the topic – they get their opinions from headlines or media (ugh!).  Good Lord that makes me sad.  I was asked once about my thoughts on whether it was acceptable to have an opinion on a matter based on the impact(s) to the individual. Yes, I do. Is this selfish? No, I don’t think so. If a political issue will have a negative impact on your life then it will very likely have a negative impact on others; you are not alone.  Even if the impact is positive to me but negative to you; I fully and deeply respect your opinion on a matter.

With all said, I wanted to know what the bible has to say about politics. What is Jesus’ position on politics?  If Christians are all relying on the Holy Spirit for political guidance, then why do Christians continue to have varying opinions on a matter? After all, there is only one Holy Spirit, right? Would He not provide one venue of guidance to all? After all, we are all one body – right? Spoiler alert – I believe Christians should be as engaged in political debate as their anointing and spiritual equipping allows.Before getting to the meat and potatoes of the topic, here are two things that I think we can all agree on regarding politics (I hope):

  1. The Christian faith is under attack in the USA. We continue to see ups and down in the court of public opinion and, unfortunately, in court cases.
  2. Separation of Church and State is used quite a bit as an argument, BUT, “In God We Trust” is still our national motto.

General Politics

Why a blog about politics? How does this topic mesh with Christian faith? Because I believe that our political climate is representative of the condition of the hearts and minds of us as a nation. As a nation, we are of one body, but, we are a body of individuals. We can believe in the power of our nation but the power of our nation is built upon the accomplishments, and mistakes, of individuals. And this line between what one considers an accomplishment and what another considers a mistake is widening and innocent victims are beginning to fall into the resulting chasm.  We are in dangerous times and the climate is getting worse as tribal lines are drawn; as each tribe fights for it’s right to survive, its members have to go to more extremes to get their point across (tit for tat). As things get more extreme, tribes work to strengthen their lines, they dig into their trenches, and all out warfare ensues. If this sounds like trench warfare similar to WWI, I feel it is. Tribes dig in and work hard to hold their ground while opposing forces work to gain more ground, and boy does it get ugly. In political circles, this ground is a reference to power. He who holds the power guides the nation (or so they believe). As Christians, should we ignore this, or, should we find where we can get involved? 

We all know that within the USA, there are many political parties (or caucuses) but there are two major political parties that hold the power (Democrats and Republicans).  Each party has philosophical differences regarding liberalism (the left) or conservatism (the right).  Those that choose to not be a member of one of these parties might be considered an Independent – most likely a moderate conservative or a moderate liberal (what most call “the center”). Being an Independent allows you to think freely, allowing you to choose a position on a candidate or a topic based strictly on your opinion without violating a tribal line.  Yes, many people will strictly vote across their partisan line regardless of the positions of the candidates or the impact of a law or regulation.  As over 95% of people in political positions are Republican or Democrat, the disadvantage of an Independent is that they do not get to choose which candidate will represent a particular party during the general election.

Now, with that said, is it acceptable for a Christian to victimize or “talk junk” about a sitting political leader? Absolutely not. However, in full disclosure and transparency, I am one that spoke out adamantly against President Obama and shared my thoughts and opinions about his policies and actions on a regular basis. I think it was during his last 2 years in office that I woke up to my mistake and realized that I had been acting out in sin. Jesus taught His disciples to respect governmental authorities. Regardless of the nation in which one resides, respect for that nation’s leaders is part of the responsibility of a true Christian. Paul speaks of this when writing to the Romans, “Let every soul, be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves” (Romans 13:1-2, compare with Daniel 4:17). So no, I do not believe that a Christian has authority to “speak junk” about a sitting President or other political leader.

Note: I wrote this blog prior to the transition from President Trump to President Biden. Let’s get real for a minute – yes, President Trump is vicious in some of his tweets and such, and yes, he is blunt, direct, and uncouth. Some Christians welcome this because they are sick and tired of the “political speak” that we have been hearing for generations; but, there are other Christians that wish, and expect, our President would speak with more polish and care about what he says. After all, he does represent our nation on the global stage. Nonetheless, he is the elected President and, as Christians, we should respect him. We should be praying for him regarding wisdom, courage, and spiritual revelation in his decisions. Should Christians be speaking out against him in public settings and screaming “impeach him”? According to Jesus, no.  Peter adds, “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God” (1 Peter 2:13-15). I suppose some Christians believe that Trump is evil and therefore speaking out against evil is justified. Other Christians think Trump is appointed by God to lead. Food for thought.

It is both acceptable and understandable that Christians are a part of every major party across the USA. I do not believe that Christians fall into a liberal pool or conservative pool. Once upon a time, all Christians were predominantly considered liberal; most recently, most evangelical Christians are believed to be conservative (I disagree with this but this is hyperbole shared in the media). If Jesus were walking the earth today, I do not believe He would be a party partisan, I believe He would be an Independent. Christ has good reason to remain apart from “earthly” politics. The message He preached was about government, but a government He would bring to the earth, not one that would come about through human effort. Jesus’ message was about the government of God that will rule the world and that will bring about world peace!

Christian Politics

Are Christians supposed to stay aloof of earthly politics? “No” says David McGee, senior pastor at The Bridge Church in Kernersville, N.C. He says that “God has called us to influence society. After all, Jesus spoke out repeatedly on issues such as fair wages, unjust trade, oppression of widows and economics.” Being on the side of the poor or excluded isn’t about having progressive values, the right opinions or even voting the right way. It’s about the decision to leverage any power, privilege, abilities and resources you have to transform not only an individual’s immediate circumstances but, more importantly, the economic, social and cultural systems that perpetuate inequality, poverty, exclusion and exploitation. Laws matter, national budgets matter, political policies matter because they not only reflect what society says is OK but provide the framework on which structural inequality – or social equity – is built.

  1. Political Speak, Respect Those in Authority

In the book of Acts, Paul has the opportunity to speak to major political leaders of his day, and when he did, he didn’t speak to them about policy or hard hitting issues; he spoke to them about Jesus. Our job as Christians and leaders of our community is to share the Word of God on all things, including social issues.

Romans 13: 1-3: Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. 

1 Peter 2: 13 – 16: Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.

Proverbs 29:2says “When the righteous rule, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan.” Our nation needs a leader of upright moral character. We’ve seen what happens when power enters the hand of the wicked. Hitler killed because he held the keys to the nation’s power, and Sandusky molested children because he had power and authority over them. Character is influenced and developed by choices. Character will help people weather the storms of life and keep people from sin. Men and women of character will set a good example for others to follow, and their godly reputation will be evident to all. Our nation will be stronger with a leader of high moral character.

  1. Live in Peace and Unity and Stand For What Is Right; But Remember Honoring God Comes First

Psalm 133:1tells us: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.” But where is our unity? John 6:43says, “Stop grumbling among yourselves.” We are not to bicker among ourselves, a huge problem in the midst of any Presidential election or political issue. People take sides and hurl aggressive and condemning comments at one another. God speaks on this political matter through Leviticus in which God says we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Seek unity and harmony.

I believe God has called Christians to be influencers of society. We are to engage in society and political conversation about right from wrong as taught in the Bible. We are to uphold God’s moral code. The best way to do that is to get involved in the political dialog. Do not judge or show hatred, but rather educate in these discussions. 

Acts 5:27-29: The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.” Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings!”

Acts 4:18-19: Then [the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law] called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

Isaiah 33:22: For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; it is He who will save us.

Psalm 33:12says “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!” Render unto Caesar what is his, but we must obey the law but know God is the ultimate ruler. He rules not only of the United States, but the world. We must obey God over men; over political leaders. Though I do not agree with some of the laws currently upheld in the United States, Christians cannot take advantage of our legal right to act on them, we must keep God’s law over the law of the land.

  1. We Have To Pay Taxes (Even If We Don’t Want To)

Romans 13:6-7: Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honor to those who are in authority

Matthew 22:19-21: Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

  1. We Are Called To Pray For Our Leaders (this does not mean pray for leaders in the morning and then “talk junk” about them for the rest of the day)

In Titus 1: 7-8the Bible describes a good leader. “Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.  He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” This description is what we should reflect on with choosing who we will politically support.

1 Timothy 2: 1-4: I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

  1. Virtue; We Are Called To Seek Justice, Defend The Oppressed And Help The Poor

According to Jesus in Matthew 28:19, we are to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” We are to go out and spread God’s Word; we are to teach all people including political leaders of God’s law. We must disciple people to make godly decisions about government and promote the efforts of those who are already doing so. Voting was instituted as a way to give every citizen a voice. Your voice reflects what you are willing to support and what you are not, so vote Biblically.

Isaiah 1:17: Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.

Proverbs 31:8-9: Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Jeremiah 22: 1: This is what the Lord says: “Go down to the palace of the king of Judah and proclaim this message there …. Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place. For if you are careful to carry out these commands, then kings who sit on David’s throne will come through the gates of this palace, riding in chariots and on horses, accompanied by their officials and their people. But if you do not obey these commands, declares the Lord, I swear by myself that this palace will become a ruin.’”

The World View

I believe that all Christians should care about politics but I know that only some are called, or anointed, to play a key role or part. Not all are equipped to handle difficult debate, the emotional intelligence or cognitive skills to “walk the talk” on the fly. During the course of a presidential campaign, it is common to hear evangelicals, especially younger ones, quip, “I’m just not that interested in politics,” or, “Politics just aren’t my thing.” These dismissive remarks are often delivered with a veneer of piousness implying that political engagement is inherently defiled, occupying an arena unfit for those serious about the gospel. For those inundated with television ads, robo-calls, campaign mail and the overall negative tone of politics, this might be a tempting position to adopt. However, I am of the mindset that this is not a position that Bible-believing, gospel-loving Christians can or should accept as congruent with Scripture. 

The message of the gospel is that by grace through faith sinners can be reconciled with God (Ephesians 2:7-8). This message transforms individuals and enables them to lead godly lives. Mandated by Scripture (Matthew 28:19-20), Christians are charged to share the good news and disciple others in faith. The gospel is a holistic message with implications for all areas of life, including how Christians engage the political process.

  1. The Christian worldview speaks to all areas of life.

A frequently raised objection against Christian engagement with politics is that anything besides explicit preaching and teaching of the Bible is a distraction from the mission of the church. However, this is a limited understanding of the kingdom of God and contrary to examples in Scripture.

The Christian worldview speaks to all areas of life, including political engagement. In fact, the Bible speaks about civil government and provides examples of faithful engagement. 

  • In the Old Testament, Joseph and Daniel served in civil government, exerting influence to further the flourishing of their nations. 
  • In the New Testament, Jesus engaged in holistic ministry, caring for the spiritual and physical needs of people. Feeding the hungry and healing diseases were an outworking and extension of the reconciliatory message of the gospel. 
  • Paul also advocates this approach: “As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone” (Galatians 6:10). And: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). 

Engaging in “good works” should include participating in the political process because of the legitimate and significant role of government. The decisions made by government have a substantial impact on people and the way we interact with them. A Christian worldview should include a political theology that recognizes every area of life must be included in the “good works” of believers, especially politics, an area with significant real-life implications for people. 

  1. Politics are unavoidable.

As “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11), it can be tempting for Christians to adopt a mindset that earthly governing systems are inconsequential to the task of furthering the gospel. But ask a pastor in an underground church or a missionary attempting to access a closed country if politics are inconsequential. Religious liberty, passports and visas are not unnecessary luxuries but are often vital for pastors and missionaries seeking to preach and teach the gospel. 

Augustine’s City of God offers guidance on this point. Believers are citizens of the “City of God,” but on this side of eternity, we also belong to the “City of Man” and therefore must be good citizens of both cities. There are biblical examples of how membership in the earthly city can be leveraged for furthering the reach of the heavenly. Paul’s appeal to his Roman citizenship (Acts 16:37, 22:25) is a model of this.

In an American context, engaging these dual cities takes on added significance because of the words prefacing the Constitution: “We the people.” In the United States, ultimate national sovereignty is entrusted to the people. James Madison explained that the “consent of the people” is the “pure original fountain of all legitimate authority.” This reality makes politics unavoidable for American citizens who control their political future. 

Because politics have real-world implications for Christian evangelism, missions and preaching the gospel, Christians ought to engage the political process by leveraging their rightful authority, advocating for laws and policies that contribute to human flourishing.

  1. We need to love our neighbor.

When questioned by religious authorities on the law, Jesus explained that loving God with heart, soul and mind was the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:37). He added that second in priority was: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). 

Followers of Christ are called to love and serve their neighbors (Matthew 28:19-20). When asked about the qualifications of “neighbor,” Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), indicating that irrespective of race, background, social status or occupation, neighborly love is owed.

In a very real sense, politics is one of the most important areas in which Christians demonstrate love to our neighbor. In fact, how can Christians claim to care about others and not engage the arena that most profoundly shapes basic rights and freedoms? Caring for the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick and lonely is important to Jesus and should be to His followers as well. Jesus said, “As you did it to one of the least of these you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). 

Fulfilling the biblical mandate to love our neighbor and care for the “least of these” should be a priority for every believer. Again, a holistic approach is essential. Loving our neighbor includes volunteering at a homeless shelter, as well as influencing laws that encourage human flourishing. Good government and laws are not negligible factors in the prosperity and freedom of a society. 

For example, the majority of North Koreans are held in economic bondage by corrupt political forces, whereas in South Korea, citizens are given liberty and a system that encourages prosperity. The people of North Korea need more than food pantries and improved hospitals; they need political leadership and policies that recognize human rights. Advocating for these changes in totalitarian countries is crucial for loving our neighbors in oppressed areas.   

Obedience to the golden rule includes seeking laws that protect unborn children, strengthen marriages and families, advocate for the vulnerable, and provide opportunity for flourishing. Politics is a means of effecting great change and must be engaged by Christians who love their neighbor.

  1. Government restrains evil and promotes good.

Government derives its authority from God to promote good and restrain evil. This mandate is expressly stated in Romans 13:1-7. Elsewhere, Paul urges that prayers be made “for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Paul understood the need for Christian participation in government. 

Government plays a role in the work of God’s kingdom on earth. Good government encourages an environment conducive for people living peaceably, whereas bad government fosters unrest and instability. Because of sin, the legitimate institution of government has, at times, been used illegitimately throughout history. However, numerous examples persist of Christians reasserting their influence and redeeming government to promote good and restrain evil. 

In How Christianity Changed the World, Alvin Schmidt documents Christian influence in government. Examples include outlawing infanticide, child abandonment and gladiatorial games in ancient Rome, ending the practice of human sacrifice among European cultures, banning pedophilia and polygamy, and prohibiting the burning of widows in India. William Wilberforce, a committed Christian, was the force behind the successful effort to abolish the slave trade in England. In the United States, two-thirds of abolitionists were Christian pastors. In the 1960’s, Martin Luther King Jr., a Christian pastor, helped lead the civil rights movement against racial segregation and discrimination.

Carl Henry rightfully stated that Christians should “work through civil authority for the advancement of justice and human good” to provide “critical illumination, personal example, and vocational leadership.” This has been the historic witness of Christians concerned about government promoting good and restraining evil. 

Jeremiah 29:7says: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” Referring to Babylon, the prophet recognized that secular government served a legitimate purpose in God’s plan for Israel. This is still true. Today, good governments promote literacy, advance just laws, provide religious liberty and allow churches to preach and teach. Good government can serve as a conduit for the furthering of the gospel and human flourishing. 

Christian witness in the public square contributes transcendent values about moral and ethical issues. Christian withdrawal opens a moral vacuum susceptible to influences that pressure government to move outside the purview designated by God. Politics affects government, shapes society and influences culture. Because of what the Bible teaches and the inevitability of its effect on our culture, Christians must care about politics.

The Jesus Example (Politicians working together)

Let’s follow the example of Jesus’ selection of disciples. Would we want to make disciples the way Jesus did? The culture of Second Temple Judaism was as politically charged as ever. The spectrum of political parties was wide and multifaceted, including the Pharisees, Essenes, Zealots, Sadducees, and even the dreaded “tax collectors”. When Jesus walked on the earth, He entered into this political fray.  Two of the characters Jesus chose were on complete opposite sides of the political spectrum. Zealots were a political party that worked to incite violence and rebellion against the Roman Empire, to expel them from Holy Land by military might. Some have even gone so far as to say that the Zealots were the among the first expressions of terrorism. Anyone who sided with the Roman Empire were therefore enemies and targets of their violent attacks. And yet, from among them, Jesus chose Simon to be his disciple.

Then there’s the tax collector, a job that no Israelite wanted. Signing up for the job made you the most despised and hated person in your community because it was your responsibility to exact taxes from your own people to pay the Roman government. It is widely held that tax collectors abused the tax system, demanding more money and making away with great profit. They were not only unethical cheaters; they were traitors to their homeland and kinsmen. A tax collector may have had money, but that was just about all they had. They were pawns of the Roman government and objects of scorn among their own people. And yet, from among them, Jesus chose Matthew to be his disciple.

Now imagine with me for a minute what it must have been like to see that Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax collector are now on the same team! How is that possible? Left to himself, Simon wanted Matthew dead. Left to himself, Matthew demanded Simon to submit to Roman taxation. What were their first conversations like? What was Jesus doing in putting these two together? Did he not factor in their drastic positions? Their strong political affiliations? Their seemingly irreconcilable differences?

The fact that they are included among the original 12 apostles is striking. Jesus intentionally made disciples of people who, outside his reign and rule, were enemies of one another. He put them together, commissioned them in His name to call people to repentance. By this, Jesus said, the world will know you are my disciples by the love you have for one another (John 13:35). Can you imagine what it must have looked like for Simon to love Matthew, and vice-versa? Jesus took a terrorist and a traitor and made them His disciples. Paul also commented on respecting government leaders when writing to Titus. Paul told this pastor, “Remind them [the members of the Church] to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work” (Titus 3:1).

In Closing

Christians have many different opinions about what constitutes good government. Jesus said that his “kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). That marvelous statement still leaves an important question unanswered: As long as we live in this world, what kind of civil government is right for humankind? The Bible does not contain an explicit blueprint for government. It does, however, provide abundant guidance and clear precepts for moral conduct in our thoughts and deeds that should influence our politics. Liberty, justice, charity, right, and wrong are dominant themes throughout the Bible. The political challenge is to get them in the right balance. In I Samuel, chapter 8, it is plain that the highest form of government would be for the people to follow God’s laws, and that any human ruler (and by extension, human government in general) will be prone to abusing the people under its authority.

Just how much power a human government should have has been a perennially vexing problem ever since. Founding Father James Madison famously wrote in Federalist No. 51, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” Alas, of course, men are not angels, so how much external government do they need? Robert Charles Winthrop, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1847 to 1849, stated, “Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled, either via power within them, or by a power without them; either by the Word of God, or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible, or by the bayonet.”

Many American Christians have a different opinion about the proper role of government today. Some desire to expand the scope of government as strongly as I favor shrinking it to the size our founders envisioned. And I must concede the possibility that we living in America today don’t deserve the limited government that our founders established. Perhaps Joseph de Maistre was at least partly right when he wrote, “Every country has the government it deserves.” John Adams believed, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.” It may be that the American people have moved away from moral self-government to a degree that renders our original constitutional order impracticable today. Maybe (??). In closing, I will leave that thought with you.

Leave a Reply