Christians and Politics: What is our role?

(Disclaimer: the opinions expressed here – written in 2010 – are purely my own.)

I have lived a long time, and I cannot remember any time in my life when politics was as divisive or as scary.  Our gradual cultural change from a standard of absolute right and wrong to moral relativism has left us without any rudder.  Ethics and morals have been surrendered to whatever one can get away with.  Both liberal and conservative politicians now seem to have transformed what should be well-meaning disagreements about what is best for the country and how best to fix it, into seeing the opposition as genuine enemies of the country.  Following this lead, paranoia runs rampant among voters.  I don’t understand the inability of people to realize that reasoning together requires, at the least, an honest attempt at objectivity ~ opening our minds to actually listening and trying to find mutual goals and possible mutual strategies to solving problems.

I have come to question the underlying understanding of Christians whose politics have become as imperative as their faith.  How deeply should we be involved?  Ultimately, is politics really where Christians should be putting their intensity?

How does an attitude of hatred from a certain segment of the Church reflect a Jesus whose message was one which taught us that if someone hits us on one cheek, we should offer him the other as well.  He told us to forgive our enemies and pray for them ~ to do good to those who would treat us badly.  Is this what we are doing?  The current actions and attitudes on the part of many calling themselves Christian may be one of the reasons Christians are not taken seriously by the rest of the world, and offers a valid reason for them to cry, “Hypocrites!”.  If the unbelievers of the world have lost their objectivity, surely it is important that we Christians retain ours.  Do our words and actions reflect the kindness and humility of a genuine follower of Christ?  Have we become so paranoid (on either political side) that we have also lost our spiritual focus?  If there has been a true regeneration of the soul, people would be growing more Christ-like, not more like the world.  A lot of bad stuff is being done in the name of Christ which has no connection with Christ at all, and the reputation of the Church is suffering.

Yet, even true believers are not always judicious about their politics.  I truly don’t understand why Christians are so deeply involved in politics of either stripe.  Scripture clearly teaches us that we are to be IN this world, but not OF it.  I believe this implies a careful making of choices and a degree of moderation regarding secular systems.  Of course I believe we should vote, and try to vote intelligently.  We are to render to Caesar, etc., and there are certainly activities in which our faith and our politics may meet.  We are to have a servant mentality, and this may call for compassionate involvement in social issues.  We are to be salt and light in the world, and this means working for the things we believe, like feeding the hungry, education, preserving life, and so on.  I get that.  We are saved by grace, but toward good works. (Read James)  However, our good works and our consciences should be fueled by the depth of our faith, designed to reflect God’s love.  Law merely reflects the current political thinking of a nation, which may or may not represent good.  While we are to obey secular law, our primary allegiance should be to serve God.

The troubling thing to me is the intensity many Christians put into our politics; the anger and demonization we direct at our political opponents, just like the world.  If we speak of spiritual things, the conversation remains calm and cerebral.  If we talk about politics, everyone becomes intensely emotional.  What does this say about the reality of our true priorities?  It seems to me that the passion should be on the side of our faith.  There is a fine line, and we need to be sure we have not crossed it.

Who or what is a Christian?  We are those who profess to believe that it is through the grace of God and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we may have reconciliation with God.  He has offered Himself as a sacrifice in our place to atone for our sin.  We are forgiven on the basis of faith and by God’s free gift to us of grace, not by works, so that no man can claim he has earned his way to heaven.  We are surrounded by millions of people who do not understand any of this and whom we say we believe are doomed to an eternity outside the presence of God if they don’t hear and accept the Gospel.  What is our primary responsibility to these people?  Should not eternal issues take precedence over temporal ones?  Eternity is a long time, and who will tell them of their need and of God’s solution if we don’t?  Do we really believe all this, or are we trying to fool God and ourselves about the real basis and depth of our faith?  Is the issue of gun control more important than the eternal destiny of my neighbor?  Is economics more important than salvation?  Do we forget Who is ultimately in charge?  “The Lord foils the plans of the nations; He thwarts the purposes of the peoples.  But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever.” (Psalm 33:10,11)

As Christians we understand that there is a lot of injustice in the world, and that people need to change.  We also know from scripture and observation that it is impossible to change a person from the outside.  History, as well as religion, has taught us that internal goodness cannot be legislated into existence; change must come from transforming the inner man.  Politics attempts to legislate external goodness in various forms.  Prohibition was one instance when people attempted by law to curtail the negative consequence of alcohol on society, and we all know how effective that was.

True change to the culture will only come when people’s hearts are transformed ~ when we understand that God is a reality, and that there are consequences to our behaviors whether or not we even believe in Him.  If enough people began to live the precepts which were taught by Christ, many of these social issues which we are trying to address through politics would fall automatically into place.  This is when social justice would become a reality.  Christians claim to know that it is the inner man which is most important.  Then why are we putting our energy into the secular solutions of politics?  It is like putting a cast on a broken leg without first setting the leg.  It may be better than nothing, but wouldn’t it be smarter to address the root problem if we can?  Sin is the root problem; the only solution is through Christ.  As Christians we should know this… so why are we trying to come at things backwards?  It doesn’t have to be either/or, but our best effort should be going into spiritual issues rather than secular ones.

It is the Judeo-Christian ethic which has held this country together and given it its moral compass.  All our secular law was originally based on the principles found in the Ten Commandments and the precepts of Christ’s teaching: the rights of the individual balanced by his responsibilities toward others, the lawful protection of life and property, the innate dignity and worth of every human being.  Nothing  in Christ’s teaching negates the fundamental principles of the Law; indeed, He is a living fulfillment of the Law.  Our Founding fathers acknowledged the wisdom and moral truths of God’s precepts.  While in the history of this country we have not been completely righteous (slavery, etc.), without the early influence of people who acknowledged the legitimacy of God’s sovereignty, we would have had moral anarchy.  In recent times the secular culture has abandoned any acknowledgment of God’s existence, and this only leads to the dissolute chaos which is even now descending on this nation.  We have forgotten that it has been obedience to a good God by devoted Christians and Jews in past times which has founded schools, hospitals, orphanages, organizations like the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, and so on.  We need to continue doing all this, but for the right reasons… not because of politics, but because we are children of the living God.

As Christians, our first allegiance is to God and the furthering of the Gospel, not to a political party or to any human individual. The very word Gospel is now being misinterpreted in some places to mean social justice.  It is not.  Social justice may be an end-result of the Gospel, but  the Gospel is about the good news of Christ’s gift to us of salvation through His death and resurrection, and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in committed lives.

Are there gross inequities in our national fabric? Absolutely.  Do things need to be changed? You bet!  The question for Christians is this: how best do we accomplish these changes?  If we feel that change is more permanently accomplished through external forces like law and politics, then I must question how much we really believe about the transforming power of Christ and the Gospel.  It seems to me that if we are really believers, we will know where our priorities lie.

Do we believe that God is in control?  Do we believe that He has a plan for this nation, and that He is capable of working it all out to His specifications?  There are those among us who believe that the rapture is near.  If so, we should be working hard for the Lord so that when He does come, He will not find us sleeping.  We need to be prepared.  We should be working with as much vigor and strength as we can muster to bring as many as possible into the Kingdom.  Whose servants are we?  Do we have a higher calling than merely being good citizens of this earth?  We are told it is impossible to serve both God and the world.  Which will we choose, and what are the implications of our choice?

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