Should Christians Be Involved in Politics?
The entire American world is starting to focus on one day. The first Tuesday in November looms in the future as half of the American public will celebrate as if they won a lottery, and another half will mourn as if their dog died. There will be a need for healing after a vigorous election season of name calling, intelligence questioning, character demonizing, and fear peddling. There is likely to be an assertion of cheating. There is likely to be a challenge to the count. The economy will swoon with the uncertainty. There may even be protests or riots.
Everything is now political and everything is politicized. If I wear a mask, I’m a deep state operative wanting to subtly control people. If I gather with a bunch of people to worship God, I’m a murderer. If I gather with a bunch of people to protest, I’m a hero. Why would anyone want to be involved in any of that? Everything has become politicized. And there is a sense that as a Christian if I want to be above the fray and above the pettiness and nastiness of politics, I need to go and check out from the politics.
Now God has told us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Now, I’m assuming that he doesn’t mean that we just leave that to a prayer and we are supposed to simply check ourselves out of any responsibility of bringing God’s kingdom to earth. However, all the cultural chaos makes everything feel surreal. So I wanted to take a look at some reasons we tend to remove ourselves from the civic role of life and ask the question should a Christian be involved with politics at all?
Why we abstain
The reasons to not be involved are fairly obvious. We have leaders we don’t like. When people do things that we don’t agree with we get frustrated. Other people's decisions affect our lives and so it can feel that their view or their policy has infringed upon something we consider sacred and we want to abandon the whole thing because we have deemed them a danger to society.
Some of us are perhaps a little more cynical. It’s more than just poor leadership that causes us to check out. It is perhaps that we don’t believe that our participation to make things better will matter. We can become fatalist in our approach. It’s the same feeling when you watch the miserable season of the Dallas Cowboys. No matter how loud you yell at your TV, it won’t help the Defense stop an opposing team’s offense from making them look like my 7 year old’s flag football team.
There are those of us who are probably the most cynical. We listen to talk radio or cable news or social media feeds that are laced with angry people telling us that if we don’t vote a certain way, if our country turns red or blue, then we will all suffer.
I want us to take a look at the Bible (because that’s what pastor’s do). Israel, God’s people, had just been exiled. They didn’t like the leadership. A pagan ruler had just conquered them and removed them from Israel and told them to assimilate in Babylon. No individual person felt like their contribution to the community would change anything. They had no money, no clout, no power. And what was worse, is that there were false prophets running around telling them to check out. So although 2700 years removed from our current station, there were some similarities in facing the political climate.
Jeremiah wrote a letter to the captives. He wanted to reassure them of their role in Babylon. He wrote, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon…”
God is always intentional
Notice how The Lord of hosts doesn’t say…”to all the exiles who accidentally ended up in Babylon.” Their being in Babylon was intentional. God sent them there. Now if you know the back story on this, there was a lot of idolatry and a lot of darkness in the people of Israel. They were exiled for a period of 70 years to remind them that idol worship was not tolerated. But their punishment wasn’t forever. This was for their good. I send my sons to their room for punishment all the time. Sometimes they think that they are the parent and I am the child. I have to help remind them that Daddy makes the rules. However, sometimes they can’t understand and the consequence of them not understanding is being exiled from the living room to go and think about and realign themselves with Daddy. No one is ever really thrilled about going to to their room, but as a father I send them there for their good.
It’s not that I don’t love my kids, I love my kids. I want them to succeed. Their success in large part is in understanding appropriate relationships between father and son, between a husband and a wife, between people. My hope one day is that they transfer the authority and love that I provide and they receive that from God. And they would see that no matter where they were in the world, what their circumstances were, God is always out for His glory and their good. That was true of the Jews in their exile, and it is true of my sons in the midst of roomtime. It’s true for every one of us. God is not against us. He is for us. Even when the circumstances seem dire.
Okay, but does that really apply to us? Remember the whole 2700 year thing? Yes. I do. And yes, it does. Peter called Christians exiles three times in his first letter to the church. He wanted to remind everyone that although they lived in the Roman Empire, the empire wasn’t their true home. They were exiled here waiting for the kingdom to come. Paul said that while we are waiting we are ambassadors making an appeal to those who might be destroyed by the coming kingdom to be reconciled to God, the true king.
Playing the culture war
So then, does it really matter? I mean we give our time to better our community, if we get involved in the political process doesn’t that mean we play into the hands of those with political agendas and want to conscript Christians to join them in picking sides of a culture war? Ugh. That has been the reality for a long time. So much so that for a long time you couldn’t be anything but Republican and a Christian. The primary issue of course for strong believers has always been pro-life. I remember people in seminary and in the churches that I grew strongest in my faith say, “How can you be a Christian and vote anything but a pro-life agenda?” To which I have heard Christian Democrats respond with, the abortion will happen anyway, let’s give them counseling and understanding and a chance. I’ve talked to Democrats who felt as strongly about the marginalized in the culture. The poor, the immigrant, the one who would not be represented well in court. To which Republicans respond with, “What about a baby who has no day in court and is murdered?”
On both sides Christians choose to be Republican or Democrat because they are Christian. Because of that, there are very heated exchanges. But why are the exchanges heated? Because they care. And this is important. The care means something.
When I was in the military, I was pretty easy going. I went to the field when the commander suggested we go to the field. I wasn’t fighting for training areas and range time. I wasn’t reading manuals to learn the latest in infantry tactics or special operations warfare. When I was in combat, I was looking to get my guys as much rest as possible and not create extra work for them that might get me promoted. I was a good officer, but I wasn’t a great officer. In contrast when I became a pastor, I cared about everything. I cared about discipleship, preaching style, community groups. I cared about every aspect of the church service from announcements to the quality of music to the quality of the slides on the screen. I cared about everything. And if you asked me why I care, I would say because God cares. Because God went into great detail about what Temple worship would look like. He went into great detail to reveal himself through the scriptures and that they are Godbreathed. I get passionate about keeping marriage holy within the church. I am passionate about teaching the value of human life, that God has a unique design for men and women. I am passionate about evangelism, because souls will be forever lost if we don’t cry out for people to turn from their sin and turn to Jesus. I am passionate about our benevolence ministry and helping the poor. I never want our church to be a place that would be an environment for those far from God to find Him. I could go on and on. And that’s why I am a pastor.
Politics and Religion Meet
Now back to where religion and politics meet with passion. Jeremiah 29:7 says, “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.”
Instead of using all your gifts and skillset to bless yourself and your family, God called the people of Israel to bless a pagan city. Imagine this for a moment. They are serving a pagan king whose own “sadistic tendencies drove him to bring about the slow, torturous death of Hiram, king of Tyre, but not before raping his queen (who was his own mother) before his eyes.The Talmud reveals that he would cast lots each day to determine which of his imprisoned kings he would sodomize.”
Remember, Daniel (Lion’s den Daniel) served King Nebuchadnezzar faithfully as did his three buddies Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Daniel and his friends did protest when they are asked to do things against their religious conviction. They were willing to die for them. God blessed their efforts. But I love what Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego said to Nebuchadnezzar when faced with death.
They said, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king.18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
They took civil disobedience beyond imprisonment, they were ready to die. They lived in such a way that failure was guaranteed unless God intervened. They never tried to put an end to the king’s sadistic ways. They simply lived out God’s convictions on their lives and executed their civic duties to the best of their ability. At the end of Nebuchadnezzar’s life we see him repent and turn to the Lord. Now, I don’t know what policy changes that Nebuchadnezzar made based on that, but he honored Daniel’s God as the true ruler of the world. Even when a different ruler came to power, he noted Daniel’s allegiance was to God not to man. He put him over his people. Daniel was told to stop praying to his God. He wouldn’t succumb to political power. That earned him a night in the lion’s den. Whether it was to worship another god or stop worshiping the God who is, God placed his people in political power and empowered them to never give in to that pressure to yield their worship. That is what happened in Babylon, which prepared the way for Cyrus (a Persian king) to take over and then prescribe that the Jews would be returned to Jerusalem.
So then in our modern culture how does this apply? First off, I’m not advocating that the President is in any form Cyrus or Nebuchanezzar. Israel was a theocracy. God as king sent them to Babylon as discipline. Christians live in the monarchy theocracy of the kingdom of God with Jesus on the throne. We are living like exiles on earth. Perhaps for this season we live in the United States. Our time of exile which may be 70 or 80 years and in that time we are to bring God’s kingdom to earth as ambassadors of our king who also designed us and gave us the command to love one another.
Within a democratic republic God has given us as exiles to have impact for His kingdom through governing ourselves. I’ve heard people say two things when it comes to the church. The church needs to say nothing of politics. Or the church needs to pick a side. If we say nothing, we are no better than the monks of the past who exited society and culture and took the gospel with them, leaving those who could not afford a monkan life to be crushed by the brutality of society as the salt and light were left to monasteries. On the flip side if the church picks a side it becomes a tool of a political agenda as opposed to the conscience of the nation.
I’ve also heard people say, and have said it myself, that you can’t legislate morality. But we do it all the time. Murder is immoral and illegal. Rape is immoral and illegal. How do we know that? If there is no God, then we are left to make up our own morality. Stalin was great at that. Polpot was great at that. People by the millions were murdered because of that. The church has had it’s share of awful misalignment with weird wars and savage brutality, but again, I think that is due to legit Christians retreating from public life to the monastery. So which morality?
Is abortion the issue that we should always address? Is sex trafficking the issue? What about racism and the mistreatment of marginalized people? What about a welfare system where it pays to not stay with the father of your child? There are passionate Christians on all sides of these issues. If the Gospel is central to who we are, then we will work out differences even in politics in love.
In John 17, in what is known as the High Priestly Prayer Jesus prays for those who would come after, namely you and me. Here is what he prayed in John 17:20-21
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
Jesus prayed for unity among Christians. He prayed for unity among Christians. Now we know that every Christian has been given the mission to make disciples. We like to say the mission has a church. In that vein, Christians will make disciples and spread the fame of Jesus when we love one another even on different sides of something we can feel very passionate about. One might argue capitalism teaches the personal responsibility that every Christian needs to feel in order to repent and turn to Jesus. While others might argue that socialism is the best way to meet the needs of the least of these. Both sides could point to Bible verses to argue their point. At the end of the day, their argument would have to end in a hearty hug and a respect for one another as followers of Jesus.
To which people usually say, “That’s a slippery slope to socialism, where Christians lose their rights, and are ultimately persecuted.”
Maybe. But it didn’t stop Daniel and his buddies. It didn’t stop Jesus. It was Jesus death that won over humanity. It wasn’t his clever statements. It wasn’t his snappy putdowns of hypocrites. It was his ability to defeat death. And then He gave us that power. And He gave us a new home.
What was interesting in the day of the Babylonian exile, was there were prophets who mocked Jeremiah for his 70 year exilic prediction. They said don’t get too cozy in Babylon, this won’t last. It was riling up the people to be ready to revolt. Their patriotic fervor was intoxicating and hits to the gut of every red blooded patriot. “Get ready to take up arms!”
But Jeremiah was clear. “Just surrender.” Let it happen. Don’t fight it. This is from God. If you fight the exile you are like the 3 year old throwing a tantrum in their own room breaking all their toys. You are only hurting yourself.
That was the problem that God’s people faced. Jeremiah wasn’t in Babylon. He was back in Jerusalem. So when it came to the public square prophets. The talking heads were all going against God’s Word and God’s Will. But they sounded convincing. They were live people, not just text read from a scroll. But they were hitting on all the heart strings of the Jewish people. Don’t capitulate to these infidels. How could this be God’s will?
Today we have the same problem. We are faced with an onslaught of people who peddle fear. Both sides do this. Democratic and Republican. When Obama was president, all I heard was Republicans calling him a fascist. There were Obama billboards with him looking like Hitler or the Joker. If he got elected, we were doomed. If he got re-elected that would be the worst thing for our country. And then Donald Trump came along. People called him Hitler and a fascist. They called him a tyrant. Now be honest, did your life change that much? At our church we have all races and all classes (okay we don’t have the super rich), and we have a lot of different cultures. Did anything really change other than rhetoric when Trump took over for Obama? No, but what did happen is that Christians during this presidency started to turn on each other. We started listening to the newsfeeds that weren’t God’s feed. Instead of turning to an ancient text that doesn’t change, we gave in to the fear of the left and the right.
Jesus prayed that we would be united. I think in the past, united meant, “We agree on everything.” Christians are to love one another despite the difference of voting record and opinion. The things we agree on are vast. We all agree that the government can’t solve our problem. Only Jesus can. We can all agree that humanity is cursed with sin. We can all agree that Jesus is the God-man who came from heaven to earth, lived a perfect life, and died for the sins of those who would believe in Him. He rose from the dead. He is going to fix all of this one day. Now, if you were to read that to a secular person, they would giggle, perhaps outright laugh. But it is that belief that brought the greatest change to our world. That faith is what built hospitals, ends human trafficking, gives orphans homes, gives clean water to the poorest of the poor, and teaches the world to love.
One of my favorite CS Lewis quotes is, “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.”
Let’s put our minds on Christ and subscribe to His feed that never changes. It is relevant in capitalism and socialism. It is relevant in democracy and tyranny. It reminds of our true allegiance and to never get so caught up in the politics of the day that we miss out on serving the true king.