How should Christians approach politics?
The first thing to note is what is implied in that statement. It’s not a question of whether or not Christians should approach politics, but how. I think it’s tempting for young adult Christians nowadays to distance themselves from the dirty “mud-slinging” of modern American politics. At least, that’s what I’ve tended to do until just recently in my college career. What changed my understanding was a realization that Christians are not called to minister through select venues of society (charities, non-profs, etc.), but are called to influence and affect ALL areas of culture. There really is no divide between the secular and the spiritual (at least ultimately). Every area of life is under the sovereign rule of Christ (think Colossians 1) and this means that we are called to bring the “ministry of reconciliation” to all areas of life. One of my favorite quotes is by Abraham Kuyper:
“In the total expanse of human life there is not a single square inch of which the Christ, who alone is sovereign,does not declare,’That is mine!'”
That includes the political process, and whatever responsibilities that entails. In the context of the American republic, this should include educating ourselves on the issues being debated, doing our best to judge the moral character and abilities of each candidate, researching voting records, and lots and lots of prayer. In the light of Romans 13, these are responsibilities/privileges we shouldn’t take for granted. While there are many faults in the American system of government and its history, it could be much, much worse. As a whole, the Lord ordained a system of government for the United States that has largely been successful in maintaining order, freedom and prosperity on this continent and we should be incredibly thankful. This doesn’t mean that we should be uncritical of many parts of this nation’s legacy, but it is important to value the welfare we’ve received from this system, as well as look for the many ways it can be improved.
This being said, here are some guidelines that I think might be wise to consider as we follow the election:
1) Recognize your first allegiance.
Are you a blind tower of the “party line?” Do you unquestionably accept all the policies of a political party, simply because you approve of some of them?
Many people consider either the Republican or Democratic party to be at least one of their “gods,” if not their main god. We worship what we are most passionate about, and anyone with eyes can clearly see worship of American political parties, but instead of church, we call it either the Republican or Democratic National Convention. For some people, they would stoop to attaching “Christian” to their identity, simply because they are a member of the Republican or Democratic party.
It’s idolatry, and it should be avoided at all costs, not just in politics. We need to be careful that we are involved in the political process for the right reasons, and not because politics is the primary source of our identity. God is not on any party’s “side.” God is on God’s side. I think one of my favorite sections in the Bible is where Joshua is approached by the “commander of the army of the Lord” and Joshua asks him if he is for “us” (the Israelites) or for their enemies (the Philistines). The commander just says “No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come,” basically telling Joshua that he does whatever God wills him to do, whether that is against the Israelites or the Philistines. Likewise, God is not on any American party’s “side,” he may favor one at a certain time, and then another later. For his own reasons, “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1).
We are to make sure our first allegiance is to our God and king, not to an elephant or a donkey.
2) Take a chill pill
Politics are not the end-all be-all of existence! I’ve known people on both sides of the debate that become so angry and spiteful when they talk about politics with others, especially over issues that aren’t that important. There are some issues, of course, that we should be passionate about, but some issues, (for example, taxes, or immigration reform) don’t require the emotional investment some put in.
A lot of this simply goes back to idolatry. If politics is not your god, you won’t feel constantly defensive when someone disagrees with you on certain issues. Let’s be reasonable and calm, recognizing that if your candidate isn’t elected, it’s not the end of the world, that is, unless the other candidate is the antichrist, and then it could be, but that’s different topic! (Maybe I’ll write a guide on determining if a certain candidate is the antichrist in another post).
3) Be passionate and inflexible about the issues you should be passionate and inflexible about.
This said, there are certain issues that we should, as Christians, be inflexible about. I have in mind abortion and gay marriage, for example. The reasons for this, are that the Bible is very clear on what should be thought about these issues in a way that it is not clear on others (like the welfare state, or which form of government is the best to pursue). In other words, it is obvious that Jesus would have opposed Roe v. Wade, but it is not at all clear whether or not he would have supported No Child Left Behind. Issues like abortion are not merely political. As I’ve heard others say, they are moral issues with political implications. There can be flexibility as to how best to approach these issues, but as Christians we should we working, for example, to abolish abortion.
This understanding has obvious implications for the election. For me personally, I will most likely vote Republican because I think it is more likely that Romney would support pro-life initiatives and would oppose gay marriage. Yes, I know Romney has flip-flopped on abortion, yes, I know that he probably does not think social issues are currently as important as economic ones, but with President Obama being clearly pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage, I don’t know if I could, in good conscience, vote for him. Does this mean that I think all Republican policies are the best ones? No. Does this mean that all Obama’s ideas are terrible? No. Does this mean that I think all Democrats are pro-choice? No.
Some people might be thinking to themselves “You can’t legislate morality!!” And I would say yeah . . . . kind of . . . . but we already do, and there are tons of moral assumptions in how our government passes laws. You will probably never see a law passed by a legislature that says “Murder is evil, and therefore it is forbidden in our society.” That’s an expressly moral statement, and I don’t think it’s necessary for legislatures to issue it. But there are many laws which would say in effect, “If you kill another human being, you will spend the rest of your life in prison, or be executed.” That law does not expressly say that murder is a moral evil, but it implies it. Even if we can’t legislate using clear, moral statements, our government can still put in place buffers to prevent gross injustices and moral outrages on the part of its citizens. People should really qualify what they mean when they say “government shouldn’t legislate morality.”
Please feel free to comment and give any other suggestions that I might have missed!