Archive | July, 2016

Should Christians stay out of politics?

23 Jul

Keith Giles over at “subversive1” has written this article entitled Why Christians Shouldn’t Vote.

Keith is a man who gives a lot of thought and prayer to his work, and who clearly wants to see the Kingdom of God built. Most of what he writes is challenging, it’s usually well put, and he’s the kind of man who’s worth reading even if you don’t agree with what he says.

I don’t often agree with Keith, but reading his articles helps keep me on my toes, and it’s always a good exercise in seeing the other person’s point of view (even if it sometimes takes me a while!).

I hope Keith won’t take it personally that I’ve written this article in response. He has identified some 17 reasons why Christians shouldn’t vote, and most of them extend to why we shouldn’t be involved in politics either.

My father was a local councillor in the area in which I grew up here in the south of England, and we are friends with Christian council members and other people who are involved in local politics and civic life. I’ve seen firsthand the good that Christians can do in local public life, and how Christians can play their part in the political arena. One of the current councillors became a Christian through knowing my Dad and being involved with issues in which the local church also took a key role. Dad has been well-known for his fair approach, and has also been invited to open civic functions with prayer – a clear witness and an opportunity to invite God to be part of civic proceedings.

Keith doesn’t support Christians being in politics. I do.

I’ve taken his article, which is a list of bullet points, and have added my own comments. See what you think I hope there’s plenty to learn from both sides of the argument.

I’ve put my own comments in italics. I’ve written my bits in British English; Keith’s American spellings I have left. The first short paragraph below in bold is Keith’s.

For most Christians the idea of not voting sounds sacrilegious. But following Jesus means turning away from the “patterns of this world” in favor of a better way – the Kingdom of God.

To me, not voting just sounds more like an abdication of responsibility. You have a chance to participate in the future or your country, but you don’t take it. Is the “subversive” way the better way? We’ll see.

Keith says:

Here are some reasons why you shouldn’t vote if you follow Christ:

1. Because in over 6,000 years of human history, politics hasn’t solved any of our basic problems.

– Which basic problems has it not solved? Politics does in fact provide us with education, better (and in some cases free) healthcare, safer roads, safer aeroplanes, standards in the products we consume and our business dealings, and criminal laws that prevent many of us from robbing, raping and killing each other, and provide for the punishment of those who break those laws. All of these are the fruit of laws, which are voted on by politicians.

And how do we think (for example) slavery was overturned, if not by the actions of Christian politicians?

For sure, politics is not perfect, and there are many problems still to be solved. But to throw out the process by which many changes have been made for the better, and to ban Christians from taking part – whilst not having a fully-formed and effective replacement solution in place – does not improve matters. Rather, it would create a vacuum into which all kinds of malign influences would rush.
I suspect that Keith would remind me that the gospel is a perfect solution. But unless hundreds of millions of people are acknowledging Jesus and living for him fully, we still need a means of governing people while the gospel is taking effect. I wonder if there is an element of “over-realised” eschatology in “subversive’s” gambit: wanting the “not-yet” of the Kingdom of God to be fully realised now, even where it is not promised for this age.

2. Because politics divides the Body of Christ and creates false “us vs. them” mentality.

– Only if you’re not very mature. And the same could be said of sports or anything else in which one expresses a preference or takes sides (including this blog post!). The mature Christian way is to disagree without being disagreeable; to take a side of an argument without denigrating the person or people on the other side. That’s Love Your Neighbour 101.

3. Because we will one day give an account to God for how we spent our time/money and investing in such an ineffective system is unjustified.

– True as to the first part, and possibly in the second as well, but will we not also be called to give an account to God for how we treat the opportunities He gives us? We may not have much control over the size of the Presidential hopeful’s tour bus or the outcome of House votes, but we do have the opportunity to have some kind of say in how things are run.

4. Because politics is about writing, passing and enforcing laws. Even God’s law wasn’t capable of creating the change we need. Why do we think we can do better?

– The Bible never speaks against laws, and (unlike the “subversive” writer) it consistently upholds law – and law-abiding – as good, except in cases in which the law itself is manifestly ungodly or unjust.

“ Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” (Romans 13:1)

Good laws are a good thing. I’m a law graduate, and can see the influence of the Bible in many of the laws that are common in Western democracies, from laws of contracts to health and safety at work through to negligence, criminal law and manslaughter. All of these things were mandated by God, in many cases expressly, and are based on concern for human wellbeing.

If we remove godly people (and the Bible) from our lawmaking process, what we are left with is laws that serve the interests of the elites and whichever lobby groups are most persuasive, with consequent suffering for those who have no political clout. Given that “subversive” is all about the justice, I’m surprised that there is so much argument for Christians to abdicate from an area in which they are so urgently needed.

5. Because when you have the power to change every human heart from within and make people brand new inside you don’t waste time on politics.

– So why not just run around zapping people and making them brand new? If indeed you have the power to change hearts as a Christian, why waste time as a nurse, or a doctor, or a teacher, or even as a parent? This is an issue of calling. God calls some people to live as full-time evangelists, preachers, etc.[1] But He also uses people to build the Kingdom where they are. If you’re flipping burgers at McDonald’s, witness there! If you’re a student in college, disciple your fellow students! And if you’re a Christian in politics, lead some of those corrupt politicians to repentance!

Rather than viewing what God gives other people as “wasting time”, perhaps we need to get our hearts right and then enter into some of these areas in the power of God in order to bring the light there.

6. Because we realize that to have a Christian nation you need to start with a nation of Christians. By making disciples we’re collaborating with Jesus to remake the world from within.

– There are two false assumptions here. One is that a “Christian nation” is the goal. Maybe the starting point – or realistic goal, given what the Bible says about the nations in the End Times – is to have a nation that is more Christian (or more reflective of God’s desires) than it would be if left entirely to non-Christians to run. Secondly, you don’t need everyone to be a Christian in order to make a difference. Furthermore, if you get all of the Christians out of politics, that is hardly a step forward. And again, who better to make disciples in the political arena than Christians in politics?

7. Because the Gospel is not spread through political actions or laws.

– Maybe not, but this is about the kind of society we wish to live in. However, some aspects of politics do affect people’s willingness to believe in God. Children who grow up without a father are more likely to believe that there is no God; children who grow up abused are more likely to believe that if there is a God then he is cruel and uncaring. Laws that promote family life can therefore help people to see God through familial stability that leads to effective examples of love. The same goes for justice. Nobody is suggesting that you can legislate people into Christian faith, but at the same time it would be right to found a country on laws that recognise the importance of Christian faith and principle. We must also ask ourselves: what would be the alternatives, and would they be workable?

8. Because we admit that seeking political solutions to mankind’s problems is the same as giving up on the power of the Gospel to change people from within.

– That’s a bit dramatic. Nobody is suggesting that, say, having good laws that uphold the family is going to save people from their sins, or that better laws are going to immediately solve world hunger, or that making it illegal to beat your wife is going to turn every man into a model husband.

Nevertheless, laws are effective in reducing evil behaviour. And “subversive’s” assertion is also a bit like saying that getting a hose to put out a fire in your back yard is the same as giving up on God’s power and sovereignty to send rain to extinguish the flames if it is His will.

I would agree, however, that we need to stop looking to politicians to sort everything out. There are some changes in the nation that only repentance and turning to God can achieve. But many of the changes that would flow from such a seismic shift would still have to be effected through political process, which would mean that one would still need to have people in politics who were sympathetic to those changes.

And what if we are in fact given responsibility so that we can choose to govern effectively in all matters? It would seem that this is the Bible’s call:

“I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence; I possess knowledge and discretion.
To fear the LORD is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech.
Counsel and sound judgment are mine; I have understanding and power.
By me kings reign and rulers make laws that are just…” (Proverbs 8:12 -15)

9. Because passing laws that force people to act Christian isn’t the same as making people like Christ.

– True, but no sensible Christian is arguing for compulsory church attendance enforced by a religious police. I sense that some of this is about not wanting Christians to offend the LGBTQ community by promoting laws that uphold the family rather than legalising same-sex marriage, transgender bathroom rights and so on. But even those laws would not be forcing people to “act Christian” – they would simply be a fruit of biblical guidance which happens to be what God has conceived as good for society.

[EDIT] Keith has since been kind enough to correct me on this issue. Nonetheless, the climate in, say, the emerging/emergent church is one in which there is a deep-seated suspicion of categoric statements of right and wrong, and unease about being seen to tell people what to do. Neither of these are good for lawmaking if they take root and flourish in a culture.

10. Because our core problems, as a human race, are spiritual in nature. That means the only solution is spiritual.

– It is true that our core problems are spiritual in nature, but sometimes God’s answers to those problems are natural ones.

“Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:15,16)

To suggest that all of the solutions are spiritual is to mischaracterise the issues. We need to ask not “What is spiritual?”, but what a godly person should be doing in any situation. If poor black kids are suffering in a particular city because they grown up not learning to read and write properly, we need politicians who will pay attention to those issues and provide books and teachers rather than putting their hands in the pork barrel. Yes, churches and charities can do great things in such areas too. But we’re talking about reforming the system. By all means back this with ardent, effective, soul-rending prayer so that it is done by God’s Spirit as well as through practical means, and the whole project will be even more fruitful.

11. Because politics is ultimately about compromise, power and corruption and no follower of Jesus needs to get entangled in those things.

– Politics does involve compromises, but that is what happens in a democracy. It does not mean that all compromise is bad, or that because some compromises have to be made then the whole of politics is a waste of time. Christians in politics can do a huge amount of good, particularly if backed by a praying church and led by God’s guiding Holy Spirit. There may be the occasional scandal or setback, but such mishaps don’t have to be the defining mode.

And yes, there is a lot of power politics and corruption. However, I think God is calling his people to stand up to those things in whatever way they find available. Christians are called to be a light in the darkness, not to hide.

12. Because human governments are essentially focused on gaining power and national wealth through violence and war.

– So let’s refocus them. Christians butting out of the political arena only leaves the field free for the corrupt ones to pursue their goals.

13. Because politics is part of the world system we are called out of and saved from. It is one of the entanglements the scriptures call us to avoid.

– Which Scriptures? Jesus saved us from sin. We don’t get perfection until we’re in Heaven. We still have to go to work, go to school, pay taxes, etc, and are thus in some measure involved with the world’s system. Or do we want to pay taxes but have no say over how those taxes are spent, or send our kids to school but have no say in what is taught to them?

While it is true that the Bible says, “No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs — he wants to please his commanding officer” (2 Tim 2:4), is there no way to please God by serving Him in politics? Surely this Scripture is addressing the state of one’s heart, since the temptations of the world can easily befall anybody who works for a living, and not just those in the political arena.

14. Because the currency of politics are fame, money, power, manipulation and lies.

– All the more reason why men and women of truth, who have a servant-hearted attitude to leadership, can shine.

“… he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.” (2 Peter 1:3-7)

15. Because politics involves raising and spending billions of dollars which could better be used to build the Kingdom, feed the poor, care for the sick and comfort the outcast.

– True, but so do a lot of things. I suspect that God is firstly interested in how we control the money over which he has directly given us charge. Most Christians are paying into that corrupt system by buying things they can’t afford on finance. Moreover, this is actually an argument for Christians to be involved in politics, since they could be bringing integrity and godly wisdom to bear so as to ensure that money is spent wisely and that the needy are taken care of. These decisions still need to be made. It’s more difficult for Christlike decisions to be made if there are no Christians there to make them.

16. Because the NT portrays the enemies of Jesus as “the nations” and “the Kings of the earth”, we must stand with Jesus and work to advance His Kingdom, not promote earthly governments or leaders.

– The enemies of Jesus are only those who have set themselves against Him. And I don’t see how squandering opportunities to put godly governments in place (at whatever level) is going to advance the Kingdom.

17. Because choosing between the lesser of two evils is still a choice for evil.

– This conflates wisdom (making the right choice) with ideals (having the world as you would like it to be). If you are faced with a difficult choice, you naturally choose the outcome that produces fewer negative consequences. Not choosing at all is neither empowering nor sustainable.

If this refers to the current political climate – i.e. Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump in the battle for the White House – it is understandable that some people might not want to choose either. But could such an unpalatable choice actually be the fruit of Christians failing to engage with politics – and failing to pray for the nation – for many decades previously? Nevertheless, even in such difficult times, it is still good for Christians to be a light in dark places. And if there is any way to choose between Clinton and Trump, one should find it, and choose.

KEITH: One of the most dangerous entanglements faced by Christians is in politics. Why? Simply because those who become entangled in politics do so out of a sincere desire to make a positive difference in the world. But rather than employ the methods that Jesus gave to us, they are attempting to change the world using the world’s systems.

– Again, this insists on Christians in politics being as bad as the world. Maybe some are. But the Bible teaches:

“If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 4:11)

That sounds pretty transforming to me.

KEITH: Jesus did not come to give us more of the same, but with a cross on top. No, He came to show us a new and different way than anything we had ever even imagined before. This is why He started His Sermon on the Mount by urging all of us to “think differently” about everything. He had different ideas like overcoming evil with good, loving our enemies, and laying down our lives for one another.

– Why is this incompatible with politics? A Christian politician who is not there for money or fame is a man or woman who can stand on principle, free from accusation. Thinking differently is good, but we are not called to be different for difference’s sake.

KEITH: Of course, every Christian hopes to make an impact on the world. But Jesus has the very best possible plan for changing the world from the inside out – without bloodshed or oppression or violence.

– Right. So do Christians go into politics with the desire for bloodshed, oppression, or violence? Maybe some who claim to love Jesus do glorify war or weapons. But I think there are many others who would just love to live the example of Jesus in that field, and who need the support of the church to do so.

KEITH: No, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to make the world a better place. The problem is in seeking to do so without Jesus. Or, worse, to mix Christianity with Politics.

– So which Christians in politics (other than shallow, immature or fake ones) are going to try to make the world a better place without Jesus? Only by insisting that politics is un-Christlike can the author make his argument. And who says it is mixing Christianity with politics? What about bringing Christianity *into* politics?

KEITH: You know what you get when you mix religion and politics? You get politics.

– So don’t mix it. Make your politics subject to your godliness.

KEITH: Jesus shows us a better way.

– Indeed He does.

KEITH: Let’s follow Him.

– I pray we do.

Conclusion: Today’s politics are murky and confusing, as much here in the UK (voting to leave the European Union; new Prime Minister and cabinet members; severe challenges facing the nation) as in the US. But does any of this mean that Christians should withdraw from politics or public life?

There is a lot of argument for not being involved in politics which may appear biblical and true at first blush, but are they the whole story? Could this be simply another version of “Don’t Touch!” Christianity, which used to manifest in forbidding believers from dancing, wearing short skirts or going to the cinema? That spirit hasn’t gone away now that many more Christians consider themselves free to do those things; it just attaches itself to new issues – in this case, politics.

Moreover, there are issues of personal feelings or tastes, and one’s own sense of adequacy, at play. A Christian who sees no merit in heavy metal music sees no point in Christians playing in Christian heavy metal bands, and the heavy metal guy doesn’t see much merit in choral evensong, and so on.

Some Christians are called to some activities or fields of work, and some to others. While we’re talking about inclusive church, recognising, and indeed prizing, each other’s callings, and seeing others’ ability to produce godly fruit in a field for which we ourselves have no aptitude or affinity, may be a good place to start.

I contend that we should be involved, and that in so doing, we should bring a godly anointing into politics at all levels. Even – or perhaps especially – in such a dog-eat-dog arena, we can witness for Christ through our love, our gentleness, our wisdom, and our firm stand on what is true and right. May we pray for our Christian politicians, for their integrity, wisdom and continued passion, as well as praying for our nation, and for the hearts of many to be turned to the Lord.

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[1] I know, we’re all called to serve God full-time, and we’re all in ministry. But for those who believe that words still mean something (without necessarily robbing other concepts of meaning), I’m talking about people who don’t do any other job.

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