Thinking About Politics as a Christian

On September 25 a roundtable discussion was held at Riverview Baptist Church entitled “Finding Our Voice: Engaging in Politics as a Christian.”  This discussion covered several aspects of entering into political discourse through the lens of a Christian worldview.  In light of the difficult decisions that Americans – and especially Christians – must make during this election cycle, Pastors Joel and Levi present portions of their answers from that discussion.  

 

What is government? What is its purpose?

Government is a system that God has put in place for the primary purpose of protecting its people through the enforcement of laws, for punishing evil and promoting good (Rom.13-3-4, 1 Peter 2.14).  Scripture is clear that government is a good thing that has been put in place by God – not by any man-made system.  The question then becomes, “How is the government to promote good and punish evil?”  It does so by enacting just laws – laws that are not evil and are instead fair.  And it does so by punishing those who break laws and by doing so impartially.

Along these lines, the Founders declared that the purpose of government was to recognize that all men were created equal and endowed by our Creator with certain, unalienable rights, and “that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”  Government is not the source of our rights; God is (Acts 17.25).  Therefore the government is accountable to him.  The government does not give us our rights but instead acts on God’s behalf by protecting them based upon its delegated authority from the consent of the governed – the people.   It is not the chief authority, but it answers to both God and man. 

For these reasons, Christians are commanded by scripture to submit to and pray for the government that God has put in place, inasmuch as it does not command us to sin (Rom. 13.1-2, 5-7, 1 Tim. 2.1-2). 

 

What are some things all Christians should be united on when it comes to politics?

We acknowledge that there are several areas in which the Bible does not speak clearly regarding current political issues, and there is much room for constructive disagreement and debate.  In general, however, Christians should be united on political issues about which the Bible speaks clearly, and there are many.  These issues include but are not limited to (in no particular order):

1. The gospel of God in Jesus Christ is the source of our hope and salvation – not any government or human ruler (Ps 33.16-17). 

2. A Christian’s true citizenship does not lie in any earthly nation, but in heaven (Phil. 3.20).

3. Our hope is in the future kingdom of Christ in the new creation – not in a political party (Rom. 1.16). 

4. We must submit every aspect of our lives – including political involvement – to the authority of Christ our Lord (2 Cor. 10.5).

5. All men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain, unalienable rights (Gen. 1.27, Acts 17.25).

6. Innocent human life is to be protected and preserved in all forms (Gen. 1.27, 9.6). 

7. Marriage was instituted by God as being between one man and one woman (Gen. 2.24, Matt. 19.4-6). 

 

Why is politics important?  Why is it not important?

Engagement in politics is important because it is vital to the functioning and flourishing of our country and government.  Because we live in a constitutional representative republic, political engagement is necessary for the preservation of freedom and for our system of government to “work.”  We are a self-governed nation, and as such we are all rulers to an extent.  As such we must attempt to self-govern in such a way as to show our ultimate allegiance is to Christ (Phil. 3.20).  We must remember that our political activity is an area which is under the lordship of Christ and therefore – even and especially when considering difficult and complicated issues – our goal should be to obey Christ and to identify with his morality and his kingdom above the factions of this world (2 Cor. 10.5).  For these reasons, it is incumbent upon all American citizens to take part in the political process.

At the same time, it can be difficult for American Christians to find the balance between our involvement in politics and trusting in the sovereignty of God to direct the affairs of nations (Ps. 44.7-8).  It is easy for us to adopt a self-important view of our role in the political process, assuming that the course of our nation is determined solely by a majority of votes.  In fact, our system of government is set up in such a way as to emphasize the sovereignty of the voter, and not the sovereignty of God.  We should take care not to think that our nation’s course depends solely on votes and voter turnout.  In this sense, politics is “not important” because it is God who directs the affairs of nations, and the king’s heart as a stream of water in God’s hand (Is. 46.9-10, Ps. 75.7, Prov. 21.1). 

Considering these realities, we believe it wise to regard our role in the political process as participating in what God is doing in the world, in submission to his sovereign will (Est. 4.14).  When we engage politically, we do so with wisdom and the counsel of scripture in order to participate in what God is doing in our cities, states, and country. 

 

What is the role of the church in politics? What is the role of individual Christians? How are they different?

The primary role of the church in the world is to spread the kingdom of God per the great commission (Matt. 28.19-20).  As the church goes about this mission it is not to endorse a candidate or party, nor are we to seek to set up our church, religion, or denomination as the “ruling religion” like the Roman Catholic church did for many centuries.  There is a separation between the church and the state in which the church does not seek the authority to run the country, and the state does not seek to control the church.  That being said, there are indeed ways that the church can and should influence the realm of politics, such as:

1. The church can and should set the cultural tone in which political discourse takes place.  The church shapes the marketplace of ideas in which we engage political ideas by informing public discourse with biblical principles (Acts 17.16-31, 2 Cor. 10.5). 

2. The church is to preach the gospel and teach the Bible to believers so as to inform and influence their individual political involvement (2 Tim. 2.15).

3. The church is to call the nation, political parties, the government, and government officials to repentance (Luke 3.19).  When the government acts wickedly, the church identifies their sin and calls them to repentance.

It must be acknowledged, however, that the influence of the church in cultural and political discourse has been diminishing in recent decades, and its influence has been declining exponentially in recent years.  It has been said that we are now living in a “post-Christian” culture in which the influence of the church has waned and we no longer have the collective power to be the culture shaping entity that we once were.  In this sense, the role of the church in politics has, and most likely will continue to, diminish. 

The role of the individual Christian in politics is to first and foremost engage in and challenge political issues through the lens of a Christian worldview informed by scripture.  Individual Christians should be leaders when it comes to fulfilling their civic responsibilities and taking positions of leadership in political arenas.  

 

What would you say to a non-Christian who says religion has no place in the public square, or in politics in general?

We hold that any and all political discourse necessarily rises from a moral foundation, be it Christian or otherwise.  In fact, we assert that the notion that one can engage in political issues or in the marketplace of ideas without appealing to a definitive standard of truth is erroneous.  All people engage ideas through the lens of their worldviews, and each worldview has the right to be represented in the marketplace of ideas.  Christians should not be expected to abandon their worldview or standard of truth in political engagement any more than others who represent an opposing worldview.  In fact, even the statement “religion has no place in the public square” is an inherently moral statement that arises from a particular worldview.  If the worldview that generates this moral way thinking is welcomed in the public square, then on what basis should the morality of the Christian worldview be excluded? 

Along these lines, a common refrain is that morality can’t be legislated, and that to insist that laws be written based on a particular moral standard is to “force your morality” on others.  In fact, morality is the only thing that can be legislated.  All laws are moral and rest upon a moral foundation.  Many American laws are founded on the basis of Christian morality.  Other laws are not, but they are no less moral legislation. 

In the end, everyone always engages in political discourse and the marketplace of ideas through the lens of a worldview rising from a foundational morality.  If we truly desire for the marketplace of ideas to be a free marketplace, all worldviews must be equally welcome.

 

What does it mean to vote for someone?

In the most basic sense, to vote for someone is to give your delegated authority to a candidate to represent and govern on your behalf.  For this reason, we believe it is vitally important to prayerfully consider the candidate(s) to whom we give our authority, for in so doing we tie ourselves to the candidate and his or her actions and become, at least to some extent, accountable for them.

For example, if a candidate runs on a promise to invade Canada and take all of their natural resources and does just that, and you voted for him then you are responsible on some level for giving him the authority to do what he said he was going to do.  It is true that candidates lie about what they are going to do in office and do things that we cannot anticipate, but we should be vigilant to be as informed as possible when it comes to giving our authority to (voting for) anyone.  This reality should give us pause as we consider the promises made by political candidates, and especially when considering party platforms.  By voting for candidates we give them the authority to accomplish what they have said they will do, and to promote the things that they value.  It is our belief that we will be held accountable by God for this decision. 

 

We have heard a lot about voting for the lesser of two evils, or not doing so this year.  Is voting for a third party candidate a waste?    

One thing is certain: every candidate in the history of the United States has been a sinner and, to some extent or another, a “lesser evil.”  On this side of heaven we will never have a ruler who is not stained by sin (Rom. 3.10-11, 23).  So we should not expect or demand perfection from our candidates, because such a thing is not possible. 

In this sense, perhaps we should reframe the question from asking “Which candidate is the lesser of two evils?” to “Which candidate will further biblical righteousness more?” (Micah 6.8, Amos 5.24)  Even if both (or more than two) candidates are not Christians, one will certainly govern in a way that is more in line with biblical principles than the other(s).  We should support candidates who will lead us closer to biblical righteousness. 

Furthermore, the Bible makes it clear that God reigns as the Supreme Ruler over the nations.  God has foreseen and ordained the results of this election – and every election – since before the foundation of the world.  Put simply, one vote (or any number of votes, for that matter) is not going to thwart God’s plan, and he won’t be surprised by the way anyone votes.  If this is true, then it should reshape the way we think about voting.  God uses people to accomplish his purposes in the world – including through voting.  God uses voting and elections to “remove kings and set up kings” (Dan. 2.21).  Since God is in control of our elections, voting, then, becomes not so much determining the course of our country, but participating in God’s foreordained plan for our country.  A good question to ask ourselves might be, “Which candidate, if elected, will move our country closer to the righteousness God has revealed in the Bible?”  If we will be faithful to use biblical wisdom to vote in accordance with biblical principles, our vote will not be wasted, regardless of whom we are led to vote for.