How Christians Should Understand Politics

It seems that one of the effects of the 2016 election season has been its “outing” of Christians into the political sphere. Many Christians who usually do not express their opinions on politics have suddenly started to engage politics on a public level, revealing that Christians are a lot more politically diverse than people realize.

And it’s not just that they differ on policies (e.g. environmental protection laws, immigration laws, education laws); they differ on how they view the basic role of government. Some say that the primary role of government should be to promote values that ensure a prosperous nation; others say that the primary role of government should be to promote equity across all demographics; still others say that the primary role of government should be to ensure certain freedoms.

This revelation of deep political divisions can be a great opportunity for members of the multicultural church to learn about other cultures. But unfortunately, this has by and large driven the American church not toward cross-cultural understanding but toward cross-cultural condemnation. Many Christians are not seeking to actually learn different points of view, because they are already fully convinced that their points of view are the biblical points of view. And as a result, they make all sorts of “biblical cases” to defend their views and ask others to consider their stances, though they rarely consider the stances of others.

Cases are made for why Christians should vote for or not vote for certain presidential candidates. Cases are made for why it is okay to vote for the lesser of two evils, or why it is not okay to vote for the lesser of two evils. Cases are made for why America is the new Israel, and cases are made for why America is the new Babylon.

But frankly, although the message of the Bible certainly has ethical implications, I think that many of these so-called biblical cases are actually not biblical at all. From what I can tell, these biblical cases are simply people stating their personal beliefs—which have been derived from their cultures, their experiences, their media sources, etc.—and simply defending them by taking Bible verses out of context. They give the impression that their views are derived from the Bible when, in reality, they are simply baptizing their own views with the Bible.

Of course, there are certain principles people can derive from Scripture, but it seems to me that many of these Christian political articles out there are not based on these principles. What people often do is that they, like the Pharisees, use their knowledge of Scripture to give the impression of doing God’s will, while they in fact are just using God to justify their own agendas. And when the Bible is repeatedly used in ways to defend views it does not hold, its cultural power is diluted until it means nothing at all. It becomes nothing more than free-for-all ammunition that Christians employ to wage war against one another.

So what is the proper Christian view on politics? Well, it’s hard to say. There are a few principles we can derive from the Bible, but many of them are quite paradoxical. Here are a few examples.

  • Christianity is both conservative and progressive. It is conservative because it depends on an unchanging God, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. And it is progressive because the kingdom of God is always on the move, and it is offensively breaking down the gates of hell.
  • Christianity is concerned about both justice and mercy. It simultaneously advocates punishment and pardon for the lawbreaker.
  • Christianity  decries and condemns secular governments, but it also advocates submission to secular governments. From a biblical standpoint, the very existence of secular government is a direct result of a social rejection of God, and the Bible is filled with numerous examples of prophets condemning these secular governments. Nonetheless, followers of Jesus are called to obey their governing authorities.
  • Christianity teaches both individual responsibility and social responsibility. On the one hand, all have individually sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and therefore individual justification is required. And on the other hand, the whole world is corrupt and fallen, which means that systemic sin exists, and therefore social justice is required.

So where do we go from all of these paradoxical principles? I’m not sure. But I know for certain that we cannot condemn all political opponents at a whole-scale level for not being biblical. The Bible’s far more complex than we make it out to be. And God is much too big to be reduced to rhetorical ammunition in a political war.

Larry


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