Let me start out by saying that this article will make no attempt to provide an overarching “theology of politics,” or anything of that nature. The purpose, rather, is to explore some of the confusing aspects of politics as they relate to Christians. Christians who live in a democracy (or something of the sort) are in a unique position in history, as we who have an unprecedented ability to become involved in the political process.
We don't have much in the way of explicit biblical commands on how to handle such a form of government, or any government. There are, however, some guidelines given that can help us, even beyond the explicitly governmental commands to submit to our rulers and pay our taxes.
What makes politics so confusing and agonizing in a democratic society is that we don't even have much in the way of biblical examples of people living in this environment, much less commands on how to deal with it. At least with some other forms of government there are clear examples given of people living in those environments.
The few examples we do have of people trying to do their own thing usually turn out very badly, as they are a result of rebellion, not submission.
But God has placed us in a representative democracy. I think it's important to recognize the distinction between our situation and a real democracy, as we do not directly influence most laws of the land. This can significantly change how we vote, since we are choosing representatives who all have some problems as opposed to picking and choosing exact votes on specific issues.
It seems that many Christians, however, vote as if they were voting on each issue specifically. They look at what are some of the most important issues and vote for a candidate who has a good position on those issues, whether or not his position on other issues is good.
For example, if I were voting directly on the issue of abortion, I would vote for outlawing it every time. When it comes to voting for a representative, however, I have to balance this issue with all the other important issues that come into play during an election.
In the upcoming presidential election, there are a number of candidates who are anti-abortion. But what are their positions on issues like war and peace? Or how do they treat the poor? Sadly, those who are good on the first issue are hardly ever good on the last two. Obviously these aren't the only three issues affecting a presidential election, but they are very important ones.
And when it comes to a presidential election, what affect will my vote have on abortion? George W. Bush is anti-abortion, but having him in office for two terms hasn’t really done anything about this issue. Abortion is a firmly entrenched practice in this country, and no president has the ability to change that.
So then I look at the other issues that should be important to Christians and try to vote based on a combination of issues.
But even that is obviously not so simple. For starters, there is not a single candidate who has all the characteristics that I want in a president. Therefore I have to balance the issues that I think are the most important with the issues where I think a president can actually make a difference. This is a bit pragmatic, but is there any advantage to voting exclusively on principle in matters where our vote will really not make a difference?
But lets move to a different side of the coin. In all of these issues, we cannot rely on government to accomplish what God has called the Church to accomplish. We cannot abdicate our responsibility of caring for the poor, for example, to the government. But are there times when it is suitable to have the government supplement what the Church is doing?
Caring for the poor is a good example in this area, because it’s clear that we are commanded by God to care for the poor (even though this seems to have been forgotten by large segments of “Christians” today). The Church must do something to take care of the poor. This will help reach them for Christ, yes, but caring for the poor is important in any case, not just when it is tied to evangelism.
So, should we use government to some degree to help accomplish this purpose? My knee-jerk response would be “no,” but is that more of a product of a lifetime of Republican conditioning, or is it the most biblical route? If I truly care for the poor, won’t I want to seem them helped in any way possible?
Of course you could argue that the government is not very efficient at this task, and you would be right. But is that a good enough excuse?
Like I said before, I don’t really have the answers to the complicated issues of politics. But there is so much more to consider than many Christians seem willing to admit.
There is another very important thing to consider. In regards to the moral issues that we find so important (and rightly so), what will accomplish our goals? Politics? Getting Christians into office? No. The only thing that will stamp out abortion is people turning to God. Even if abortion was outlawed, it would still continue. It would just go underground like it used to be before it was legalized. But if we truly want to stamp out abortion, we will attempt to reach people for Christ. Only as God changes their hearts will they turn from their sin.
The most important thing to remember is that God is in control. The hearts of our leaders are in his hands, and he uses even their mistakes and sin to accomplish his purposes. The most effective way that we can change this country is to pray, because ultimately the way we vote matters very little.
I grow up in an environment where politics were treated as very black and white. There were only a few issues deemed worthy for Christians to care about , and anybody who wasn't a Republican was looked upon with extreme suspicion. In fact, I don't know anybody who would have admitted to being anything other than a Republican.
Over time, I've come to realize that Christians should be concerned with much more than just abortion, marriage, and gun control. While I'm not really trying to convince anyone of a specific point of view here, I hope I've helped you realize that you may need to take a broader look at how we as Christians handle politics.
January 25, 2008