Stepping Away From Un-Christian Politics
If you’re on social media or are watching the news for more than twelve seconds, you’re sure to spot some sort of rant about a political figure. It has become our habit to mock and insult those authority figures we disagree with.
While we can (and should) feel strongly about different political and social issues, as Christians, we’re called to respond to authority with respect. Rather than bucking the system, sticking it to the man, insulting, or despairing, Christians are taught in the Bible to respond to authority with honor. This starts with honoring God, who holds authority over the whole universe, including every earthly kingdom.
One of the chief ways we honor God is in how we respond to those He has put in authority over us. Whether we agree or disagree with our authorities, showing honor and respect is presented in the Bible as a non-negotiable. In showing honor and respect, we also honor and respect God, who, in His own wisdom and for His own purposes, ordains who will lead and who will follow.
ARE GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS THE EXCEPTION?
The Bible also says Christians should honor, respect, pray for and obey authorities in positions of government. This can be challenging for us, especially during a heated political season like the one that is ramping up right now. And yet, because politics are so heated, the season we are in presents Christians with a unique opportunity to live counter-culturally to the typical partisan spin and vitriol.
Biblically, Christians have a civic duty to honor their national, state and local officials. As long we aren’t being coerced to sin against God, following Jesus includes submitting to and praying for all of our public authorities. When this happens, citizens of God’s kingdom will be known as the most refreshing citizens of earthly kingdoms, no matter who is in charge. This was true in biblical times, and it can be true now.
New Testament Christians were routinely marginalized, persecuted and even put to death by the Roman state. Even in this climate, honoring, respecting, cooperating with and praying for Roman officials was part of being a disciple. The Apostle Peter, who would later be executed by Rome for his Christian faith, said that in all circumstances, Christians must honor the king (1 Peter 2:17). The Apostle Paul, who would also be martyred by decree of the Roman Caesar, said every Christian must submit to and pray for governing authorities (Romans 13:1).
In today’s political climate, it is hard to find Christians who embrace this line of thinking. Instead, many have been drawn into partisan spin and rhetoric. In so doing, these well-intended but misguided Christians have become more like the world than like Jesus.
Here are a few thoughts about how we can retreat from the spin and rhetoric, and instead return to more of a New Testament approach:
1. DON’T LABEL OR SMEAR; INSTEAD, HUMBLE YOURSELF
Right-leaning Christians fall prey to dishonoring our last president. He identified as Christian, yet was labeled as patently anti-Christian. He identified as a social Democrat, yet got labeled as a Socialist. He claimed to champion the poor and underserved, yet got labeled as a crook who takes “other people’s money” and uses it to enable laziness.
Similarly, left-leaning Christians have shown disrespect to the president before him. Words like “Murica” and “Strategery” became part of the American lexicon, but not for honoring reasons. Rather, such words were used to belittle, embarrass and caricature this president and Yale graduate as a bumbling idiot.
Left-leaning Christians can also engage in inflammatory and unfair rhetoric that labels right-leaning authorities as anti-poor, anti-woman, anti-immigrant and so on.
Christians on both the left and the right have expressed concern about the gross character flaws, and some of the policies, of our current President as well. This is fine and appropriate, unless of course concerns give way to name-calling and personal insults. Not even the young man David, when King Saul sought personally to destroy him, fell into this trap. Although David had two opportunities to finish Saul off, he would not assassinate him, either in his person or his character. In his own words, he dared not harm “the Lord’s anointed.”
Right, left, or neither, we should address the logs in our own eye before we presume to address the specks in someone else’s.
2. SHOW RESPECT FOR AUTHORITIES WITH WHOM YOU DISAGREE
Examples fill the Scriptures. In spite of being put in prison for crimes he didn’t commit, Joseph treated Pharaoh and the Egyptian guards with honor. Daniel and his three friends spoke respectfully to Babylon’s evil King Nebuchadnezzar. David blessed and prayed for King Saul, as I mention above. When David had the opportunity to destroy Saul, he resisted the temptation. Instead, he entrusted himself, and the ways that king Saul had injured him, to God who judges justly.
David wouldn’t even speak negatively about Saul. Why? Because God, for reasons only God knew, wanted Saul to be king for a time. Out of respect for God, David gave respect to Saul.
These are great models for us to consider as we engage political discussions, and as we think about how to relate to authorities we don’t agree with.
3. ENGAGE THE POLITICAL PROCESS IN A GROWN-UP, NON-JUDGMENTAL WAY
Amid a heated political campaign in 1774, John Wesley wrote the following in his Journal:
“I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them:
1. To vote … for the person they judged most worthy,
2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against, and
3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.”
Another thing you can do is organize. With the rise of Facebook groups and hashtag movements, there is no shortage of opportunity to engage in causes you believe in.
But activism that’s limited to social media, or “slacktivism,” isn’t enough. If you really want to make a difference, you need to also figure out how you are going to donate your time, financial contributions, and professional skills to leave the world better and, so far as it depends on you, make government intervention and involvement less necessary.
4. REMEMBER JESUS’ KINGDOM IS NOT OF THIS WORLD
Jesus came to fulfill every part of Scripture. Not one word of God’s just and true law will go unfulfilled by Jesus.
How conservative of Him.
And yet, as Jesus demonstrates, the more conservative we are in our beliefs about Scripture, the more liberal we will be in the ways we love. Jesus fulfilled the law by feeding the hungry, identifying with the poor, empowering women, reaching out cross-culturally (as a white, English speaking man in North America, I’m especially thankful for this), and welcoming and eating with sinners.
How progressive of Him.
And get this: Jesus brought Simon, an anti-government Zealot, and Matthew, a government employee, into his group of disciples. Of the four Gospel writers, Matthew alone points out this fact, signaling that loyalties to Jesus transcend all other loyalties, including political ones.
Even Simon and Matthew, two people on polar opposite political extremes, were able to live and love in community together. Why? Because instead of creating dividing walls, Jesus breaks down dividing walls and prays that His followers—from the political left and the political right—will live as one. In this, we show the world that we are His disciples.
5. ASK YOURSELF THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION
In consideration of Matthew and Simon living in community together under Jesus, we should wrestle with the following question:
For whom do I feel greater affection, and with whom to I feel most kindred?
1. People who agree with my politics but don’t share my faith? Or …
2. People who share my faith but don’t agree with my politics?
If it’s the first instead of the second, we are rendering unto Caesar what belongs to God. And that can’t be a good thing.
The way we answer this question will, in many ways, determine what kind of honor—or what kind of dishonor—we will give to those in authority over us. It will also reveal whom and what it is that we truly follow.
Will we be disciples of a partisan platform, or will we be disciples of Jesus, who is King of kings and whose kingdom is not of this world? I pray it will be the latter, not the former.
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[…] On Becoming More Christian, Not Less, In Our Politics […]
I agree with most of what you say in the above article. However, I have found it almost impossible to find anyone who shares my faith but not my politics… at least on the major things. I don’t understand how someone can be a Christian (and not in name only) and believe that abortion is okay … especially when the baby could survive on his or her own. Nor do I understand how someone can be in a same sex relationship (or marriage) and continually defy the will of God daily and still truly be a Christian. I believe that once saved always saved, but I am not sure that people who live in sin defying the will of God on purpose … well I am not sure if that still applies… maybe you have thoughts on that. I also believe that there are many who categorize sin, which I don’t … I believe that people who live together before marriage are also willfully disobeying God… and most Christians seem to think that is not as “bad”… or other sins are not as “bad.” I know we are all sinners and Christ died for our sins… past, present, and future… but how do we deal with willful, continual sins ??? Is it the same ? As far as politics goes, it seems to be that the Republican Platform is more in line with what the Bible tells us about how we should live together… where the Democratic Platform which is now the Democratic Socialist party it seems…. well it is just the opposite. Government intrudes far too much in our lives. I think the body of Christ could do far more on our own if we were all living as we should. We should be caring for the poor and the needy… we should be the voice of the voiceless… and we should be helping immigrants… but are not laws about that important too ? Should we not respect the laws… ??? I believe that we should obey the laws, but that doesn’t mean we ignore a pregnant woman or a child. There are far better ways to deal with many of the issues we have today… but most Christians just shy away from everything. President Trump certainly has not led a life that lines up with Biblical teachings either, but he has been supportive of many things important to Christians… like supporting Israel… working to support Pro-Life causes… and getting more just judges on the courts. Human law and government is far less important than God’s laws. But so many Christians just do not vote… or vote for those who cannot win. Considering how corrupt our society is… it is hard to even find a friend you can talk to let alone a Christian who agrees with your politics. It makes me sad that even many at church have been more divisive than those outside the church. I have the hope of Heaven in my heart, but it is sad to see our country possibly going the way of Nazi Germany or Ancient Rome.
Thank you Bonnie for sharing this;
“Considering how corrupt our society is… it is hard to even find a friend you can talk to let alone a Christian who agrees with your politics. It makes me sad that even many at church have been more divisive than those outside the church.”
Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32). In other words, the Cross the instrument of love, holiness and unity (not uniformity)! I think that is where the problem lies. We work from two separate frames; Jesus is Savior but not Lord in all areas of life! We are not being fed the Word to grow to maturity; we have remained children, complaining, making heroes out of people, never coming to the knowledge of right or wrong, easily seduced by power instead of knowing the Truth and paying the price for taking a stand, and so on. Evangelical leaders are today more interested in having access to the White House than to the Throne of God. Truth is fast becoming the casualty. Hence, we have no credibility to tell the world Jesus is the Truth. Hence, we are divided (in every way) like the rest of the world. I chuckle when I hear someone say Thank God we are not persecuted for our faith (like those others out there). There is no need for Satan to waste his energy persecuting sleeping and complacent believers.
I agree. But when you you call evil out? Are we to stay silent when someone Ah such hateful rhetoric to other human beings? When Chaldean Christians are detained and could be sent to Iraq, probably to their deaths. I pray for our president, Intry to applaud anything he’s done that helps people. Are you saying to call out hate and evil is wrong here because someone is in leadership?
Bonnie. “I have found it almost impossible to find anyone who shares my faith but not my politics”. Really? Look at that again. Really? You only have to travel outside the US, and probably look closer within it, and you will find plenty. This maybe says more about your social circle. Is your statement not tantamount to identifying your faith with your Politics? I think it is. Politics is about a lot more than abortion and same sex marriage. An awful lot more. What about those of us who live in countries where these things are liberally available? We get on with being salt and light. What about issues in right wing politics that are anti-Gospel?
I said to a group of students recently “you’ll never find a party with whom you will agree on all things as a Christian. So choose one you feel will do the greatest good; campaign from within on issues you disagree with ( because all parties have diversity, be that Democrats for life, or Republicans for gun control), and most of all, respect and work with those Christians across the house who believe the same things but whose choice of party led them in a different direction!” A Christian whose commitment to global issues and social justice led them to join or vote for a party whose policy on same sex marriage they disagreed with, is worthy of the same respect as a Christian whose commitment to moral issues led them to join or vote for a party whose immigration policy they disagree with. Scot is spot on in this great article.
“Politics is about a lot more than abortion and same sex marriage.” I agree. Democrats and Republicans are both for these issues! Republicans are for “big government” when it suits them. Remember? “We should not let financial entities” that caused the 2008 crisis go under; we should bail them?
Evangelicalism as defined by Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, etc is about whiteness, about FEAR; not about Truth! Graham and co. spend their energies not outing lies (defending Truth) but coming up with excuses and consequently undermining the credibility of the gospel. No wonder Millennials are leaving the church!
I really agree with some of what you say here. We are called to love even those who we consider our enemies. I think we need to be careful to revere how God’s written word handles how we should choose to relate to those who call themselves Christian verses those who flat out are not. For example, for the person calling himself “brother” who is living in unrepentant sexual sin even after they are lovingly confronted with this, Paul calls the church to no longer associate. On the other hand, a person outside of the church who is immoral, we should associate with enough in order to share with them about the opportunity of repenting of such sin for forgiveness and a life of joyful relationship with Jesus by grace!
I definitely agree that God chooses to use even immoral leaders of His choice in earthly kingdoms which we should respect once they are in office. On the other hand, anyone who calls themselves a brother or sister in Christ who does not acknowledge, for example, the compounding Biblical principles and commands that most definitely declare abortion as heinous evil and who tend to demonstrate such in their patterns in the voting booth I do not sense any draw towards finding tolerance and unity with. Living in unrepentant sexual sin and turning a blind eye and indifference towards what is most definitely evil in God’s sight in the practice of abortion are really not much different.
If I saw that there are fruits from progressive gov’t beyond just their approval of abortion practice that help those who are social minorities, I could give the benefit of the doubt towards Christian support. But progressivism that has the appearance of lovingness has instead led the good people under their leadership towards dependence on gov’t at the expense of familial unity and almost every city in our country run by these has resulted in fellow human beings made in God’s image living in impoverished conditions of no dignity. Coupling this with a call for big government with less and less layers of accountability that America in its design sought to establish as also formulated from Christian principle will most definitely lead to worsening conditions not better. God in His sovereignty may allow such, but in the meantime, Christians should stand in unity to support that which God approves of in the details then find satisfaction in His resultant decision on which direction the earthly kingdom may go.
[…] This article originally appeared here. […]
I enjoyed reading this article. It helps identify some of my own blind spots and areas I can live more faithfully. I’m sure we can agrees the political landscape was different in ancient times than what we have in America today. We no longer are subordinate to kingship as was Jesus and the apostles in the Roman empire. Our governmental landscape looks different, does it not? Today, from my understanding, the American experiment was founded on liberty & self-rule. So a question I’ve been wrestling with is, “how do I as a Christian submit to the government, when I am the government?” If we deem governmental policies tyrannical when do we defy to glorify Christ our Redeemer? We see defiance to governing bodies sprinkled through the OT when Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego defied King Nebuchadnezzar orders to bow to him; we also see that Daniel, a servant to King Darius, defied the prayer decree of the King knowingly and was punished. In both instances God was glorified publicly by defiance of tyrannical kingship could we not say? God honored all three cases and saved them in the grimmist of circumstances, for his glory! We also see defiance in the apostles lives when they continued to preach the gospel after arrests in the book of Acts. But we also read where the Apostle Paul instructed citizens to live peaceably before all people and pray for the rulers, as you mentioned with other passages as well.
So I guess one question during our time of lockdown, due to Covid, is the government operating tyrannically in certain states where the church is defying the states edicts for gathering for worship? I use the cases in Nevada & California that were a few weeks back as examples. When those leaders defied the states edicts are they doing it for man’s or God’s glory? It’s my understanding that God commands his people to worship together, that doesn’t mean in the traditional American Corporate gathering sense necessarily, but gathering nonetheless. Another question I’ve been wrestling with is that “when does the church lose it’s sense of divine mission and become to enmeshed in governmental procedures and definitions of justice?” That may be a question for another day! Need to get back to work 🙂 Thanks for the thought provoking article.
AMEN, a thousand times AMEN.
Thank you, Scott.
Before discussing meat of article I have to comment on ordained. My understanding is Calvinists believe God ordains everything that happens, He is sovereign. So, all rulers and authorities ultimately are ordained of God. Sorry, but I just can’t bring myself to believe that all these foreign countries with tyrannical rulers are ordained of God, such as North Korea, China, Russia, etc. I believe Satan rules this world, countries that CHOOSE to ignore God get their desire, God loves them enough to give them what they ask for. God does intervene for the Christians there that seek and call on Him. And, God can intervene as He chooses, His ultimate purposes will occur. To be really honest I don’t understand exactly how the sovereignty of God works with free will, but I believe in free will. In my mind God did not cause Hitler to murder 7 million Jews, He did not want that to happen. Hitler did that as a follower of Satan, it was evil, evil gots it way, and God chose not to intervene, the people chose to let it happen.
Regarding meat of article it had a great message we all need to hear, especially me. I believe Pelosi, Schumer, and most of Democrat party want to see the influence of evangelical Christianity gone from our society. They are okay with the lukewarm church that has little or no influence. They really don’t want to see strong, born again, radical Christians having a voice in politics. For Trump I pray for a change in heart. His policies and actions have been good for Christians, but his rhetoric is divisive and revengeful. Here is what I try to do, as Scott points out much better than me. I pray for them, I ask God to guide them, I pray He will intervene in their lives. I try to avoid criticism and hate, but sometimes I’m not good at that.
I may need to change, I’ll admit that, but I’m basically a one issue voter, far above all other issues. That is the murder of children without a chance at life. Even if the child is not wanted, will be born in bad situation, or has known disabilities, they still deserve a chance. God can do mighty things, he can do miracles, He can bring love where we don’t even think it could exist. A just society cannot allow, and especially promote, the murder of innocent children in the womb. This is not Republican/Democrat, I hate that it is even a political issue, but it is now, so we have to deal with it. I vote pro-life whoever that person may be.
Some people focus on hot-button issues (e.g. climate change, abortion) to the exclusion of all other questions. This makes people vulnerable to manipulation.
Yes, we have to examine a politician’s record, views, and policies. Equally, we have to examine that person’s character. Are they liars? Adulterers? Do they act as if the law is for lesser beings? In short, are they fit to be a leader even if they claim to support the “correct” views?
At the same time, we have to ask ourselves those same questions, but even more searchingly and with less wiggle-room.
You acknowledge generally that we should respect authority only so “long we aren’t being coerced to sin against God.”
What about being forced to fund infanticide with our tax dollars? What about Christians being forced to give our time and talents to support homosexual weddings? What about being forced to have our children to cohabit bathrooms with opposite sex, and often sexually deviant adults? What if the cultural and political leaders support and promote gender transition for pre-teens? Lowering the age of sexual consent (i.e., normalizing pedophilia)? What if politicians force your church to close on flimsy rationales?
Should we respect pastors who promote unbiblical concepts, who lack discernment, and who lack the spine to stand against the culture, at a time when it is drifting from objective truth at warp speed?
Jeff I agree that personal morality is a relevant issue to consider when evaluating a politician. However, I would argue morality is a secondary issue to the political outcomes that politician pursues. The most reasoned approach to poltics, I believe, is to confront the issues you describe in a two-step process.
First, if the politician embraces (or does not outright denounce) evil policies, he/she is disqualified from consideration. Politics is all about the objective good or evil of political outcomes, not the perceived morality of politician implementing those policies (all humans are flawed). Second, assuming the politician is NOT embracing evil policies, then consider their morality.
Obviously, a moral man pursuing moral policies is ideal, but most can perceive why an immoral man pursuing righteous policies is preferable to politician–regardless of their perceived morality–who promises to institute wickedness.
Scott, your message is what Christians need to remind ourselves of each and every day. We need to be the light in the dark, so as Madeleine L’Engle said “We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.” This goes for our spiritual and secular beliefs. Also,British evangelists Rodney Smith once said, “there are five gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and the Christian, but most people will never read the first four.” He was basically saying that the Word is first seen before it is heard. Every place of worship to God needs to hear this more today than ever.
I would ask for some clarification on your statements in the section of your first point. If, as you stated, we are to humble ourselves and set the example, then why is it okay to as you stated to, “question the gross character flaws and some of the policies of our current president” yet not to question the past president as anti Christian? If a Christian is questioning either character flaws or anti Christian, isn’t this passing judgment? And why are we labeling Christians as right leaning or left leaning? Isn’t this placing ourselves (Christians) right in the middle of politics?