The issue of whether Christians should be involved in politics is complex, one that can lead to disagreement among those with even the most sincere faith. Especially if you are new to Christianity, someone that is seeking or someone that is newly committed, you may find that politics is one of the major things (along with interpretation of scripture and method of worship) that divides believers of a common faith.
Within many groups of the Christian faith, political involvement, or the lack thereof, is what distinguishes them from others. For every group such as the pacifist Amish that do not allow its members to seek or hold public office, there are churches that allow candidates, whether liberal or conservative or somewhere in the middle, to speak to their congregation during times typically designated for worship.
If you look even briefly throughout world history, major events or change of government have often been associated with a predominant faith, often with another religious group seeking to claim the power to rule or at the very least not to be persecuted. From the change of the pagan Roman Empire to Christianity under the rule of Constantine, to the Crusades of the Catholic church seeking the conversion of most of the known world in the 1100-1200’s, religion and faith dictated daily life, as a particular faith usually dictated how people were governed.
More recently, within the past 400 years, the founding of the United States, at least in part, came about because people sought the opportunity to worship freely, in a society that specifically did not have a state religion. Even today, actual wars between faith groups are responsible for death and destruction in many places in earth, most notably in the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa. Even conflicts between Christians, Catholics and Protestants, have resulted in casualties in Ireland and Northern Ireland.
With all of this information to consider, integrating your political beliefs with your faith can seem a daunting task. A good place to start is to identify how the scriptures talk about politics and thus show how we can apply the same principles today. If we look at the Bible, we need to first recognize that although the messages are timeless and very much apply today, the specifics reflect cultures from thousands of years ago. So, while you will see mentions of kings and queens, you will not see mentions of presidents. There were people in charge then as there are now.
One instance that show God’s influence in government is found in the book of Daniel. Daniel saw many visions from God, but one in particular addresses how God has a direct hand in the rulers of the world. “During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven and said: ‘Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning’” (Daniel 2:19-21, NIV).
This constancy of the presence of God in the affairs of human history mentioned in the passage is important to remember. With every regime change, whether by force, by coup, by succession or by democratic election, God is present and aware. While you may live in a country that allows you to have a voice in your choice of leader or not, the omniscience of God means that the outcome was known already by him. How this truth is possible, called God’s sovereignty, is one of God’s greatest mysteries, and one that we often have a hard time wrapping our minds around.
Often Christians cite the Ten Commandments mentioned in Exodus 20:1-17 as a basis for laws that should be applied to government.
“And God spoke all these words: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. “You shall not murder. “You shall not commit adultery. “You shall not steal. “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
There some definite correlations between some of the commandments and many current laws. The sixth commandment forbidding murder is a law that is commonplace in most societies, although one could debate as to how it is effectively used. The eighth commandment against stealing also currently applies although the value of the theft and the circumstances can vary. The ninth commandment about bearing false witness would closely relate to the charges of perjury or libel and slander in most judicial systems. Keeping the sabbath holy at one time was widely enforced as law in the United Stated in the form of “Blue Laws” forbidding doing business on Sundays in many areas, but now is more often adhered strictly in a religious settings.
The other commandments: Having no other gods, make no graven image, not taking God’s name in vain, honoring your father and mother, and coveting are now considered more behavioral and religious in nature as opposed to being able to be enforced in civil law.
When discussing the specific topic of Christians and political involvement, the passage that is most often mentioned is where Jesus is discussing the payment of taxes with some followers. “‘Show me the coin used for paying the tax.’ They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, ‘Whose image is this? And whose inscription?’ ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied. Then he said to them, ‘So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s’” (Matthew 22:19-21, NIV).
This particular passage addresses probably the most passive method of political involvement, paying taxes. All of us pay some tax at sometime or another, be it wage tax, property tax, income tax or sales tax. While it can be safe to assume that no one enjoys paying taxes, the amount of opposition to paying taxes varies greatly depending as to where you may find yourself on the political spectrum. There is often great debate as to how the government uses your contribution for practices that may conflict with personal religious beliefs. An example of this conflict include pacifists groups such as Quakers and Mennonites withholding payment of taxes because of funding for the military.
In today’s world, there is no shortage of things about which people can disagree and argue, even among Christians. Fellow Christians question the sincerity of one another’s faith depending on their opinion, and this can damage Christian unity. For example, one side favors recognizing marriage between a man and a woman only; others advocate unions between two people of the same sex as well as traditional marriage. The terms “Right to Life” and “Reproductive Rights” too may not seem to contradict each other, but in they represent opposing sides on the issue of abortion.
The Bible stresses that despite our differences we are called to love each other above our political positions. “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:12-14). You may feel like how politics and religion intersect in the public sphere communicate the exact opposite of this, and you’d be right. Media outlets report drama and conflict. Gracious and loving political opponents are not newsworthy.
It can be very intimidating to take in all the opinions and differences in Biblical views and interpretation. The Bible is such a large book that there are people that devote their lives and careers to its study. The topic of politics and its intersection with faith might be one of the toughest to sort out because your first exposure may be when these issues are debated on religious grounds in the news. And those debates are often one-sided. It is important to remember the contrast between the fleeting issues of the day with the permanence of a relationship with God. Pastor Rob Steinbach of Seaside Church in Bremerton, Washington puts this into perspective. “Our identity in Christ is always greater than our association with a political party. When a sinner becomes a saint through the work of Christ he/she gains a new identity and one which the Bible gives shape to. He/she enters into a life long journey of growth, discipleship, and time of learning what the Bible says about every issue (worldview) he/she should care about (also vote about). My encouragement to believers is to put Jesus and the Word of God first and conform your worldview to timeless truths rather than the temporary shifting commitments of a political party.”
While you may find that many Christians in your area have similar opinions on political issues, it’s important to remember that there are equally sincere believers that still may differ from you or those around you. That is why it is important to concentrate on the faith that you share. It may be hard, but by first acknowledging a common point of faith, and sharing how that faith has made an impact on each others lives means that you don’t have to see eye to eye to share in the goodness of God.
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