It’s usually an unsaid and well-known fact that at Thanksgiving or Christmas family gatherings, you don’t bring up religion and politics. Go to most Facebook groups and start talking religion and politics, and you’re usually kicked out. We want to watch sports for the sports, not the politics and religion. Whether it’s Tim Tebow or Colin Kaepernick kneeling, someone will be offended. We aspire to watch a show with the kids without feeling that some “alternative message” is being crammed down our throat.
Many people make that statement, but deep down there’s an itch we can’t help but scratch. Religion and politics are in the fabric of everyday life. Often interconnected. They impact how we see the world, how we see ourselves, and our responsibility as human beings in the society in which we live. The word, “Politics” by its very definition means “the theory and practice of influencing other people in our society.”
Part of our challenge as redeemed followers of Jesus is we sometimes have to engage in causes with political impact without being purely “politically motivated.” We are to be Kingdom motivated. Or to take a cue from the Lord’s prayer, to be motivated by “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done… ON EARTH as it is in heaven.”
If we were to stretch back to Jewish thought, religion meant something different then, totally different in how we understand it today, in 2020. In the ancient world, religion was usually an all-inclusive thing. It wasn’t as compartmentalized. Your religion, or who/what you worshipped, shaped EVERYTHING, family and politics included. And it was generally accepted.
But we don’t like a world that gives us no options. Our options are almost limitless in today’s world. And if you’ve ever felt like me, in that you sometimes find yourself on a political island, or feel politically homeless, I believe sometimes that’s how it’s supposed to feel. The truth is, God has called us as citizens of another Kingdom already. Like the old gospel song reminds us, “I’m just a pilgrim passing through.” The echoes of Scripture’s idea of “pilgrims” is something for us to reclaim. We can learn to be pilgrims again, uneasy in American culture, as we should have been all along. We may need to learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable in our nation while still pursuing the welfare of the society in which we live.
Pursuing my college education at Liberty University, Jerry Falwell Sr., the founder of Liberty and leader of the Moral Majority (if you remember what that was in the early- mid 1980s) would often say, “Don’t vote parties. Vote Christian.” Needless to say, and I think we need to confront this head on: We’re not voting for a pastor as a president. And Christians may need to finally understand, we’re not guaranteed an authentic Christian candidate to vote for in the booth.
I consider it a high calling to preach and live the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is the work of the Church! And there often seems to be a standoff between the Church and the state. It’s always tempting to dive in and use the pulpit for political opinion. But the reality is this: we have people in our church with different persuasions on American political life. I love it. And if we don’t see and recognize that, we’re being naïve. But a primary problem in American church life (from my experience), is the inability to learn and dialogue about issues with reason, and in a way that points us back to Scripture.
“What does Scripture say about _______________ ?” Fill in the blank. We’ve the lost the art of that. Additionally, and unfortunately, we’ve lost the art to think critically, with no help from the media. We find ourselves saturated with many opinions and little wisdom. The Gospel is the “main thing.” It’s not a secondary thing. If the Gospel is the GOOD NEWS, then it DOES reach into the crevices of society’s brokenness.
In our attempts to keep the Gospel from being too big, we must not end up with a Gospel too small to do what Jesus commanded us to do. If something is biblically true but you’re afraid to talk about it because of politics, you may be worshiping the wrong thing.
So while I do not eagerly wish upon myself or encourage others to dive into debates regarding republican and democratic agendas or conservative and liberal ideologies, we simply cannot shy away from the ISSUES that the Bible draws out. God doesn’t give us a lot of wisdom about which political party we should identify with, but He continues to give us wisdom about the ISSUES. The God of the Bible can only be understood as God-in-public. God made the public world and has never left it. Doing business with God in public is always complicated, but never dull.
With that said, let me be (ahem…cough, cough…) political. The Bible is a political book. No, not in the way you’re probably thinking. Again, God is not left-wing, right-wing, libertarian, Green party, Whig, or anything else you want to write in.
Yes, the Bible is God’s story, but it is God’s story that involves humans ‘created in the image of God.’ If we deeply believe that we are ‘created in God’s image’, then we must also understand that God has the authority and rule over what’s good and right for the flourishing of that image. And this impacts issues on: Racism. Sexuality. Family. Foreigners. The poor and marginalized. Economics. Education. Work ethic. The unborn. Pursuing the good of all society. And pursuing the good of society as Christians can mean this: “Not everything that offends us should offend us, and not everything that offends us is persecution.” It is possible to “give back to Caesar to what is Caesar’s” (Mark 12:17; Matthew 22) without compromising on what we believe.
And as we are confronted with the toxicity of “cancel-culture”, we must remember that the grace we’ve received should also be distributed. The world doesn't operate from a position of forgiveness. Wouldn't that be distinctive and attractive to see?
God is God. God has a Kingdom. And Jesus is the King. The Church is a signpost of God’s coming Kingdom (Ephesians 3:10), a preview to the watching world of what the reign of God in Christ is to look like, a colony of the Kingdom coming.
Our duty to God is comprehensive and there’s not an area of life that we can separate from His influence, try as we may. As a Christian we simply can’t be “so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good.”
In a society where religion is increasingly private, and faith is OK as long as it’s not shared, many would seek to keep God out of their politics. What is good and right? What is biblical?
May we not forget that some of the greatest revolutions in society: the core of the constitutional rights, abolitionists, to the Civil Rights movement came from Christians applying the biblical worldview to the public square. As Abraham Kuyper said, “God wants his truth proclaimed everywhere.”
And here’s one of our challenges in the midst of this: It would be a tragedy to get the right president, the right Congress, and the wrong Christ in the process.
So, what is the relationship with God and politics? How do we flesh that out? We'll dive deeper into this question in Part 2.