October 28, 2016 | PASTOR ZACHARY PUDLO
Archbishop William Temple is attributed with saying, “Your religion is what you do with your solitude.” A.K.A. What do you do when you have free time? Where does your mind drift? What do you think or daydream about? If it’s the same thing day in and day out, it’s possible that thing has become your religion. Like many of you, in my free time I occasionally will go to social media to see what is trending. I’m guessing I’m not the only one who sees countless political posts and rants, some with threads leading down a dark, divisive path. Right wing, left wing, libertarian, it seems like everyone has a political view they are thinking about, dreaming about and spending a lot of their free time promoting. Is it possible that politics has become our culture’s religion? How does a person’s Christian faith affect the way they relate to politics?
In one of his great works, City of God, Augustine elaborates on the Biblical teaching that Christians are dual citizens. Our primary citizenship is in the kingdom of God, but as long as we are on earth, we also are citizens of this world. Our first allegiance belongs to the City of God, and our secondary allegiance belongs to the City of Man. But what happens if those allegiances are reversed? What happens when my dedication to earthly politics takes precedence over my allegiance to God’s kingdom? How will that affect my allegiance to God and the mission he has given to his kingdom to “Go and make disciples of all nations…”?
If our world was completely united in every political aspect, then a person’s political allegiance probably wouldn’t affect their opportunities to share God’s word. But let’s be honest…our world is divided. The riots we have seen over the past couple years testify that even the great nation of America is divided. The Republican and Democratic party lines are more distant in their relations than at any other point in recent history.
As a pastor, I have been more and more sensitive to how my political views will potentially affect my opportunities for sharing the gospel. If I have guests come to my church and they find out I publicly promote one party over the other, then I have potentially alienated myself from them. I may have made my church a place where they feel unwelcome. I have become a hindrance to them coming back to learn more about their God and developing a deeper relationship with him. That’s directly counterproductive to the mission God has given to all Christians.
What’s the solution then? How do I keep myself from alienating active members of either political party from my church? We have two options before us. Option #1: Christians should become isolationists. We should stop getting involved with politics altogether. There are a couple problems with this solution though. First, in How Christianity Changed the World, Alvin Schmidt documents Christian influence in government. Examples include outlawing infanticide, child abandonment and gladiatorial games in ancient Rome, ending the practice of human sacrifice among European cultures, banning pedophilia and polygamy, and prohibiting the burning of widows in India. More recently Christian involvement has had an incredible impact in the abolishment of slavery and in the civil rights movement. If Christians isolate themselves from political involvement, imagine what the world would look like. It could potentially be a cesspool of immorality. America could even potentially still be a nation actively involved in slave labor. The second problem with the isolationist solution is that it is contrary to God’s will for us. Romans 13:1-7 fairly succinctly summarizes the individual Christian’s role of supporting the earthly government. So if isolationism is neither a good nor biblical option, and if publicly taking political stances in a church setting may be a hindrance to sharing the gospel, what’s the other option? Option #2: My recommendation: As individuals we should be involved in politics, rather than taking a formal united Christian stand.
That brings us to the next question: “What party should Christians choose?” The problem with this question is that not one political party is perfect. Neither of the major political parties really captures the social, economic, and moral biblical ideal. My apologies if the following assessments seems a little too simplistic, but as I’ve observed over the years it seems like the Democratic political party doesn’t capture the Biblical basis for morality, and as a result they seem less concerned with things like sanctity of life, abortion, sex, etc… At the same time their party does seem to be more vocal in their fight for social justice and protection of the environment. Republicans seem to more vocally value moral uprightness which includes biblical, sexual, ethic, and sanctity of life. At the same time, they don’t seem to be as vocal or concerned with social injustices.
What’s going on within these parties? Why are they so separated and divided? Is it possible that, on one side, the love of country has become the absolute? The love of country over all else can certainly lend itself to racism. And is it possible, on the other side, the love of equality has become the absolute? The love of equality can lend itself to a hatred and violence toward anyone who has led a privileged life. The reason that neither party can capture the Biblical ideal is because, at its core, each has as its god something other than the one true God.
If neither party captures the Christian ideal, which party should Christians choose? Christians should feel comfortable picking whichever party they feel can make the most significant impact, but doing so as Christians. Because no political party captures the Biblical ideal it’s important to be very critical of the party you are supporting. One particular danger to avoid is to agree with every single thing your preferred political party promotes. If you find yourself agreeing with everything they are promoting you need to ask yourself whether or not you are being critical of this party on a Biblical basis. Furthermore, if you do find yourself agreeing with everything your preferred political party is promoting that’s a dangerous sign your politics have become your religion.
The collective church should never lift up a candidate or a party. But as a body of believers we should work to provide valuable and godly services to our communities and country. We should be active in providing a good moral compass, care and shelter for the poor and needy, help for the abused, protection for the environment, etc. As a church, work on political issues that are in alignment with the Bible, but not necessarily one party or the other.
Augustine said this in City of God, “… the earthly city glories in itself, the Heavenly City glories in the Lord.” Augustine rightly points out that the earthly kingdom and politics ultimately seeks glory for itself. One of the dangers of getting involved with politics is that we may find ourselves trusting too much in a human institution run by sinful human beings. We may end up trusting too much in an institution that cares more about itself than anything else. So as Jesus himself says, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33) As you invest your time into God’s kingdom, into the City of God, you will be trusting in the only Kingdom whose leader is 100% selfless. The City of God is the only kingdom where the King who laid down his life for his subjects now lives and rules all things not for his own benefit, but for the benefit of his subjects. As individuals get involved with politics. Find ways you can serve God and his City by making a Christian impact on the city of man. But more importantly, trust in God and his Kingdom.