by COL Al Shine, USA, Retired
What is the relationship between Christians and politics? What are our duties as citizens, first of the Kingdom of God, and secondarily, but not unimportantly, as representatives of that Kingdom to and among the kingdoms of men?
After studying Scripture, history, and current events, my conclusion is that God is neither Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative. I believe that in most elections and issues of political policy there is no clear-cut biblically Christian position, and to assume that there is:
- Divides the church along lines for which we have no biblical mandate,
- Closes our minds to viewpoints on those issues which we ought to hear, and
- Dilutes our testimony to the world.
What does Scripture tell us about human government?
Prescriptively: (see Romans 13:1-7, Matthew 22:15-22, and Acts 5:29)
- Government is God ordained. Thus, anarchy is ruled out.
- Government rightly has a responsibility to reward good and punish evil, using force when necessary.
- Believers ought to obey the law, render respect to officials, and pay taxes.
- Government’s rightful authority is always subordinate to the authority of God, and in situations of clear conflict between the two “we must obey God rather than men.”
This is about all I find prescriptive or direct in Scripture about the role of government.
There are several roles implied by example of governments set up by God in the Old Testament. But, again, the only clearly prescriptive role seems to be that focused on in Romans 13:1-7 which I would summarize as providing a modicum of justice and order in societies of sinful men.
Further, conspicuous by its absence in Scripture, is clear support for a particular form of government.
What strikes me is that these matters which seem so very important to us seem not so to God. God knows the human heart, and though not unconcerned with the structures we set up to govern and interact with each other, He is far more concerned with our relationship to Him and the work of His Church.
Knowing our limitations, God knows that whatever political systems we set up, we’ll mess them up. Conversely, no matter how bad certain systems may be, in most instances good people can do pretty good things through or in spite of the systems. Thus we can conclude that any policy or political philosophy that promises utopian results is doomed to failure–and will likely cause much mischief along the way.
Because of the limitations of human nature we can also expect that political issues will be characterized by the Army War College buzz word “VUCA” (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity), and seldom will there be a policy option that from a Christian perspective is clearly right. We can more often discern clearly wrong policies than clearly right policies.
Further, especially in democracies, policy making usually involves some compromise–some give and take. Politics is the art of the possible and a Christian congressman may be honestly, prayerfully, and rightly voting as God leads him while accepting half a loaf rather than no loaf at all.
Another danger is single issue voting. It is tempting to use a single-issue litmus test, and because we are inclined to do so, candidates for office tend to say one thing to one constituency and something nuanced quite differently to another.
Christians must prayerfully weigh many VUCA issues, and have the humility to recognize that we might not be fully hearing God’s message–or that His message for us may not be His message for another brother or sister.
Should we always choose a Christian over a non-Christian candidate? Let me ask you. You are a brigade commander given the luxury of choosing a battalion commander. You have a choice between a secular officer of good character whom you know to be a top-notch leader, or a brother-in-Christ who is a good man and a hard worker, but just isn’t the natural leader the other man is. Which one would you select?
In choosing leaders for the church, their beliefs and quality of Christian walk ought to be our first criteria. But in selecting leaders for our secular society they ought to be a factor we consider, but not the only factor.
Finally, let us consider how politics can relate to evangelism. A person comes to our church, chapel, or OCF small group because he is curious, has been invited by a friend, or is in some way seeking God. Politically he would be considered liberal. He is attracted by the fellowship, and the truths of the Scripture start to impact him. But in the informal discussions–or in the sermon or Bible study–he hears the direct or implied message that all real Christians are political conservatives. Is he likely to return?
Now consider a captain on leave from Iraq–hair in a high and tight, Ranger plate on the front of his pick-up, conservative bumper sticker on the back. He drops into a store-front church where the conversation focuses on how to survive the current administration and then reverse its policies. Is he likely to stay around to listen to the gospel?
In conclusion, let me reiterate my basic point. I believe Christians are called to be involved in government and to apply the truths and principles of our faith to the issues of our times. But it is my current belief that because of the limitations of human nature, and therefore the very VUCA environment of human politics, there are very few issues where the Christian position is clear-cut.
We need to apply biblical principles to complex issues, while being careful not to quickly conclude that the “Christian” position on these issues is clearly and unarguably defined.
Al Shine is a retired Army officer and Vietnam veteran. He has been active in OCF since the early 1960s and has served on the OCF and Spring Canyon Councils as well as in leadership at area and local levels.
This article originally appeared in COMMAND magazine, or an OCF Ministry Report.