Skip to content

Should Christians be political?

December 8, 2011

What would Jesus do wwjdQuite frankly YES, and to misquote Luther, ‘we can do no other.’  As a necessary part of its mandate to ‘make disciples’ the Church is called to help people live together and care for one another which itself is almost definition of what politics is at its most basic level. In being true to God, who Himself clarified the basis of the Law as loving God and loving neighbour, the Church will by default act politically in fulfilling the law. That is to say in acting as a Christian, in becoming more and more like Christ, to care for people and for God as Christ did, is by default to act politically. Just look at the situations Jesus ended up in, the political statements he made both by words and actions if you are unsure. An example of how this might work itself out in real life might be instructive and so lets take poverty.

If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. (James 2:15-17)

So in the first instance the Church is called upon to clothe the brother or sister and ensure they have enough to eat but James won’t let us get away with just applying the sticking plaster we must also deal with the reasons why our brother or sister cannot clothe or feed themselves. To simple provide a one-off meal would be to commit the same sin which James is criticising in this passage, that of doing the bare minimum, rather than loving the brother or sister, which requires far more effort. This may be in helping them to get a job, it may be in helping them access education or training or at least, in European countries, pointing them toward the agency which does this. However, there may well be times when the society we are in is failing to provide these services, or indeed is the cause of the poverty and starvation, where it becomes necessary for the Church to act to challenge the society and/or state.

I think most Christians would take the first two actions as a given but the third action, that of acting ‘politically’ in the normal usage of the word, Western Christian have often stopped short and I think the reason for this is because we have been sucked into a secular way of thinking. Secular culture believes that society should be split into public and private spheres. You can believe, and to a greater or lesser extent do, what you like within the private sphere but when you come into the public sphere your beliefs must be left behind and you must behave in an approved way. As Western Christians we have accepted this model and kept our faith, and its political consequences behind closed doors. I think this is particularly true in the UK, where a state church has operated, and thus Christians have believed that we live in a Christian country and therefore we are already engaging politically. This is in contrast to the US where Church and state have been separated from the beginning and therefore the Church has had to act politically as one of many pressure groups. Whatever the reason we no longer live, if we ever did, in a Christian nation and now the Church must again seek to influence the government and act as a pressure group to protect the values which it seeks to espouse and to work for the betterment of ALL, citizens and aliens alike, if we are to obey and witness to the God we believe in. As one of the great Christian leaders of the 20th century, John Stott, said:

[Christian rebellion] arises from the doctrine of mankind made in the image of God, and therefore protests against all forms of dehumanization. It sets itself against the social injustices which insult God the Creator, seeks to protect human beings from oppression and longs to liberate them… it protests against every authoritarian regime, whether of the left or of the right, which discriminates against minorities, denies people their civil rights, forbids the free expression of opinions or imprisons people for their views alone.

What then are we to do? Well notice that I have used the word ‘Church’ rather than ‘Christian’ and I have done that for a reason. We cannot all be involved directly in applying pressure to the government, but as the people of God, as the Church collectively we can and we must. There will be those among us who have particular gifts and particular callings to do this; who can operate on our behalf. The rest of the Church though needs to support those who are doing this vital work. We can support them in four key ways i) we can think politically, look around at our communities and see where we need to act, ii) we can pray for those working to influence government, whether they are charity workers, political representatives, or church leaders, iii) we can give financially to Christian organisations working in this area and iv) we can act politically, whether this be writing to our representatives, going on protests or something in between. Whatever it may be, the Church, and individual Christians can no longer sit in the background keeping our beliefs to ourselves, instead we must obey our collective calling and live out our beliefs which will mean acting politically!

In what ways can you or your church act to help those around you? Do you pray for Christians working in government? Have you been on a protest or gone on strike to help those in need?

16 Comments leave one →
  1. December 8, 2011 5:17 pm

    Thanks for a good post! You’re right in connecting compassionate ministry with both direct engagement and the opposition of systemic evil.

    Fundamentally, the question comes down to a holistic understanding of the gospel. Our political behaviors are deeply rooted in our understanding of the kingdom of heaven.

    The “already and not yet” of the kingdom demands our participation in the issues of the day. However, what that engagement looks like is not always clear. Sometimes it does mean “being political.” At others, it means critiquing the system itself, participating via non-participation.

  2. December 8, 2011 5:59 pm

    Very thoughtful post!
    My church is very much involved in helping our local community and is engaged in sponsoring several mission projects abroad.
    I think that people, for the most part in the U.S., have been brainwashed into looking not to the church for assistance, but to the government. The welfare and unemployment roles are staggering. Unfortunately, too, I believe many churches assume the government can do a better job in helping the poor than they can. Wrong!
    It is time for the church to wake up!
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Mike.

    • December 8, 2011 7:06 pm

      Thanks Martha 🙂 Glad you’re church is active in your local community!

  3. December 8, 2011 6:58 pm

    Thanks for a really thought-provoking post Mike. The public/private divide is a very good point and I’ve been challenged recently to think more about how the Truth should challenge worldviews and transform not only individuals but societies. I guess there are obvious difficulties in this whole area too – the church has sometimes taken ‘sides’ politically or pontificated on economics, or lost the priorities that come from an eternal perspective and been conformed to a worldly agenda. I’m a bit worried too by all the WWJD stuff (as in the photo above). Do we really know what Jesus would do? He might turn over the tables of the money changers or he might say ‘My kingdom is not of this world’, he might wade in on the side of the vulnerable or he might refuse to be drawn in. What we do know is what Jesus has done (created the world, died for it and risen) and what he will do (gather his people from all nations and judge the world) and we need to work out how we live now in the light of that. Not easy stuff to work out but as you say we need to do the hard work.

    • December 8, 2011 7:04 pm

      Thanks Andy, I agree it is difficult area with no perfect or easy answers. However, too often this has been an excuse for the church to pull back from the discussion and to instead talk only about personal salvation. The church must be willing to engage with the world, to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves and to fight for justice for all. Then perhaps more people will listen to the church when she talks about a God of love and justice who has died so that man might live!

      • December 9, 2011 7:27 am

        Thanks Mike. I completely agree we mustn’t pull back into the private sphere and we should be writing letters and using all our democratic privileges and speaking up for the voiceless. What I’m not sure about is should we being doing this as Christians or as Church? Or to put it another way is the commandment to love our neighbour as ourself a mandate for the church corporately in the same way as the great commission? As I understand it slavery was abolished and the rights of workers, children, women, prisoners etc. defended in nineteenth century England through the efforts of Christ-transformed individuals rather than ‘the Church’. But maybe I have read the history wrongly or maybe the church was wrong to stand back. To some extent it comes down to what do you call the church – all Christians scattered in the world or the local church gathered together. I don’t want to split hairs but it makes a difference which we’re talking about as it tells us whether politics is a priority for each of us individually or for our church. I really don’t know the answers here – help me on this…

  4. December 8, 2011 7:54 pm

    Wonderful post! In my opinion, I think we should be in all aspects of life as we feel called. Unlike Luther though, saying “we can do no other” I’d have to disagree. Jesus said to the Pharisees when asked about Taxes to Rome, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesars.” I think it is good to look at that quote and see it not only as a concept of taxes, but in all things regarding politics. If we believe God ordains the rulers of the world, and makes a time for all nations to rise and fall. Then we render unto Caesar what is Caesars for the given time and give unto G-d’s what is G-d’s, because our true kingdom isn’t of this world, we are merely here doing the will of our Creator. So do I think we should protest and such…I think it is a personal calling, and if we are called to then we should but if not, we should obey the calling we have been given, and not look down on those who “eat meat or abstain.” Cheers!

    • December 9, 2011 12:32 pm

      Thanks Lisa, I agree of course that we should “Give to Cesar…” however I don’t this is just a blind command to follow and obey regardless of who is in charge. The state is given its power by God and thus the Church ought to call the state to rule by God’s standards as and where appropriate. Jesus challenged the order of His day when it conflicted with God and yet paid taxes and recognised Pilate’s authority. We are called to do likewise! Thanks for your comment 🙂

  5. December 9, 2011 6:34 am

    Loved this post Mike! I agree. It is up to us to be the hands and feet of Christ. It brings God no glory to not raise our voices in opposition to cruelty and oppression. Going to share this 🙂

  6. December 9, 2011 12:29 pm

    Thanks Andy for the follow up, always good to have a discussion and tease out the points and think about it in more detail!

    Firstly, I have used the word ‘Church’ to talk about the church universal (catholic) rather than as the local church but also recognising what national bodies might do. I don’t think that a local church needs to be challenging the government in quite the same way that say the Church of England might, particularly using the position of the Bishops in the House of Lords to raise important issues on behalf of Christians across the denominations. However, individual Christians have their part to play and local churches could work together to lobby local council’s etc. Do you think this is fair?

    Secondly, the mandate to love our neighbour seems to be directed to the individual Christian in Scripture but I can’t see how the Church (as a communion of individual Christians) can be exempted from that as well. Surely as the Body of Christ on earth the Church ought to be collectively doing what Christ would’ve done on a national and international basis. What do you think?

    Finally, individual Christians like Wilberforce did great work in the Victorian period and have shaped our society for the past century. I’m not sure though what part the national Church played as I think, I may be wrong, that the Church was in a bad way during this period! It took revival from people like Ryle, Whitfield and Wesley to begin to see a Church which was worthy of the name, of course under the guidance of God the Holy Spirit!!!

    Looking forward to your thoughts!

  7. December 11, 2011 11:05 am

    You’ve definitely pointed out good points here Mike. When we were younger, we used to be more idealistic. We wanted quick justice and did protest rallies in the streets of Manila. But looking back at those ‘glorious’ days, I wished we had more programs instead of rallies; more communication, more links and contacts and friends instead of threats.

    Some of the priests we knew went to the extreme end and became rebels. We both voiced the same wants and needs for social justice but definitely on different terms.

    I find you a very practical person basing it from the list you gave on working concretely for the good of our neighbor. But I think prayer ~ a very good and tested relationship with God comes first. Where shall we base our inspiration? I think love should be the basis of our every act and our personal conviction and beliefs follow.

    We look around and there are many NGOs and missionaries working on the different aspects of human needs. Not everything could be solved this way but they help to let people know where they could turn to where the government fails to provide programs.

    I think the call to be ‘politically minded’ is not only for the Christians but for everybody. Of course, it would be wonderful if it’s the ‘church’ working for justice. I think if the people begin seeing that ‘in’ and ‘among’ us, then perhaps, we could influence others to do the same.

    I also think saints are also born this way. These are people who run against the tide ~ people who ‘make’ things happen instead of ‘wait’ for the government to do the first move.

    I really do not know how to end this sharing but I think what we can do is start with our very own communities before taking it on a wider scale. Then make good contacts all over the world ~ networking, sharing, sending out lay missionaries and catechists, educating the youth and preparing vocations to the religious life.

    Go where the Holy Spirit blows 🙂

  8. December 13, 2011 12:18 am

    I have no problem with Christians being political, but what bothers me is extremism, and there’s certainly a vein of that in modern Christianity (as there is in the opposite end of the spectrum). I think things like gay rights (but not abortion) are ridiculous things to argue over politically. It usually turns into homophobia by people like Rick Perry. We can build a stronger nation, but not by tearing other people down, not by denying anyone their rights whether we agree with what they do or not. Be inclusive, not exclusive.

    Good post, Mike.

  9. December 22, 2011 5:45 pm

    Thanks for the comments and clarification Mike. Sorry to be slow in responding. Your point (and Jessica’s) about the church as Christ’s body is really helpful – I need to go away and ponder this amazing truth more. My understanding of the history is that it was the revival brought about through the gospel preaching of Wesley, Whitfield et al in the eighteenth century that bore fruit in the nineteenth century social reformers like Wilberforce and Shafesbury. I stand to be corrected though. I hear that the Wellfield men are reading Ryle on all of this! I’ve put a review of his great ‘Christian Leaders’ here:

    • December 22, 2011 6:09 pm

      You may well be right that Ryle and co. created the environment which Wilberforce and co. could use to deal with the slave trade. I popped over to your article which is great, and as you say a number of Wellfield guys are reading that very book at the moment. Thanks for stopping by!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: