Should Christians Mix Faith and Politics?

Guest post by: Chad E. Graham

Should Christians mix faith and politics? This question has always bothered me—even to the extent that I am currently working on a thesis titled Doing Good in the Republic: The Ethics of Christian Political Engagement. Like me, you might have some concerns with the question as stated. I ask: What does it mean to “mix” faith and politics? Why would mixing them be an ethical concern? Does the question, as stated, presuppose that politics is bad? The question itself is problematic.

When people ask me if Christians should mix faith and politics, I answer, “Christians in a democratic republic (the U.S.) must engage in politics.” I will defend that answer here, but I should explain what I mean by “engage in politics.” In the United States of America, citizens have the right and responsibility to elect their own state and federal representatives. These officials make, adjudicate, and enforce laws that reflect the will of the people, within the parameters set forth in the Constitution. In a rudimentary sense, U.S. citizens are a “self-governing” people.

Politics encompasses the activities associated with governance and civil rule. Whenever citizens vote to elect officials, they are “engaging in politics.” Voting is the most fundamental and tangible form of political engagement in the United States. By voting for a candidate at any level, you are playing a role in the self-governance of civil society. It is my understanding that Christians are to do good (Ps. 37:3) and restrain evil (Isa. 1:17). The Christian notion of “good” is akin to the Hebrew word shalom meaning “peace” and the Greek term eudaimonia meaning “human flourishing.” Given the duty to be and do good, here are three of many reasons why I think Christians must engage in politics:

  1. If all citizens did not vote, society would collapse into chaos. If all citizens abrogated their duty to vote, we would have no representation, no military, and no governance. The citizens who enjoy the freedom America provides are duty-bound to maintain that freedom through voting and engaging civil society. Should Christians be exempt from this duty? Are we advocates of chaos? Are we advocates of freedom with no form? No—we are advocates and doers of good (1 Tim. 6:18; Gal. 6:9; Heb. 10:24). How can we promote human flourishing by undermining the infrastructure of our society?
  1. For elected government to be good government, good citizens must vote. Who will elect good representatives, who have authority to make good laws? Who will elect good judges, judges that have a proper notion of justice, if good citizens abstain from voting? Christians believe that God is good (2 Pet. 1:3; 1 Tim. 4:4; Jas. 1:17), and Christians, therefore, are to be and do good as People of God (Matt. 5:16; Jas. 4:17; Rom. 12:2). I assume that this means: use your influence for good, use your money for good, use your word for good, and also use your vote for doing good.
  1. Laws have power to help or hurt the poor. Laws protect the equality of citizens. Laws protect children from becoming a cheap labor force. Laws can be utilized to protect the economy from collapsing. Laws guarantee education rights and rights to emergency medical care. Bills are passed that fund weather alert programs in poor neighborhoods and fund inner-city food pantries that feed the homeless. Elected officials lobby for laws that do good, when good citizens elect them to office. If good citizens do not caucus for good representatives, the needs of the poor are left to cultural currents—or worse. Christians are mandated to care for the poor (Prov. 22:9; 31:20; Dan. 4:27; Matt. 19:21; Gal. 2:10; Jas. 2:5). Should we pretend that our vote does not affect the poor?

The Church should be like the prophets of the Old Testament, who cried out to their leaders for justice and conduct honoring to God. The Church must respond to injustice in unison with Habakkuk, moaning, “So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted” (Hab. 1:4). Christians must identify injustice and fight against it, being equipped with the very Word of God. The prophet Micah affirms our duty to God, pleading: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic. 6:8). If civic duty does not compel our vote, God’s requirement for justice should suffice as motive.

It is also a mistake to think that justice and good deeds should remain within the walls of the Church. Think about the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:25–37). We are called to reach out into the world and help our neighbor. One way to do that is to give a meal to a homeless person. Is it not also important that we support representatives who will fund programs to help that same person out of homelessness? Is it important that we elect officials who know when an emancipation proclamation is necessary or when to declare our independence from tyrannical powers or when to lobby amendments ending slavery? We need governors to be good and to do good.

Christians in the U.S. must engage in politics as a means of doing good and correcting oppression. There are no neutral options in a self-governing society. There is a duty observed or neglected. So use your vote and your voice to do good in the republic.

Author: Chad E. Graham

Lead Pastor at University Assembly and Senior Fellow at the Gordon Lewis Center for Christian Thought and Culture.

8 thoughts

  1. We have no idea what we have in this country in terms of both freedom and responsibility. I wish every Christian person could read this. Thank you.

  2. Such a coincidence! Just this morning I read what Dietrich Bonhoeffer had to say about this very thing!
    I read In Yancey’s book about how when Jesus was here, he was not all that concerned with the current government or the Roman occupation, hence we as Christians are to be concerned with the heavenly kingdom, not with the government and current politics into which we happened to be born. And I often look to the Amish for examples on how to live Biblically since I have so few other true Christian examples to follow – and they too mostly stay away from politics. I had begun to think that maybe this is exactly what we were supposed to do – not get involved, to be in the world but not of it. I would always vote but beyond that…. not my responsibility?
    BUT. Then I read what Bonhoeffer had to say and what you had to say and see that although each person needs to follow what God is telling them to do personally, that we do indeed have a responsibility. You answered a question for me and I appreciate it.
    “The man who felt all the force of the pacifist position and weighed the cost of discipleship concluded in the depths of his soul that to withdraw from those who were participating in the political and military resistance would be irresponsible cowardice and flight from reality. Not that he believed that everybody must act as he did but from where he was standing he could see no possiblity of retreat into any sinless, righteous, pious refuge. The sin of respectable people reveals itself in flight from responsibility…. Here he acted in accord with his fundamental view of ethics, that a Christian must accept his responsibility as a citizen of this world where God has placed him.” John W. Doberstein “Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer”

  3. What Biblical reference supports a decision to “declare our independence from tyrannical powers?” Romans chapter 13 would seem to make partaking in the American Revolution a sin. How can a Christian lobby for “amendments ending slavery” when both the old and new testaments are so supportive of slavery?

    I like that you emphasized the left-wing themes of economic justice found in the gospels and the Hebrew prophets rather than the culture war fighting that animates so many Evangelicals to politics, since the more popular issues like gay marriage lack the same level of Biblical support, but I’m not sure you are fully grasping how much the Lockean liberalism of the American tradition contradicts the social values of ancient times that have been fossilized into the text of the Bible.

    1. Eric, you have some good points here, but do you really intend to suggest that the Bible is “so supportive” of slavery? The Book certainly isn’t a negative referent, in that “if it isn’t in the Bible it isn’t true.” My sense is that God worked with this cultural component (just like he did with something like polygamy) but in both testaments we see an emphasis on masters treating slaves and bond servants in humane ways. Even in the Old Testament, truly kindergarten compared to our fully formed Christian faith, slaves were allowed to rest on the Sabbath. I can hardly imagine God fundamentally encouraging any institution where one human being owns another. Cultures evolve and mature. There is some historical material (wish I could put my finger on it) to suggest that slavery died out rather quickly among Christians in the early centuries of the church. Just like polygamy was not allowed for Christian leaders even if it was accepted in the culture at large. Anyway, just saying.

      1. “Cultures evolve and mature” would probably be a good bumper sticker for a liberal theologian’s Volvo. I have nothing against liberal theology mind you; it’s just not what this blog is about. We can probably dismiss most of the truth value of the Bible with those four words.

        The institution of slavery evolved into serfdom in late antiquity for both pagans and Christians. That had nothing to do with the text of the bible but rather economic necessity. Yet there were still Christian slave owners in this world long after that. Indeed, the Southern Baptist Convention has been a core institution of American Bible-believing Christianity, but it was founded primarily due to the biblical defense of slavery and the rejection of the liberal theology behind abolition.

        There is more than just a lack of negative reference in the Bible against slavery. Scripture does not quietly accept slavery; it actively and explicitly promotes it. If you “can hardly imagine God fundamentally encouraging any institution where one human being owns another,” then perhaps you should read Leviticus 25:44-46:

        “As for the male and female slaves whom you may have, it is from the nations around you that you may acquire male and female slaves. You may also acquire them from among the aliens residing with you, and from their families that are with you, who have been born in your land; and they may be your property. You may keep them as a possession for your children after you, for them to inherit as property. These you may treat as slaves, but as for your fellow Israelites, no one shall rule over the other with harshness.”

        The New Testament reinforces rather than repeals this world view. Perhaps it’s even worse. Under Mosaic law, there is at least some restriction on Hebrews enslaving Hebrews, but Paul makes no such distinction for Christians enslaving Christians, (see Eph 6:5-8; 1 Tim 6:1,2; among others).

        There is of course a stated duty in both old and new testaments to treat slaves fairly, but our modern understanding is that simply owning another human being is INHERENTLY wrong, regardless of how fair. If we are to believe that Mosaic law comes from God, then we have a rather graphic description of what God thinks is fair in Exodus 21:20,21:

        “When a slaveowner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. But if the slave survives a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner’s property.”

        Did God get this wrong? Is the Bible wrong on the issue of slavery? Or was it right then but now its wrong, because as you seem to have said, what is right and wrong changes and matures with culture?

      2. Boy oh boy you know your stuff. I wouldn’t touch this with a ten foot pole for better or worse. All the best to you, Eric.

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