Monday, February 12, 2018

Would Jesus Participate in Politics?

Introduction

"Would Jesus participate in politics?" This has been a common question posed among followers of Jesus Christ since he was asked about paying taxes to Caesar. It came across my Facebook feed a few weeks ago, so I thought I'd take some time to prepare a careful answer. Some Christians believe that a theocracy should be established on earth, while some other Christians believe that we should not have anything to do with politics. The rest of us believe that the correct position falls somewhere in the middle, and we struggle to find where. While I do not claim to know exactly where the correct balance is located, I do want to offer some observations and reflections that may help us identify an acceptable range of options.


Foundations of Politics

Politics usually focus around laws- laws that are legislated because the legislators believe the moral duties that they reflect are objectively true and that those governed by the laws are morally responsible beings. Without objective morality, laws have no objective foundation; this results in "might makes right" as the ultimate governing principle of morality. Under that principle, whoever has the most power, whoever has the loudest voice, and/or whoever has the most money makes the laws. Without the Image of God, man is not a morally responsible being thus is not morally responsible for keeping the moral duty of obedience to the laws (given that the laws in place do not violate objective morality). That means that even if "might makes right," without the Image of God, humans have no moral duty to obey the laws. Without objective morality and the Image of God, laws are pointless beyond the sophomoric desire to control everyone and everything.

Scripture reveals much about morality (including its objective nature, grounded in God's eternal nature) and human beings' intrinsic value and moral responsibility (being created in the Image of God). The Bible very much has a lot to say about morality and ethics, thus it has a lot to say about politics. Jesus is God (as the second person of the Trinity), and since we are created in God's Image, our moral responsibility to obey laws is grounded in God. It is only if morality is objective and man is is created in God's image that politics is logically inseparable from Christianity. Since Christianity is true, both of those conditions are met, thus politics and Christianity cannot be separated from one another. Because they are inseparable, we are not permitted to live a political life uninformed by the reality of Christianity.

Jesus and Politics

Now, while this is true, we have to remember two things about Jesus: First, He did not come to abolish The Law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17), and second, His ultimate Kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). The tension between these two must be recognized and accounted for in our political lives. While we do not necessarily need to concern ourselves overly with the politics of earthly kingdoms, we do need to be concerned enough to protect the lives of God's Image bearers by promoting the legislation and enforcement of laws designed to do so. By protecting God's Image bearers, we give them more time to hear and accept Jesus' sacrifice for them on the Cross and for them to become a member of the future Kingdom that is "not of this world" (Matthew 28:19). So, since our view of the future Kingdom informs our interaction with and effects on earthly kingdoms, we keep both truths of Christ in mind and in practice.

Would Jesus Participate in Politics?

Interestingly enough, that is not really the question that needs to be asked, for it assumes that Jesus is not participating in politics already. As members of the Body of Christ (being His "hands and feet" in this world), Jesus already is participating in earthly politics through Christians who are politically active. It is our duty to ensure that we accurately represent our Savior in the political arena. Since "all Scripture is God-breathed" (2 Timothy 3:16) and Jesus is God, then we must take into account all that Jesus said (all of Scripture, not just the "red letters") when we try to determine which proposed laws we will support, which existing ones we have a duty to obey, and which existing ones need to be either amended or removed.

Recommended Books

One of my favorite books on the topic of the Bible and politics is "Legislating Morality: Is It Wise, Is It Legal, Is It Possible." I strongly encourage any Christian concerned with politics (that should be all of us, based on what I argued above) to read this book to help prepare them to not only act Christianly in their political duties but to be able to articulate the reasons for doing so to their friends and family. I also recommend four other books to help inform the Christian in their political decisions in my Top 5 Books on Ethics and Politics. That post will link to my chapter-by-chapter reviews of each book to give the reader a taste of their content.

3 comments:

  1. As All of Creation functions within the realm of natural law, the natural man must likewise have laws to keep order and protect people from harm or harming themselves or others. Unfortunately, though laws might be enacted for these purposes, the morality that humans practice is usually something derived from the cultures in which we live. Many times this results in evil legislation, and behind the scenes corruption. One of the reasons why Christians need to be in politics is to allow God to speak through us, helping steer us away from culturally derived morality to ethical behaviorism derived from the Believer's relationship with God. Examples of this in Scripture are Joseph, Nehemiah, and Daniel, as well as all of the rest of the prophets.

    Certainly, since the close of the Canon, there have been many who have attempted to steer societies away from foolishness towards truly beneficial results, but then again, there have been times when evil reigns. Think, for example, of how differently the course of history shifted in France during, and after "the age of reason", and in England, the rise of men such as William Penn, William Wilberforce, and John Newton. These three men and their friends through their lives were responsible for the transformation of countless lives and societies, bringing hope to many, many millions as well as bringing untold numbers to the Cross. Yes, following their example, we need to be active in politics, but we also need to be aware of the fact that we need to exercise constant vigilance lest demonic forces subvert all that has been done. We see this happening everywhere at this time. Pray, act, trust, listening to God carefully, and do all that we can to be representative of a loving Creator, who is just, caring, and calling us to right relationship with Himself.

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    1. Kingsman, very well said. Thank you for that addition.

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  2. I think Kingsman's response reveals the problem that may arise with this view: "...we need to exercise constant vigilance lest demonic forces subvert all that has been done." In reality, no matter how absolute you feel the morality you derive from Christianity to be, in order to be written in to legislation it has to be interpreted in some fashion, a process which involves negotiation and disagreement. Unfortunately history has shown that people who believe they have knowledge of moral absolutes are susceptible to seeing any disagreement with their views as "demonic forces" and thereby finding it not too difficult to abandon rational discourse. Democracy is the 'least worst' political system we have available to us but it is, by definition, always a work in progress and never perfect so it works best with a degree of toleration.

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