CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Christian Political Involvement

Nov 6, 2008

Yes I know: I am a glutton for punishment. I am writing about the two things one is not supposed to discuss in polite society: politics and religion. But here I am, talking about both. So call me a sadist, I guess.

But the two topics happen to be extremely important. Christians especially should have no problem talking about politics. For most of the church’s 2000 year history, it was natural to see Christianity expressed in various ways in the political and social arenas. But there has been a bit of an anomaly during the past century or so.

For various reasons (historical, theological, and eschatological) many believers – especially evangelicals – have tended to shy away from the political process. I have discussed elsewhere these reasons, and why evangelicals need to get over their historical amnesia and recall that Christianity has always had a social and political voice.

The case is most clearly made by Jesus himself. In Matthew 22:21 Jesus commanded us to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s. The former would surely include, among other things, doing our civic duty to vote in a responsible and informed fashion.

Sure, Jesus could say ‘my kingdom is not of this world’, and yes we do have a heavenly citizenship. But that is not the end of the matter. We are also citizens of this world. All Christians have dual citizenship – we all hold two passports. We are members of God’s heavenly realm, but also members of this earthly realm, with biblical duties and obligations to each.

Most Christians take seriously their heavenly responsibilities, but many totally ignore their earthly ones. This ought not to be. Remember that Jesus taught us to pray for His kingdom to come and his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10). We are involved in making his Kingdom a reality on planet earth. Thus when we prayerfully consider who we should vote for, we are helping to fulfil this prayer of Jesus.

Obviously if a presidential candidate is radically pro-abortion and anti-family (as is Obama), and he gets elected, then it seems it will be a lot harder for God’s will to be done on planet earth, at least in these areas. Not all rulers are equal, not all parties are equal, and not all politicians are equal. Sure, none are perfect, and none are harbingers of God’s kingdom, but some line up more closely with biblical principles than do others. That is important, and we Christians have a very solemn obligation therefore in such matters.

But unfortunately too many Christians have simply washed their hands of politics altogether, and somehow believe that it is unspiritual or ungodly to be involved in politics. But the opposite is in fact the case. Our lack of political and social involvement simply means we give our opponents a free ride to carry out their often-times ungodly and anti-God agendas.

Thus we are losing the culture wars and the various battles of the day by default, simply by not being involved. We complain about how bad things are getting all around us, but fail to see how our lack of involvement is a contributing factor to the overall mess. We often have only ourselves to blame for the ever-darkening times we find ourselves living in.

On being “one-eyed”

But at this point I can hear my critics (ie., my leftist Christian friends) complaining, “yeah but Bill, you conservative Christians have got to stop being so one-eyed. You guys are hung up on single issues, like abortion and same-sex marriage. You need to broaden your outlook, and focus on things that are really important, like social justice and human rights issues.”

This is not the place to get into a lengthy examination of things like social justice, which tend to be fairly loaded concepts, and the flavour of the month in some circles. Suffice it to say that while we should be concerned about these various areas, some rights may well be more important than others.

That is, it seems that the most fundamental of human rights is the right to life. Without that right, all other rights are rather pointless. After all, if you are dead, cheap health care or clean air really does not mean all that much. If you cannot even make it out of your mother’s womb, then talk about nuclear-free zones or affordable housing is simply much ado about nothing.

Not that these other issues are unimportant. But the idea that something like minimum wage laws are as morally important as the right to life seems to be simply incorrect. So a bit of prioritising may be in order here.

Let’s take all this back to the recent US elections. There have been plenty of Christian Obama supporters, and when confronted with the fact that Obama is probably the most militant pro-death politician around, they will blurt out something like, ‘yeah but he’s black and it is important that we work toward racial harmony, and having a black President will do so much good for the world’.

OK, then let’s go back to their complaints about conservative Christians being “one-eyed” and hung up on single issues. Strangely enough, but the exact same charges would have been levelled against William Wilberforce a few centuries ago. He spent over four decades working toward the emancipation of slaves and the abolition of slavery. That sounds like being “one-eyed” and hung up on single issues to me.

Also, that sure sounds like a social justice and human rights issue to me (just as the pro-life issue also sounds that way). Yet Christians back then complained about Wilberforce being fixated on this single issue, and often worked against him.

Fortunately for millions of black people – both back then and on up to today – Wilberforce politely ignored this unhelpful advice from his critics, and went right on ahead being stubbornly single-eyed. He toiled day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year on this fundamental issue of human rights. And three days before he died he saw the fruits of his labour come about.

Let me take this back to the US elections and Barack Hussein Obama yet again.

I may be the first person that I am aware of to make the following statement: “If it were not for Wilberforce and his half century-long battle against slavery, Obama would probably not be the President-elect today. I think that this connection can be made, however indirect and tenuous it might be. If it were not for the Christian political involvement of William Wilberforce – and others like him – the history of blacks would be far different than what it has been for the past 200 years.”

So Obama really owes one to Wilberforce. And those Christian critics who hounded Wilberforce about his narrow single-issue crusade really owe him an apology. On this issue at least, they were wrong and he was right.

And maybe all those Christians in the US who felt it was a waste of time getting involved in this election may need to apologise to God for not fulfilling their biblical mandate to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In a day such as this, we need far more Wilberforces, not fewer.

[1230 words]

15 Responses to Christian Political Involvement

  • hi bill,

    i appreciate you writing this despite the fact that i couldn’t disagree more. i think it’s an important discussion and too many people are shying away from it.

    first, i think your use of scripture here is pretty suspect. i have never seen the passages that you reference used for this purpose. i have actually heard them used to support the opposite viewpoint, but that’s what’s so funny about hermaneutics.

    second, you may want to step back and remember that Jesus never used politics and power for his gain. he subverted authority as a humble servant to those who were hurting. it’s funny how a man who denied the temptation to take a place of power, but instead roamed around without a home was able to change the world forever. power positions inevitably bring corruption and oppression. Jesus knew this, but this is something christians have been all too eager to gain and i’m glad that many have come to understand that these sorts of things are not worth striving for since they are anti-kingdom.

    lastly, to be the salt and light of the earth is to point the world to Jesus. plain and simple. you are right that God detests abortion. God also detests what is happening in Darfur, but i don’t hear you calling for us to do anything over there.

    Dave Capozzi

  • “too many Christians have simply washed their hands of politics altogether… Our lack of political and social involvement simply means we give our opponents a free ride to carry out their often-times ungodly and anti-God agendas”.

    You are spot on Bill. As a Christian who tries to live the Word (and it is extremely hard), I am a minuscule minority in the government machinery. We need more committed Christians to get involved, not just in the politcal process of voting, but to get involved in political parties, to seek posts in the public service, and to lobby hard as a united group against government policy we disapprove of.

    “Thus we are losing the culture wars… by default… We complain about how bad things are getting… but fail to see how our lack of involvement is a contributing factor… ‘

    Spot on again Bill! Some one-eyed minority groups have made huge leaps in promoting their extreme views. The homosexuals have used any means possible to infiltrate every aspect of government – the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. Need I say more?

    Frank Norros

  • Thanks Dave

    But with all due respect, your response makes for a perfect illustration of the very thing I was speaking about in my article. Unfortunately it reflects some intellectual confusion and biblical misunderstanding.

    You misunderstand why Jesus did and did not do certain things. Of course Jesus did not get involved in politics. Jesus was a man on a mission – one mission. The reason why Jesus came was to die for our sins, not get sidetracked on other issues, as important as they may be. He was born to die, in other words.

    But the fact that Jesus did not do certain things is hardly a template for us. Jesus did not get married either Dave. Does that mean believers should not get married? He did not hold a regular job all his life. So should we all quit our jobs? He did not work toward helping the environment. So is it sinful for us to be involved in environmental causes?

    What Jesus did was unique, and we emulate him in some things, but not in all things. Did you get circumcised because Jesus was circumcised? So your whole premise here is off the mark.

    And you have a fairly poor understanding of the nature of politics and political involvement. Of course it is not just you, it is a large number of evangelicals who also share in this view, as I wrote above. You use the phrase “power and politics” and say “power positions inevitably bring corruption and oppression”, with the implication that politics is only about power, that Jesus is about non-power, and that therefore politics is always sinful, evil, satanic or at least unchristian.

    But might I remind you that politics is God’s idea? He ordained the institution of the state, just as he established the institution of the family. Both are the means by which God brings about order and justice in a fallen world.

    You really need to read Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-17 for starters. We have clear biblical responsibilities in the political and social world that we live in.

    And can I remind you that voting, paying taxes, talking to your elected representatives, lobbying for just outcomes, writing letters to newspapers, and a myriad of other political activities have nothing to do with “power” but everything to do with being the good citizens that we are commanded to be.

    And Jesus of course had the leavening effect of the gospel on society in mind when he spoke of us being salt and light. It is only in the fallen world around us – including its political, economic, and social structures – that we can be light and salt. These are dark and fallen places that desperately need the biblical witness. Of course this includes telling people about the love of Christ, but it is not separate from Christlike actions and involvement in every area of life. This is simply what it means to see the Lordship of Christ extended to all areas of life which God has created.

    By your reasoning, Wilberforce was simply wrong to do what he did. Do you really believe he was living in sin because of his political involvement? Do you really believe he was being “anti-kingdom”, as you put it? Fortunately for millions of black slaves, he ignored the advice of those believers who told him he was wrong to be involved in politics.

    Others like Martin Luther King Jr also ignored this faulty understanding of biblical Christianity. And we are all the richer today for it, and we have seen more of God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven.

    Suffice it to say, Dave, I see things quite differently than you do. Your picture of the Christian life seems to be at odds with two thousand years of Christian social and political involvement. It seems incredibly narrow and pietistic.

    Of course I am aware that there has been a minority position – that of the Anabaptists – who decry all political and social involvement. That is a legitimate Christian option, but one which I obviously really struggle with. Thus the Amish today, for example, live in their little holy huddles. They are safe and uncontaminated from the world, but they are not in any significant way being a light in a dark world or being salt in a morally decaying society.

    But if you want to place yourself in that tradition, that is your choice. Is has been one option for believers over the centuries. But then we will simply have to agree to disagree on these issues. But thanks for writing anyway.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • The Amish are only safe in their separatist communities for as long as the country within which they live remains free and prosperous – a task that other Christians are earnestly trying to preserve. Thus the Anabaptist tradition can’t work in every, or even in most, political environments.

    Another observation one could make re Obama, is that if abortion had been as prevalent when he was born as it is now, then perhaps he wouldn’t even be alive today to be the President-elect. After all, the black American community has one of the highest abortion rates of any group.

    Ewan McDonald.

  • I love the Lord’s prayer where jesus said “Your {Heavenly Father} will be done on earth as it is heaven”.

    To me that means if He has talented me as butcher, baker, candlestick maker, then it is there that I am His child / warrior / instrument to exercise the transforming power of His authority and Love and see others turned to Righteousness.

    Ray Robinson

  • i appreciate your response bill, although,as you know, we have fundamental disagreements about this topic. this doesn’t mean that i misunderstand Jesus’ mission, as you claim, but simply that we see things differently. your claims that i misunderstand scripture and politics displays a slimy tactic to diminish my stance simply because you disagree with it. nevermind the fact that i don’t believe i have given you enough information in those 4 (very brief) paragraphs to claim that i do, in fact, have a poor understanding of said topics.

    the early christians shunned political and military involvement. this is well-documented and acknowledged by all early church scholars. thanks to people like constantine, augustine and calvin, christians now believe that being in control of society through political authority and power is synonymous with following Christ. this is not the case. as you noted, there are still large groups of believers who still follow this mode of thinking.

    and yes, power is (most often) linked with political authority. sorry, but your assertian to the opposite is a rarity.

    my premise is not off the mark simply on account of the circumcision issue that you bring up. that is simply a cop-out. we are told repeatedly to imitate Christ. in all things, we are to look like Christ. forgiving, loving our enemies, blessing those who curse us and standing up for the poor, oppressed, needy and diseased. if getting involved politically is the answer to these problems today, then we should get involved, but if not, i believe Jesus did just fine (and so can we!!!) without placing our hope for change in government.

    i actually find your claim that we should not seek to fully imitate Christ appalling. this is not Biblical at all. i find it funny that many modern Christians are willing to fight for inerrancy and authority of Scripture, but when the rubber meets the road, the hard teachings of Christ are thrown out the window.

    Dave Capozzi

  • Thanks Dave

    But I am not engaging in “a slimy tactic’ here, simply responding to you in particular and many others like you in general.

    So let me reply to your next points. The early Christians were not involved in politics and the military of the day for one very simple reason Dave. They were a persecuted minority, struggling to stay alive. One usually does not join with the very ones trying to kill and torture you. For Christians to join the military back then, for example, would have meant believers would be persecuting other believers (not a very wise move). Also, military life then was rife with idolatry and pagan practices, including emperor worship. No Christian in good conscience could join it in those circumstances.

    Also, Jews were exempt from military service back then, and of course most of the early converts to Christianity were Jews, so they were exempt as well. Much more can be said, but perhaps you need to do a bit more study of church history here.

    And respectfully, your remarks about Augustine and Calvin show a pretty uniformed and distorted understanding of their positions. They both recognised what the Bible says: we have dual respobsibilites as citizens of two kingdoms.

    And power in itself is not wrong. God exercises power all the time. Parents exercise power all the time. Governments exercise power all the time. This is all part of God’s means of governance. Indeed, power is even part of the Christian life (eg., 2 Tim. 1:7, etc). So your very understanding of power seems to be a bit weak here.

    And my case for your premise being off was not built on just the circumcision remark of course, but everything I had said prior to it. And it still seems you are operating on shaky premises.

    Also, I fail to see why we must accept your false distinction: why cannot believers fulfil their biblical calling to be good citizens without “placing hope for change in government”? I do not think governments can save anyone. But the Bible certainly tells us that government is ordained by God, and we should pray for governments and fulfil our biblical political and social obligations. To do so is not to renounce the power of the spirit, or to turn government into an idol.

    And you completely misrepresent me in your last paragraph: did I anywhere say we should not follow all the teachings of Jesus Dave? What I did say is not everything Jesus did, or did not do, is a paradigm for us. He never married, he was circumcised, etc. etc, as I said in my earlier comment. I don’t know of any Christian who thinks we must slavishly emulate everything Jesus did or didn’t do. So there is nothing “appalling” about what I said, and I of course am not throwing any teachings of Jesus out the window, as you wrongly claim.

    And Dave, we still await an answer: Was Wilberforce, who used the power of politics to bring biblical justice to slaves out of the will of God and being “anti-kingdom” (your words)?

    But as I say, we may have to agree to disagree here.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Bill:

    Thank you for your insightful words. I really like reading your blog. Just wanted to say thanks for bread. Hopefully you are making all of us evangelicals think and decide to stand up. Not to stand up for what we believe in as Christians, forgetting the “me” and my issues,but to stand up for God and the biblical truth is part of our commission. John the Baptist not was quiet in telling Herod of his sin, even though it cost him his life.

    Like you have said – if Christian’s can’t stand up for the rights of the unborn – our Christianity has lost its saltiness and will be thrown out on the rubbish heap. To me this is as fundamental as believing Christ was raised from the dead and Paul says were would our faith be if we denied the resurrection.

    If we are Christians who love the Lord we are obliged to use all opportunities to remind people of his love for us and that he demands our boldness in return.

    We are facing some interesting times ahead with Obama. I am also personally very disappointed with Malcolm Turnbull for his support of the same sex amendments. It is incumbent on all Christians to stand up, be the watchman, and be that different voice, highlighting error in law or policy.

    Paul was able to say to church at Ephesus that I have preached the full gospel to you all, thus your blood is not on my head. Christians need to understand that silence is not an acceptable course.

    Keep up the good work and our prayers are with you

    Stephen Dowling

  • Dave, can I pick up a couple of points that you referenced. Power – I concur that it seems to me that Christians too often follow in the world’s footsteps of seeking powerful positions, for what seems to be self-glorification purposes. But that does not make attaining or holding positions of power wrong or anti-Christian. Indeed if we are to the the salt and light I strongly believe that part of that is seeking to ‘take ground’ by putting up our hands to do jobs where we can bring our Christian principles to bear, and fight for The Way.

    I do strongly agree that using Jesus as our model is indeed what we are required to do. And His main modus operandi was as a servant. His last gesture to the disciples was directly portraying how we are to win this world, as servants in love, against which nothing can stand. But to say that Christians should not seek to, or hold, positions of power, whether political or not, a simply false. Even in Revelations it talks of Christians becoming lenders to the nations. Right through the OT God elevated his people into positions of power (Joseph, Daniel, Moses etc.) directly for his purposes.

    On the point of Darfur – each person has their personal mission(s) which God delegates directly to us. If Darfur is on your heart then that’s what you need to be one-eyed about – show God’s love and shed the salt and the light in that direction. We can’t all be involved in everything – but we should be involved (missions) ins something and we should be strongly committed to it. I would say that Bill’s focus when is comes to issues seem more toward standing against abortion, homosexuality and a valid path for changing these things is through the law, education, awareness and political involvement.

    I do agree that many of the greatest men & women have been individuals who have changed a nation/generation without being in any major position of power and a favourite of mine is Wigglesworth who saw himself as no more and no less than simply a minister of the gospel. But there are many positions that God calls us to.

    Garth Penglase

  • I think you really need to be a “compromiser” to get anywhere in todays modern politic. I am using the phrase “compromiser” in a pejorative sense.
    Look at what the MSM did to Sarah Palin as soon as they found out she was against abortion and was a Biblical creationist….talk about character assasination!!

    Robert Phillips

  • About Obama and abortion, there will always be women who will get an abortion, legal or not.I heard one of Obama’s crew talk about this subject and its not that they want to promote abortion but to handle this matter so women wont go back to back yard abortionists. What has the ‘right’ wing of politics ever really done about this anyway?.but they have the benefit of the Christian vote. The feminists have highjacked this debate and they have a lot of influence but they are on both sides of politics. Need radical means to change opinions on aborition.

    This left/right focus can to some extent alienate more left leaning Christians – and may put off others from joining a church as you have to be a ‘born again conservative’ We need to reach all political parties at a grass roots level. Gave some magazines ‘Voice of the Martys’ and ‘Barndabas Aid’ to some Labour Party supporters so that they can read whats going on in the world and its a way of spreading awareness…Also spoke to Bob Debus some time ago and he was surprised and not even aware that the Greens want to get rid of the Lords Prayer at the opening of Parliament. Yes, we do need to be vigilant but not just to endorse a ‘brand’ ..

    Angie Volmensky

  • Thanks Angie

    But I must take issue with you here about your understanding of the abortion issue. One can also say, ‘there will always be rape” or ‘there will always be murder’. Given that you seem to be more of the left, that seems like a rather laissez faire thing to say! I am not sure if that is a helpful contribution to the debate.

    And with all due respect, you are quite amiss here. You seem to think Obama and the Democrats only reluctantly want to allow abortion. This is quite misleading. The Democratic platform insists on the right and the good of freely available abortion. Obama and the Democrats are fully in the thrall of pro-abortion feminists, so there is no reluctance here whatsoever. They consider abortion to be an inherent right and duty of every woman. It is a sacred duty and hallmark of the left.

    And you are unfortunately very wrong about what conservatives are doing about this. In addition to seeking to stand up and speak for the killing of the innocents (which is a terribly important work in itself), they are doing plenty of practical things. They have crisis pregnancy centres, they have adoption option providers, they have accommodation for pregnant women, they have counselling centres, including the very important counselling work for the millions of women suffering from post-abortion grief. The list goes on an on.

    There would be many tens of thousands of tireless volunteers and workers helping women every day in this area. You really need to get up to speed with what the very busy and multifaceted pro-life movement is all about. If you only rely on the mainstream media for your information, that might explain why you simply seem to be out of touch here on this issue.

    Have you ever been to a pro-life counselling service Angie? Are you even aware of all the work that goes into helping women here? Respectfully, you seem to have only ever exposed yourself to leftist pro-abortion rhetoric here. We of course expect that from a biased and one-sided mainstream media. But we should all do a better job of informing ourselves about these very important issues.

    But thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • @Angie I don’t see where Bill or other Christian organisations are actively promoting a political ‘brand’. I do see Christians standing up to judge the policies of the two major parties in light of Scripture. Surely as followers of Christ even as @Dave points out we, as Jesus did, should be “standing up for the poor, oppressed, needy and diseased,” and isn’t politics a valid and influential way of doing this?

    And @Angie, please let’s put to death the strawman of ‘saving women from backyard abortions’ that was used in Roe vs Wade as a FUD (fear uncertainty doubt) approach. The reality is that the incidence of backyard abortions is minuscule – I read somewhere that in the year that Roe vs Wade case was heard, there was only one substantiated case of backyard abortion in the U.S. Consequently the U.S. and now Australians have consigned millions of babies to unnecessary death, even as late as the 42nd week of pregnancy, due to a minuscule instance of illegal abortion. And since then, then social stigma of a child out of wedlock and thus the motivation for an abortion to avoid that, has disappeared as well.

    While I agree that we do need to reach all political parties at grass roots level what we’re discussing is the need for Christians to be politically aware and active, and at least vote according to the most pressing biblical reasons facing us today.

    Personally I’m not sure how you can be a leftist Christian since socialist philosophies at the core are anti-God, but avoiding a long argument about this topic and what you mean by ‘left leaning’, I would say that the statement that some Christians avoid going to church because they believe they have to be a ‘born again conservative’ either means they are looking in the wrong churches or that they are looking to take offense even before they set foot in church. I haven’t been in a church in my entire life that has *promoted* specific political parties or even promoted political left/right positions. I know of Christians in churches I have attended with a range of political voting choices which is their right, even within churches where the church have supported a Christian party. I think this argument is another strawman.

    Garth Penglase

  • I`m with you on this Bill, encourage Christians to be influential leaders in all areas of society, including Government. Look how much one man has done in NSW government over 25 years, Fred Nile has earned respect and is listened to by just about all members of the state govt. He admits when he gets it wrong, he uses scripture as his voting decider and stands as a Christian. What would NSW be like if we had more like this man, shining light where there is darkness.
    Johannes Archer

  • Yes quite right Johannes. Fred Nile is a real hero and very few in Australia can match all the good he has done for this nation.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

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