Christians and Politics

Here is part of the handout for my forum presentation at church Sunday. It will be preceded by an excerpt from the second-century letter to Diognetus and followed by Miroslav Volf’s values for voters.

Some Reflections on Christians and Politics

Some Preliminaries

1. Christians are first of all citizens of God’s kingdom, subjects of the Lord Jesus. Our first and ultimate loyalty is to that kingdom and to its politics and fellow-citizens. All other loyalties, allegiances, politics, political affiliations, etc. are subordinate and secondary to our citizenship in God’s kingdom. See Matt 6:33; Phil 3:20.

2. Before we start thinking about politics as state-crafting, we should think of politics as the public expression of our participation in the kingdom of God. Therefore, before we choose or construct a politics within a given country, we are given a politics—the politics (public life) of Jesus.

3. No human kingdom (i.e., state: republic, democracy, monarchy, socialist state, etc.) is or ever will be the kingdom of God.

4. The kingdom of God and the kingdom of humans will normally be in conflict.

5. As Christians we should therefore think of ourselves as people of another culture living in a host culture as a contrast-society and therefore, in a real sense, as exiles or resident aliens. See 1 Peter 1:1; 2:11.

6. Our primary political activity is to be the church: to worship God truly and to live out the demands of the kingdom of God and the lordship of Jesus.

7. Our political activity in the host culture/country/city should be an expression of our most basic Christian commitments such as (1) love of God, neighbor, and enemy; (2) prophetic concern for justice and shalom; (3) the call to be peacemakers. The basic purpose is to seek the common good, the welfare of the city, not to gain control or power. See Jer 29:7.

8. Religion and politics often use each other for what each perceives as gain, usually meaning either protection or power. Jesus said, it shall not be so among you! See Mark 10:43-45.

9. The bottom line in domestic and especially international politics is often self-interest. For many reasons, Christians must look beyond national self-interest.

10. Christians need to be especially wary about the use of God-talk by states and politicians, always asking, “What do they mean when they say ‘God’?” Which god do they mean? Most political God-talk, even in countries with some form of Christian heritage or presence, is not Christian faith but civil religion (nationalism in religious garb).

11. There is a variety of legitimately Christian ways to understand Christian political involvement in general and in particulars. This diversity ranges from being very active to withdrawing from some or even all aspects.

12. Christians should probably be suspicious of politics and politicians in general, because there is so much seeking, use, and abuse of power, so much lying, and so much death associated with politics.

Some Particulars in our Context

1. The United States is not a Christian country. It was founded by Deists on deist and Enlightenment principles. It is now a secular state with a religiously pluralist populace.

2. The United States is not God’s chosen people, the light of the world, the city on a hill, or the world’s last hope.

3. The dominant religion in the U.S. may well be “Americanism.” See Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics and Peter Leithart, Between Babel and Beast: America and Empire in Biblical Perspective.

4. Christians need to recognize the inherent realities and dangers of the country/culture in which we are located: the world’s lone “superpower” (empire?) with military bases in scores of countries; rampant consumerism; the deification of freedom and choice; and a sense of being specially blessed by God/god because of this military and economic might and this freedom.

5. Christians cannot escape being influenced by their host country/culture. But for Christians, some American values are not only wrong, they are idolatrous. Therefore the values we bring to politics and voting need to be examined and re-examined again and again.

For further reading: Greg Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Nation. Michael Budde, The Borders of Baptism: Identities, Allegiances, and the Church. Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals. David Gushee, Christians and Politics Beyond the Culture Wars. Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon, Resident Aliens. Ted Lewis, ed. Electing Not to Vote. Ron Sider, Just Politics. Jim Wallis, God’s Politics. J. Philipp Wogaman, Christians and Politics. John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus.

7 Responses to “Christians and Politics”

  1. Peter says:

    Delighted to see another post after such a long time. Thank you, professor. Great summary of the arguments involved (which I have already translated into Spanish!).

  2. MJG says:

    Thank you, Peter. I have been very busy and not had time to post much, so I am hoping to do a bit more.

  3. Lee Wyatt says:

    Nice job, Mike! Wonderful summary! Will repost.

  4. Lee Wyatt says:

    Michael,

    What’ you take on Leithart’s sketch on empires in the Bible (Part 1 of his book)?

  5. MJG says:

    Thanks, Lee. I’ve not read all of Peter’s book yet (I only skimmed around), so I need to read carefully before commenting. Sorry.

  6. Jeremy Van Kley says:

    Excellent post, Michael! I’ve been saying some of this from the pulpit, but have my doubts as to whether or not it’s actually being heard. All we can do is to keep being faithful, keep being an obedient voice praying “May your Kingdom come . . .” I’ll be sharing this one on my FB page. Thanks for posting!

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