A Christian Guide to Politics (Sort Of)

By Neil Earle

Proverbs 22:24: “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways.” Basil Wolverton artwork

This article was originally written 10 years ago when some way-out political candidates wanted to end the Department of Education, the Public School System (which taught them to read and write) and Social Security (though I doubt if most will give back their checks this month).

Everything seems a lot worse since then. Is there a clear-headed Christian way through the morass?

What’s a Bible-believing Christian supposed to do in the face of attack ads, pseudo-Christian claims by some and the obvious intrusion of entertainment into political reportage?

Well, lots.

A Biblical Primer

There is a way to be Christian salt and light even in the middle of the harried political process. The trick is to head for the Christian high ground – to stay informed and yet be above the process, to participate and maybe even “run” as a candidate and yet retain a sense of honor and decency.

Here are a few overall “warm ups” from the pure Word of God. These are foundational spiritual ground rules:

Proverbs 22:24: “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways.” As we’ll see in this series of Scriptures, a question to ask is – “Wouldn’t that change things?” What would the wise application of this Scripture do for the wild and wooly campaign rhetoric that flies around at election time? The Bible allows legitimate anger (Ephesians 4:26) but avoid “storming away” endlessly about a particular figure. Cut it out. Call it a day and go home. Proverbs also says anger rests in the bosom of fools.

Matthew 5:25 – “Agree with your adversary quickly.” Wouldn’t this change things in Congress, at the state legislature, in city hall, at council and PTA meetings? Well, we can always dream. In discussions try to seek a peaceful path, head for the high ground. Christians, such as myself, need to be reminded of these statements quite regularly, I find.

Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourself.” Uh, oh. “That’s hitting below the belt, pastor,” some will say. “Why if we all thought that way there’d be no fun in politics at all.” Too bad. Christians are not allowed to hate (sound extreme?). They are not allowed to destroy other people’s reputations. Or even harbor long-standing grudges. Or dredge up people’s pasts to salivate over it. At election time we need reminding of that.

James 1:19, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” There goes most of the campaign budget out the window, yep, gone with the wind. “Quick to listen and slow to speak” – man, do we ever violate these principles at our peril in the living room, the board room, the cabinet room. But, forewarned is forearmed.

We have to agree we’ve weathered some tough storms before.

1 Peter 2:17, “Show proper respect to everyone.” Oops, getting personal again. At university in the 1960s I did not join the debating team because I soon learned that if you uncovered facts against your position you were to suppress, hide, distort or construct arguments against them. Too many politicians learn this tactic in college and so…the beat goes on.

So there are a few warm-up Scriptures that might help us remember what the Christian high ground really is. “Consider others better than yourself” led one of my pastor friends to remember what he liked about both political parties. Taking these values as starting points is a step along the road to being “all things to all men” (1 Corinthians 9). (“All things to all men.” There’s the Bible, spoiling my fun again, I can hear some say.)

But let’s get even more specific. Churches and Christians usually fall into one of five positions when politics comes around.

  1. Rejectionism. “Why vote, they’re all crooks!” A bit of a sweeping generalization (which sad trait plays well on today’s talk shows, incidentally). Everyone knows there are abuses and corruptions and at all levels and among all parties but once again the clear, calm voice of the Son of God cuts through the morass: “Anyone who says to his brother, You worthless person, is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, You fool, is in danger of hell fire” (Matthew 5:22). This is good advice. Followed, it would really change things.
  2. Irrelevance. “It doesn’t matter. Christ is returning in a few short years and will change everything.” I used to be in a church that felt that way. Thankfully we’ve seen the error of our ways. How is “hands off” behavior loving your neighbor? Being salt and light? If your neighbors ask for your help with a Referendum that would prevent children near a mine to prevent getting asthma, they might have a right to be offended if you dodge the issue. Dismissing all responsibility doesn’t seem to equate with good citizenship.
  3. Slavish Submission. “Do what those over you say because Romans 13 says they are appointed by God.” That’s right, they are. But everything Hitler did was “legal” in the sense of being authorized by the state. We have to be careful. Jesus asserted his fundamental human rights when he was arrested (Luke 22:52-53). Peter clearly said, “We must obey God rather than men.” Christians have to pray for balance on these issues. It’s not easy.
  4. The Pollyana Attitude. “I pray for kings and rulers and just leave it at that.” There’s some truth here as there is in Position Number 3. 1 Timothy 2 commands us to pray first for those over us “that we may lead a quiet and peaceful life.” We Christians fall down here tremendously. We need to pray for our leaders and the burdens they bear privately and publicly. Christians are to remember the advice of Jeremiah 29:7 to seek the peace of their city. Being salt and light involves action.
  5. Intelligent Activism. As opposed to “unintelligent activism.” Christians often can see themselves as victims in the political process but the truth is that they have had a big influence on public affairs since the Religious Right rose up in the 1970s. Whether it’s abortion, same-sex marriage or even being passive in the face of attacks on their faith, Christians are passive no longer. That much is good even if some Christian leaders often embarrassed many of their fellow-Christians along the way. But their impact has been felt. Where Time magazine’s July, 1966 cover was “Is God Dead?” the October 4, 2010 cover read “How the first nine months shape the rest of your life.” Hmmm. That’s quite a switch. Things do change over time if people care enough to take stand, which participation in a democracy allows.

Neither does unthinking, blinkered knee-jerk Christian activism get things done. Here are some reminders to help us all hold the high ground.

THE LAND: On one thing can agree – we have a beautiful country.

Holding the High Ground

First, escape the curse of negativism. There is altogether too much hatred, fear, rhetoric and craziness bombarding us from talks shows, political platforms and pulpits. Twirl your radio dial in the last decade and you could hear a left-leaning host expatiate on how Vice President Cheney planned 9/11. Turn it again and you’ll learn that President Obama was a secret Muslim terrorist. Whaaaat?. How did we get here? We have choices to make. Keep turning that tuner. Be careful of remarks we may make at the supper table, the lunch room, the local diner. After all, thousands of individual attitudes combine to make up the societal mood. It takes courage to buck the trend if you’re a liberal in a conservative workplace or vice versa.

One of the Biblical watchwords that slowly began to transform this world was Peter’s in Acts 10:34, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” Or as it says in the New King James: “God has shown me that I must not call any man impure or unclean (verse 28).” The devout Jew Peter said that after baptizing Cornelius who was a Roman, a Gentile and a member of the imperial occupying force. God was stretching Peter. These political issues will stretch all of us.

Secondly, be thankful for and exercise your constitutional rights. Paul used his on more than one occasion (Acts 16:35). Voting is still a privilege in most countries. After the Florida Presidential decision in 2000, Americans above of all people should know how every vote can (sometimes) count. Voting matters, but so does not voting. Not to vote is to make a decision that can be consequential – Christians should know that. Issues are rarely ever clear-cut and black and white and that’s why it needs to be a prayerful decision. But be of good cheer. God is more willing to give us wisdom than we are willing to ask (James 1:5).

Above all, Christian voters and even Christian candidates are free in the Lord, free to study the issues and think for themselves, free to break out of the boxes society likes to place us in, the kind you often see on a ballot sheet. Remember, God has shown us not to deprecate or ultimately judge the hearts and motives of any human being.

So, in conclusion I would like to say: God help me to follow my own advice.