Recently I was asked by a friend what it would mean of his reading of the Bible made him a democrat.
This question – and others – raises the issue of party affiliation among Christians. There seems to be a stereotype that Christianity and the Republican party are kith and kindred. Derek Webb sings, “There are two great lies that I’ve heard: the day you eat the fruit of that tree you will not surely die, and that Jesus Christ was a white middle-class republican.”
Having lived in the south for a number of years I’m a bit more sympathetic to this stereotype. Yet nationally this is simply not the case, and the “red state/blue state” distinction simply does not correlate to matters of faith.
According to a 2006-7 poll by Barna, evangelical Christians (defined as those holding to orthodox beliefs) only make up approximately 9% of the total voting population. Of these there was a fairly even split of Democrat and Republican (though Republicans were just slightly more prevalent at around 59%). Granted, another two thirds of the voting population was composed of self-identified Christians, their beliefs differed from those of evangelical Christianity.
Nevertheless, there remains a stigma that Christians are “too political.” In fact, this is one of the chief complaints about Christians when David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons released their book unchristian:What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity. Most striking was the find that President Bush was singled out by survey participants as a “Christian leader.”
It’s a bit messy, and it is difficult to make generalizations concerning the typical divisions of red/blue states. Such generalizations concerning Christians and the Republican party do little justice to the complexity of the issue.
But back to the question above: in what way(s) (if any) does the Bible influence Political affiliation?
THE BIBLE AND HUMAN GOVERNMENT
“13:1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except by God’s appointment, and the authorities that exist have been instituted by God. 13:2 So the person who resists such authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will incur judgment 13:3 (for rulers cause no fear for good conduct but for bad). Do you desire not to fear authority? Do good and you will receive its commendation, 13:4 for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be in fear, for it does not bear the sword in vain. It is God’s servant to administer retribution on the wrongdoer. 13:5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of the wrath of the authorities but also because of your conscience. 13:6 For this reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants devoted to governing. 13:7 Pay everyone what is owed: taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.” (Romans 13:1-7)
Paul’s words in Romans 13 seem to afford human government a unique place. Firstly, human government is treated as a unique entity greater than the mere sum of individual members. Secondly, human government is divinely appointed. Thirdly (and consequentially), human government deserves respect.
And, to be clear, Paul wrote these words during a time when our “town hall meetings” would be regarded as quite laughable. The Roman government was hardly the tolerant, peace-loving society we claim to enjoy today. This was why the Jews were so hopeful that Jesus, their Messiah, would overthrow Rome and take charge. But Christ’s kingdom was “not of this world.”
LIVING IN TWO WORLDS
It was Saint Augustine who so famously wrote about the existence of two cities. In his work, The City of God, he wrote of there being a city of God and a city of man. As Christians we live in both of these worlds. Author Philip Yancey calls us to have what he calls “stereoscopic vision,” to live in this world with a vision of the next.
In the period of the exile, the Jews were reluctant to be a part of Babylonian culture, regarding it as “pagan” and undesirable. But this was God’s command to them:
Jeremiah 29:4-7 This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
Clearly God’s desire is for redemptive social engagement. Living as a part of God’s redemptive program demands activity in the present world.
This has been taken to unfortunate extremes in the so-called “social gospel.” This was a gospel that spoke of helping the poor, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, etc., etc. It sounded wonderful. The problem was this became the primary focus to the complete neglect of the message of salvation.
Reacting against this, many denominations pulled back significantly and spent most of their time concerned with evangelism and discipleship program and neglected (whether intentionally or unintentionally). The problem with this approach was that it reduced the gospel to purely spiritual matters when in fact that gospel of Christ is a holistic one, concerned with things of this world in as much as they impact the next.
Too many of Christ’s teachings concerned themselves with loving one’s neighbor, with caring for the oppressed and reaching out to the “least of these.” On the other hand, his interactions with men like Zacchaeus (a tax collector) showed an equal concern for the oppressor as well as the oppressed. Christ’s social ethics transcended issues of class.
BETWEEN TWO WORLDS
I propose the following as an approach (and we’ll explore this in greater detail over the next two days): there are two spheres – a sphere of faith which concerns itself with Christian spirituality and a sphere of politics that specifically concerns itself with human government.
Christians are to concern themselves primarily with the sphere of faith. This means a commitment to the gospel. However, as we mentioned, this also means reaching beyond purely “spiritual” matters to help widows and orphans as we have been commanded. In this way, there will be times when the sphere of faith and the sphere of politics intersect. That is, there will be times that issues of loving one’s neighbor have political implications. This is nothing new: religious pacifists have declined military service on religious grounds.
Back to the question with which we began: is it possible to live in the sphere of faith in such a way that it directly influences the way you live within the sphere of politics? The answer is a resounding “yes.” Just how this might influence us is an issue we shall resume in tomorrow’s discussion.