In the previous post, we emphasized that Christians live within the sphere of faith, but because of the social implications of the gospel, there will be times when that sphere overlaps with the sphere of politics. We concluded with the statement that Biblical values might influence one’s political orientation.
OF ELEPHANTS AND DONKEYS
First, let’s emphasize the fact that nowhere does the Bible endorse purely “American” values, let alone lend credence to partisan political platforms. Yet the sociological reality is that one’s views on social ethics will often harmonize (more or less) with a particular party.
So this means that the way I read the Bible can lead to becoming democrat or republican? Yes and no. The way the Bible is interpreted does not lead to these conclusions, though the way it is applied may have political ramifications.
This is especially significant in discussions of social welfare programs. Though reading the same text of the “good Samaritan,” it is possible to reach differing conclusions with regard to how it may be applied. At significant risk of generalization, my democratic friends have generally been in favor of governmental programs to help the poor, whereas my republican friends emphasize the responsibility of the church. This is just one example of the way social ethics might lead to different political positions. The Bible by itself does not lead to one position or another – but the way in which it is applied may at least contribute to one’s party affiliation.
And that’s significant. Because this means that on many issues – and health care reform is one of them – there is no uniquely “Christian” position. This of course contrasts with the recent decision of Liberty University to cease the “Democratic club,” because, in contrast to the republican counterpart, this club is composed of a party whose values differ from the school (in this author’s opinion, if Liberty University enjoys tax exempt status, no political clubs should exist on campus).
Since the day our ancestors rebelled in Eden, we’ve resorted to fig leaves and blame in an effort to protect ourselves from our own shame. And still today, politics becomes a means of labeling one another and assigning blame to societal issues.
APPROACHES TO POLITICS
(1) Pure fatalism. This position is simple: since God is sovereign over human affairs, there is no need for concerted Christian involvement in politics. This position will argue that voting is still a meaningful part of Christian stewardship, but ultimately God is in control over human affairs. Critics suggest that since we have such opportunity to have an active voice, it is equally our job to be stewards of our potential political influence.
(2) Activism. This position means more than public demonstration. It is the opposite of fatalism. This position argues that Christians must “take a stand” for what is “right.” Again, the definition of “right” is based on party affiliation (see above) and does not take into account the complexity of political issues, nor does it recognize God’s sovereign control over human affairs – as if He needs us to put a man in power. These are the Facebook types who spend 90% of their “status” updates with the latest Fox News article.
(3) Socialism. This position has experienced sporadic popularity in some segments of the emerging church movement. This position draws from Acts 2 and argues that we should all practice “intentional community” by divesting our wealth and possessions and sharing all we have. The end result is usually some variation of a hippie commune dedicated to community and “social justice” (though the concept of justice is often left undefined). Critics note that the early church was hardly pure (look at the Church of Corinth), and just because they shared everything, this was not necessarily normative behavior (and in Acts 8, the Jerusalem church ran out of money and had to take support from elsewhere). What’s especially troublesome is the insistence of some (e.g., Shane Claiborne) that this represents “true” Christianity – does this mean those who disagree are “less” Christian? This position ultimately is no more “Christian” than the “activist” position above, just replacing one set of politics for another.
(4) Anarchism. This is a lesser-known position, but Christian anarchism does exist. Christian anarchists argue that no one should rule over us save God alone. Therefore human government is unnecessary. These groups often harmonize well with the socialists because of their shared interest in (ahem) “social justice.” Unfortunately this position runs afoul of the New Testament command to submit to ruling authority.
A BETTER WAY?
The gospel message offers both life and lifestyle. Far from the message of empowerment, Christians are called to lives of humble discipleship. We see something of the same thing even in such texts as Daniel, Nehemiah and Esther, where Godly individuals found themselves in the chambers of power. Culture was shaped and changed and influenced not through a series of bumper stickers and slogans, but by humble submission to God’s authority. It is ultimately God who shapes the hearts of those in power and moves our culture in the direction he sees fit – whether for good or for ill. This is why in Isaiah’s text God calls Senachhariib His “instrument.” God appoints leaders – both “good” and “bad” to accomplish His purposes.
If it sounds as if I’m arguing for a form of fatalism, I’m not. I would equally emphasize the task of stewardship. American democracy affords us unique opportunity to have influence over political matters, and our responsibility should not be taken lightly.
The problem is that many Christians take this responsibility to be primary, to the neglect of God’s great mandate to “make disciples of all nations.” Instead, we have entire legions of Christians eager for political influence to the neglect of this spiritual mandate.
When the gospel takes a back seat to political ideologies, than politics has become another idol.
Tomorrow, we will take a closer look at this diseased idolatry in American evangelicalism. It will take a much harsher tone than we have taken so far. So it should be fun.