Religion and Politics

How should a Christian approach questions of politics?  There is no direct answer to that question in the Bible.  Yes, Jesus said "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's."  Matt 22:21  Yes, Jesus and the Disciples practiced austerity, charity, and communal living.  And many more examples of potentially politically meaningful passages may be discovered in the scriptures.  In fact, most political positions or philosophies could be supported by at least some scripture.  But politics is a creature of this world, not the next.  Politics changes with the times, and the politics of Biblical times bears little resemblance to the politics of today.

So how is a Christian to proceed?  The answer is to disregard the apparent differences in scope, and regard political questions no differently than personal questions.  In other words, your basic Christian principles, morals, ethics, and beliefs should remain the same whether you are deciding on your personal character or your political character.  If something is right for you personally, then it will be right for you politically.  If wrong personally, it will be wrong politically.  The right and wrong of basic questions remains the same regardless of the scope of the question.

If its wrong for you to take your neighbors property without his permission, it is wrong to support a government that takes his property without his permission.  And it would be wrong for you to support a political candidate who advocates taking your neighbors property without his permission.  If it would be wrong for you to sneak across a border in violation of an immigration law, then it would be wrong for you to support a political party or candidate that advocates allowing others to do that.  You can't create justification by proxy.  You can't change a wrong to a right by simply handing off the problem to a political candidate, party, or government.  Governments are not arbiters of righteousness.

Once you get past the difference in scale problem, that is, seeing government action as somehow exempt from the Christian principles that guide you in your personal life, answers to political questions begin to fall into place.  And, not surprisingly, a lot of what you may have been taking for granted as legitimate functions of your government may begin to seem wrong, or even evil.  In a sense, this is an extension of Jesus' Golden Rule: "Therefore all things whatsoever would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them" Matt 7:12  What's right in your personal life, is also what's right in your public and political life.

When you have ordered your thinking according to this principle, a lot of political rhetoric will shock you.  A politician may argue that the rich should be forced to pay for the care of the poor.  Then you will think, if I were a poor man would it be right for me to force a rich man to pay for my care?  Would it be OK for me to rob him?  Surely you will say "No."  Then you will see how you would be violating your own principles by voting for a government that does that exact same thing for you by proxy. 

So does this mean that the Christian view should be that government has no more power than the individual?  No, not at all.  There are many examples where the answer to your question would rightly be "Yes, a government should do that."  Consider functions of government such as defense from foreign enemies, enforcement of the criminal law, and prevention of communicable disease.  There are many such functions where only government acting for the mutual benefit of all its citizens can solve a problem.  And, since such problems effect all its citizens, it is right that all should be required to pay a share of the expense.  There is nothing unChristian about government requiring citizens to pay for benefits they receive.  In fact, it may well be unChristian for a citizen to accept such benefits without paying for them.

Finally, there is the issue of religious freedom.  No right thinking Christian should support any candidate, political party, or government that seeks to restrict or limit the right to full, complete, and open religious expression.  And, there is no place in Christendom for a government that denies God's existence, or forces secular beliefs on its citizens.

These principles do not offer pat answers to specific questions.  But they do offer guidance by giving a Christian a starting place for making political decisions.  On some questions, even good Christians will arrive at different answers.  That's OK.  If Christians will simply back away from the canned conclusions offered by the media, and the one size fits all positions of the political parties, and begin to think for themselves using their personal Christian principals, morals, and ethics as their starting point, the world will become a better place.