Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Wielding Political Power as a Christian

There's an interesting discussion ongoing over at SBC Today about the politicization of the church. I believe that there are helpful points to be made about the topic. I do not believe that Christians err when they seek to let their faith inform their political activities, nor do I believe that political activities are somehow "soiled" such that believers ought to eschew them. I do, however, believe it a shame and a wrong when Christians allow secular politics to displace their activities on behalf of the gospel. I would offer such a slight criticism of the late D. James Kennedy, the great author of Evangelism Explosion, whose public ministry in its latter years, in my opinion, gave short shrift to the EE portion of his ministry to make way for increased volume about politics. What Kennedy said about politics was good and helpful, as I evaluate it, but what he had to say about the gospel was so much more helpful as to make it something of his duty to invest more time there, in my estimation.

So, the article and the discussion at SBC Today are both things that I regard positively.

However, although the topic is good as far as it goes over there, I believe that we miss an important facet of living as a political Christian in the United States of America. Here, political power is not something that we seek. Much of the negative discussion about evangelical "clamoring" for political influence presumes precisely that—that believers are naturally powerless politically, and that some believers are seduced into wanting to seek political power.

But as American Christians, political power is not something that we seek; it is something that we already have. Because we are voters. We govern ourselves, albeit indirectly. It seems to me that some of our pooh-poohing of political involvement as Christians amounts to a wish that we really owed no stewardship to God for the fate of our national secular politics. Paul and Peter certainly could make that claim, as could today's Chinese believers or Cuban believers. But American Christians are, to some degree, not only the citizens of this land, but also its rulers.

When a Christian serves as monarch of a nation, do you believe that he has a responsibility to God for the manner in which he conducts himself politically? If a Christian head of state refuses to work politically—if he disregards the apparatuses of state and refuses to engage his job seriously, lobbying for godly causes that help the nation and working against those that harm it, is that a virtue in his character? Will God reward him for that? Suppose that, while abandoning his political post, he promises to pray daily for the welfare of his people? Does that absolve him of the stewardship of his political power? I doubt that anyone will say so, especially in light of the manner in which God held rulers accountable for their actions in the Bible!

As voters, the difference between us and a monarch is one of degree, not one of essence. For each of us our level of political influence is much lesser than that of a head of state, but it is there nonetheless. What will we do with it? Are we so confident that we will not give an account for the answer to that question? Passivity and isolationism are not virtues, nor must political engagement necessarily result in spiritual disengagement. Yes, we must beware that we are not seduced by the siren song of "political greatness," but so far as grassroots political involvement, I choose to participate to some degree not because I believe that political involvement is the answer, but because I believe that I will have to give an answer for how I used the political power given to me as an American citizen to seek to work good and restrain evil in this world.


Bart Barber said...

And, by the way, speaking of "pooh-poohing"…

…I have breakfast with Pooh on Wednesday, as well as Tigger and Eeyore. Be nice in the comments while I'm away.

Wes Kenney said...

Say hello to Hannah for us...


Wayne Smith said...


I agree with you on your stand, but “EE” was “Sharing the Truth” and getting Involved was “Defending the Truth”.

Wayne Smith

Anonymous said...

Good post. It reminds me of a saying,
"If you don't vote, you get the form of government you deserve."

Dave Miller said...

I think the issue some are raising is between Christians being politically involved and the church focusing on political involvement.

Even, Thomas and Dobson, in "Blinded by Might" - a book hated by many in the religious right, made the distinction that Christians should be politically aware and active, and that churches should address key moral issues.

It is when the church becomes a subsidiary of a political party (whether the Ron Sider/Democrat wing or the Religious Right/Republican) that the trouble starts.

I agree completely that we should use the gift granted us. I plan to vote for Sarah Palin and her running mate, whatever his name is.

Anonymous said...

Hey Bart, seen any new bumper stickers lately? selahV

Bart Barber said...


Actually, I received a GREAT bumper sticker from a friend several weeks ago, but it is no longer appropriate after the VP pick.! :-)