With the election approaching, I wanted to write a few posts on a Biblical perspective on politics. Christianity in America has and does heavily influence politics, but sometimes with misguided and just plain wrong interpretations of the Bible. This post is focused on applying the major Biblical themes. I believe that the major themes and motifs of the Bible paint a compelling picture of an active pursuit of justice and compassion that is radically different what we often see portrayed in mainstream politics today.
While this is focused on how the Bible informs politics, I write this to people of any faith (or lack of). To non-Christians I write to give a perspective on what I believe the Bible really teaches and how radically different it is from what is suggested by much of Christian culture. I also write so you may hold us, as Christians, accountable to the reality of Biblical teaching.
To Christians, this is a call to truly and fully follow the Bible, the way of Christ, rather than a piecemeal distorted version of the Bible. We need to commit to humbly accepting the central teachings of the Bible as central in the forming of our views. Rather than falling into the common trap of picking a verse or two to justify your position, it is critical that we understand what the Bible really aims to teach, letting the Bible speak to it’s priorities rather than letting the our priorities determine what we want to hear from the Bible. The major principles conveyed in the Bible that are critical for a proper approach to politics, not just for choosing sides, but for altering the way we even approach the political arena. In looking at these principles, I believe it is critical that we choose to make the Bible the starting point for defining our priorities in advocacy, rather than simply taking the hot topic of the day, and then consulting our Bible to see if it gives any advice on the subject. The Bible is not a political aide. It is a narrative that draws us into a focused pursuit of God’s vision, from which compels advocacy, and not vice versa.
The Bible repeatedly emphasizes the important of justice and and defines ethics in ways that are critical to shaping our perspective on public policy. In order to understand how to faithfully pursue Biblical justice through politics, we must understand the critical principles that are the major themes in the Bible, that shape not only what we pursue in politics, but how we pursue it.
Do Unto Others…
First, the most essential Biblical ethic that I’ll start with is the golden rule, which Jesus clearly articulates as the summation of the old testament:
So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7:12
While being a relatively simple principle, this concept provides vast insight in the political realm. We should be guided by what is best for others. Jesus teaches this in no uncertain terms and he teaches this principle in the affirmative, rather than the negative (as some other ethicists and religions have done), clearly indicating that this a proactive, it is not merely a restraint from harming others (see James 4:17). If we are to do for others and as we would have them do for us, we must actively look to understand and help them in their plight. This is a simple idea, but applying this can be rather complicated, as we may have different ideas of what others really wish for.
This principle may not explicitly indicate which positions we take in politics, but it does fundamentally alter our motivation. Unfortunately far too many of us engage in politics and voting for our own sake. We would personally like to have lower taxes, more favorable religious policies, greater safety, or any other number of benefits. This is not the way of Christ. The way of Christ is to put the interests of others first. If we are to engage in politics at all, it should be driven by injustice that we see being done to others, not for our own advantage, comfort, or well-being. The vast majority of Americans’ involvement in politics and voting is based on one simple question: what or who will benefit me? Christians often do the same. I hope this post is an invitation take up our cross and follow Christ, even when that means going against the flow of nominal Christianity.
Another central tenant of the Bible is that we are undeserving people, and the mercy that God shows us is truly amazing grace. This is not just a spiritual principle. As soon as we approach the government with an attitude of how we deserve something, whether it be our paycheck, some liberty, or religious protection, we have fundamentally fallen from grace.
This also forms the foundation for the next principle. As Tim Keller said, “When Christians realize they did not save themselves but were rescued from spiritual poverty, it naturally changes their attitudes toward people who are in economic and physical poverty.”
Care for the Weak, Poor
The Bible goes further than just simply wishing good will towards all others. There is a strong and consistent emphasis on helping the weak, the poor, the needy, and the sick. The Bible admonitions us to care for the weak so many times, I won’t even begin to try to include all the references, there are hundreds, but some compelling passages are Matthew 25:31-46, Isaiah 58, Psalms 72, Proverbs 14:31, Jeremiah 22:16, and James 2. I’ve written more about the implications of these scriptures and what this means for domestic policy here. Briefly, the Bible directs to give consideration for helping the poor, and this must translate into our policies, ensuring that we have strong protections for the poor, weak, and sick. Maximizing the breadth of health care availability, ensuring adequate welfare/safety nets are available, and giving voice to the voiceless weak and minorities admist a political climate where money buys influence, are key parts of obedience to these scriptures.a
Our God is a global God. The New Testament repeatedly expresses the intent of reaching all nations of the earth with God’s glory. The Bible says he shows no ethnic partiality (Rom 2:11), and from the beginning Abraham was to be a blessing to the nations of the earth (Gen 12:3). One of the most natural inclinations of man is towards ethnocentricism, virtually everyone, at least subconsciously tends towards preferring those who are like us, or near us. This is natural. But it is sin. We must be driven by God’s global vision. While there is a natural tendency for our policies to favor Americans over others, and we must act against this, to stand up for justice for all, even those outside our borders.
This principle plays an extremely illuminating role in combination with the other principles. Not only are we to consider the plight of others, but we must equally respond to the plight of those of different ethnicity, religion, and beyond our borders. This has a very concrete application in policy. Whereas with narrow focus on America, we may focus solely on our economy, our safety, or even the welfare of the poor in America in our budget priorities, with a global focus, we are called to respond to the tremendous amount of absolute poverty and injustice outside of America, and also consider the amazing impact we can have on reducing such poverty. We must recognize the tiny portion of the federal budget (less than %1) that is actually allocated to international aid and fighting third world poverty. With the global perspective of God in mind, our budget priorities are even more tragic when contrasted with the huge spending for our military, which basically serves to keep us a little safer, while millions die each year in poverty. This should also critically shape our perspective on immigration. Do we view immigration solely on how it will affect or inconvenience current Americans, or do we consider the incredible opportunity that affords immigrant, or the potentially life-saving impact of the remittances that they will provide to their family back home?
The familiar refrain that “we need to get our own house in order before helping others” may sounds appealing, but it simply is not aligned with scriptures, where God continually uses and calls broken, lacking, needy people to help others. The more we come to embrace the global God, the more we must change our course towards prioritizing budget and policies measures that reflect the world’s needs including protecting international aid, global human rights, and immigrants over a narrow focus on our own interests.
Allegiance To God
The first two commandments of the ten commandments point us to an allegiance to one and only one God. The singularity of our object of our worship is expressed with the Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one”. Christians must be committed to take up an unassailable allegiance to the pursuit of Christ’s way, above party or country allegiance. Here I discuss the importance of our allegiance to God over country here. This allegiance should further solidify our commitment to God’s global purposes above narrow national pursuits.
Not only can our allegiances to God be subverted by our country, but by a political party as well. Unfortunately it is extremely easy and subtle to be lured into allegiance to political parties. We tend to want to categorize people into good and bad guys. We find the good guys and then side with them. Then we can stop really thinking about issues and just follow whatever the good guys say. This has become highly evident with the conservative evangelical Christians. Even when conservative politics take stances that are blatantly contradictory to the Bible, Christians often follow right along, assuming that their side must be right. The same problem can certainly plague liberal Christians as well, and the warning applies to them too. However, it is undeniable that the vast majority of evangelical Christians are conservative, and so the threat of putting party alignment over Christian values is much greater on the right.
Thanks for reading and your careful consideration. More thoughts to come tomorrow…