I am currently engaged in a personal sorting out process concerning the role of the church as it interacts with the American political process. I have never quite been comfortable with what I perceive as the meshing of the two by high powered Christian-oriented political pressure groups. I have never appreciated the subtle pressure to vote a certain way as a test of my faithfulness. More and more I question the idea of America as “God’s country” in that it is essential to the future health and existence of God’s church.
Now, please do not misunderstand. I am thankful to be a citizen of the United States. I am grateful to all who have paid the price for the freedoms and opportunities we enjoy. This is not a bash the good-ole USA rant. As governments go, ours have served us well. I do believe that America is one of God’s countries, but only as long as we exalt his values (Proverbs 13:24) and his revelation. (Proverbs 29:18) But, as a Christian, how involved should I be in the governmental process? Is voting my Christian duty? Should I be out there on the picket line protesting for “Christian” issues? Is the very future of the church dependent upon the future of America?
When I look to my religious heritage for answers I find a mixed bag. Some of our earliest restoration fathers viewed America’s birth and growth as ordained by God and put great hope into the American way. Others were not quite as optimistic and one prominent leader, David Lipscomb, believed in absolute non-involvement in the government. His book, Civil Government, influenced generations within the Churches of Christ to not become involved in any way in government and politics. Patriotism fostered by the World Wars eventually pushed this thinking aside. George S. Benson would lead Harding College to be a model for Christian patriotism and the lines between church, government and politics have been crossing ever since.
When I look to Scripture I do find a clearer picture. Jesus interacted with the political realities of his day, but never became directly involved in them. He affirmed the practice of paying taxes. (Matthew 22:15-22) He encouraged reform for dishonest government officials, (Luke 19:1-9) but did not demand of them to leave their jobs. He never engaged in overt political protests, but his teachings did have a subversive quality in protesting the injustices of his culture. He submitted to Roman law even when it meant his life.
The example of the apostles is interesting. Occasionally they refused to obey a form of law (Acts 4:19-20; 5:29), but later Paul would appeal to his rights under the Roman government as a citizen to seek a trail before Caesar himself, in Rome. (Acts 25:12) Peter would teach and convert a Roman centurion, (Acts 10) but never asked him to resign that position.
Further, we have statements by the apostles as to why governments exist and our responsibility to them as Christians. These texts in Romans 13:1-7, Titus 3:1-2, and 1st Peter 2:13-17 all make it clear that as Christians we are to submit to the governments under which we live, obey laws and be good, peaceful citizens. We are taught to even view our government as God’s agents of justice, equating rebellion against these powers to rebellion against God. (Quite a statement considering the brutal nature of the Roman Empire which was the government at the time this was written.)
Then there is the matter of slavery. It was rampant during New Testament times. But never does Scripture call for its abolishment. Instead Scripture instructs slaves and their masters to conduct themselves as Christians in their perspective roles. (Titus 2:9-10; 1st Peter 2:18-20) If ever there was an inhumane practice for Christians to become politically active in overthrowing- slavery would be it. But even in his letter about a runaway slave, the book of Philemon, the apostle Paul never offered a word of protest against this practice. (Although it can be argued that by instructing both slaves and masters to treat each other justly- that this was a form of protest which would ultimately subvert and overthrow slavery)
So where does all of this leave me now? With the presidential election now heating up, what position do I take as part of the “aliens and strangers in the world”? (1st Peter 2:11) As a part of a people “not of this world” but “from another place” (John 18:36) should I jump in the political arena with both feet fighting for Christian values to become part of a party platform and therefore decided in the ballot box? Or should I simply model these values in my life and allow God to work through me in this way to strengthen my country through strengthening his kingdom? Or is there room for both?
Help me out.