This is an IMB worker’s response to Anthony Russo’s post “Should Christians Express Their Political Views?”
For starters, I am uninterested in re-hashing the various points made during Mr. Russo’s post, as well as those presented during the discussion. Others have done an excellent job in raising perspectives that apply to the situation. Instead, I would like to present a different view of the subject; this requires us to leave the North American environment and even the current year.
Consider situations where Christians or the church have wed themselves to a particular political, social, or governmental movement. Can you name some? I’ll give a very brief list, though I imagine that you folks can add both breadth and depth to the examples.
1. Christian support of the Confederacy: Yes, I realize I’ve simplified things, but the point holds even so. The opposite view also applies: the North appealed to the Bible for their support as well.
2. The Christian Democrat party of Venezuela: This party dominated the national political scene for decades; it was rightfully called an oligarchy due to its tendency to take care of its own (rich, family members). The masses of poor were on their own. The current president, Hugo Chavez, has been harshly critical of Christianity in general, and his primary opponent has been the Christian Democrats or their allies. Nothing particularly Christian has been noted about the party (see comments about the poor).
3. Catholic support for the policies, wars, theft, brigandage, and genocide applied by Spanish and Portuguese explorers of South America: The church attached itself to the actions of the crown not because kings and queens were moral people nor because conquest was a Biblical issue; the church just liked what the conquistadores were doing. As well, the church viewed political processes (military conquest) as an acceptable method of evangelization. (Interested readers should check out Eduardo Galeano’s “Open Veins of Latin America” as well as “Cross and Sword“)
4. Christian support in Germany for the policies of Adolf Hitler: Yes, the case can be made they were weak, or allowed themselves to be badgered into that support. Even so, the question isn’t “Should strong Christians express their political views?” And, while I realize it is unpopular to criticize a theological giant, Dietrich Bonhoeffer failed to render to his government the respect and obedience that the Bible demands. I imagine, in my comfortable post-war life, that he could have opposed Nazism’s views without attempting to murder a duly-appointed national leader. Instead, he took a political stand and expressed it as Christian. (It is hard for me to disagree with the man, though; despite the critique, I admire his resolve.)
5. Papal support for various kings across Europe during the 100 Years War between England and France: Popes were chosen based on international political ramifications; intense “prayerful consideration” was usually punctuated with mercenary forces and bribery. Kings were strengthened by their affiliation with the Holy See. At its nadir, the situation deteriorated to the degree that a pope in Rome supported and enjoyed the support of half of Europe. A competing pope in the French city of Avignon enjoyed the patronage of the other half. The 14th century, already decimated by the plague, suffered as a direct result of the politicizing of the faith. It is easy to say “But the issues were not Biblical ones,” but to those alive at the time, the issues were indeed Biblical and moral. (For an in-depth look at this, read Barbara Tuchman’s “A Distant Mirror.”)
6. The English rallying cry of, “For God and Country!” This was colonialistic zeal of Christianity at its worst. Much of Asia and Africa feels that Christianity is nothing more than a branch of Western oppression, imperialism, and invasion. This is not due to national governments attaching themselves to the cause of Christ; no, it typically is the church joining the work and public policy of the state.
7. Sectarian violence supported with religious militias: I remember the first time I heard of Christian militia fighting Druze forces in Beirut. Catholic vs Protestant violence in Northern Ireland fits as well. Churches and Christian communities come to identify themselves as political forces in their own right; the result is something the scriptures never intended.
We can easily justify our need to be involved in the American political process, and rightfully so. However, the issues we choose must be those that are truly Biblical, and not political. We need to look at the history of the church and the state in order to understand the dangers of planting a Christian flag on various politically moral high places. We need to tread cautiously as we look for ways to be involved as Christians. Too often, we state our political views as black-and-white Biblical mandates when in fact, they are positions of conviction based on our understanding of a Biblical guideline.
My point is that there’s a larger picture when we consider politics and the Christian view. I think much of what happens in the political realm falls into the cracks of conviction, places where Biblical guidelines are vague or missing. Too often, we choose to declare the Bible’s true intent without considering that we could be wrong. As well, we attach ourselves and our faith and our churches to a political person, or an end of the spectrum without considering that much of our conviction is simply how we interpret the Bible’s view of things.
My answer to Mr. Russo’s well-placed question? No. Christians should express their Biblical views of the world. That should suffice to cover the political aspect of things. Simplistic, I know, but it’s the best I can do.
(My thanks to Mr. Russo and his commenters for the inspiration)