With Aristotle I admit we are “political animals” by nature, but I do not think that the answer to all (or most) of our woes is a political one. Our answer (and the question) will always will be a theological one. Those who read this blog regularly (or irregularly) know that I say little about politics. Nevertheless, when I come across a sane voice on the topic of politics and religion, I try and take heed and I wish to point my readers to that voice of reason. John Dickson is such a voice. He has some excellent points that deserve to be heard. His essay “Mixing Religion with Politics” is important as he keenly applies passages that are rarely viewed under the light of politics. If you do not read his essay, do take time to read the highlights that follow. It is my hope that his points will inform you as much as they have me.
Theologically speaking, good government is not the special preserve of believers. Chapter 13 of Paul’s epistle to the Romans makes clear that even the pagan governments of Rome were to be thought of as ‘established by God.’ Indeed, secular, non-Christian rulers are described by the apostle as ‘God’s servants.’ The point deserves deep reflection.
Naturally, if one sincerely believes that national prosperity happens also to be the best way to achieve other, more important, goals for society, then the Christian will appropriately vote with this in mind. However, the believer should always remember the way the pursuit of wealth is given very short shrift in the Bible:
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs (1 Timothy 6:10).
A Christian vote is a vote for others, not oneself. It is fundamental to the Christian outlook that life be devoted to the good of others before oneself:
Honour one another above yourselves (Rom 12:10).
In humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others (Philippians 2:3-4).
For the Christian, moral health far exceeds economic prosperity as an honorable goal for society. As the book of Proverbs says:
Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people (Proverbs 14:34).
In voting for the ‘other’ the Christian will principally have in mind the poor and powerless. We will use our vote for those who need our vote more than we do. The mandate for this throughout Scripture is overwhelming:
Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked (Psalm 82:3-4).
He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God (Proverbs 14:31).
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress (James 1:27).
Almost by definition, Christians are to live for the eternal good of others (1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1). Concern for the advancement of the Christian message …, therefore, will potentially play a part in a Christian’s voting patterns.
The Scriptures urge believers to pray for leaders and for governments. And, ultimately, believers will see this as more important even than their vote.
I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:1-3).
Christian activism is expressed most pertinently on the knees. There is nothing here about praying for a ‘Christian society’—whatever that is—only that prayers should be offered for the (secular) leadership of a nation so that God’s people can get on with their core business of living lives of peace and goodness and seeking to promote the news of ‘God as Saviour.’ It is a mistake, in other words, for Christians to pin their hopes for a nation on a political process. The ‘Christian vote’ will always remain a secondary tool in the church’s repertoire of involvement for the good of the world.
On a similar note, see also Bill Muehlenberg’s commentary Christians and Civil Disobedience.