I’ve been enjoying an ongoing dialogue with my friend Thomas about the place and role of Christians in the political sphere. It started out with his comment:
From there I wrote a response called Stay Away From Politics, Christian!
After that Thomas wrote his rebuttal in Don’t Vote For Jesus: Reflecting on Christian Political Involvement.
So I guess this is my rebuttal to his rebuttal, and we’re just a couple of butt-heads.
Jesus doesn’t rally armies and overthrow the Roman government and he doesn’t establish a political theocracy that forces everyone to obey the Mosaic Law. Instead, Jesus spends a lot of time teaching people that God is more interested in their hearts than he is in their behavior and that their behavior is really just an indicator of what is in their hearts anyway. Jesus invites other people to follow him and to join him in his ministry to the afflicted and the oppressed. He doesn’t run for office, he doesn’t lobby the Roman government, and he even tells people that they should pay their taxes to Rome!
Yup, it’s true. Jesus’s mission wasn’t about politics or government.
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15)
Jesus didn’t come to set up an earthly kingdom, but let’s not believe that Jesus called everyone to the same profession he lived. There is an understanding from the beginning of the faith that we take our faith wherever we are and in whatever we do. In the Gospel According to Luke, people are convicted by the preaching of John the Baptist and ask him, “What then should we do?” John tells the tax collectors to stop collecting more than they should (they were known to be cheats) and tells Soldiers to stop practicing extortion and to be satisfied with their wages.
He does NOT tell these people to leave their government jobs.
Instead, people are told to behave righteously as believers whatever their jobs might be. Do you work for the government? Great! Be a Christian on your job. There is nothing wrong with government work. There is nothing wrong with believers being part of the system. We are simply called to do it in a God-honoring way. While Jesus didn’t run for office, we can.
Then Thomas says:
Jesus said, “I’m sending you out into the world to tell them about me and you will help them become my disciples just like I did for you.” No talk of politics, no talk of legislation, just powerful witnesses in word and lifestyle.
Thomas is a really smart guy and a seminary student. I’m sure he knows the wording and declension of the Great Commission in Greek. In English we often see it, “Go, therefore, and make disciples….” A better rendering would be, “As you go along, make disciples….” It carries the sense of being a disciple-maker wherever we might be. We’re not called to drop our professions and all be overseas missionaries. We’re called to serve God wherever we go. That might mean as a housewife. That might mean as a seminary student. That might mean as a legislator.
Next, Thomas writes:
The moral of the story seems to be that the more political power the Christians attain, the less effective we become at doing what we were actually called to do: ATTRACTING people and WINNING their hearts by living and loving in a NOTICEABLY DIFFERENT way than the world.
I agree that Christians are supposed to be different from the world around us. I agree that too often we are not. As Lord Acton famously said:
Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Here’s the kicker – we see this in all of life even apart from politics. The question isn’t about holding onto or relinquishing political power. The question is, “Can we maintain our Christian distinctive and live righteously even with the power granted us?” Ultimately we are not responsible for attracting and winning people. Sure, God calls us to live as examples to the world around us, but as Jesus said:
No one can come to me unless the Father who send me draw him…
God is the one who wins hearts, and He does that no matter who is in office or how we vote.
And Thomas notes:
We are not to judge non-Christians by Christian standards. That, however, that is exactly what we do when we legislate distinctly Christian principles.
He’s referring to 1 Corinthians 5:9-13:
I wrote to you in a letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. I did not mean the immoral people of this world or the greedy and swindlers or idolaters; otherwise you would have to leave the world. But now I am writing you not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer who is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or verbally abusive, a drunkard or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person. For what business is it of mine to judge outsiders? Don’t you judge those who are inside? But God judges outsiders. Put away the evil person from among yourselves.
However, if you look at Paul’s list of inappropriate behavior you will find that we DO legislate against these things. We have laws governing sexual immorality (at least some types). We have laws about slander and libel. We have laws about public intoxication and swindling.
Paul isn’t saying, “Don’t try to hold the world accountable to our standards.” He’s saying, “You can’t judge someone’s spirituality based on Christian codes of conduct. I agree with this. I don’t judge a non-believer’s righteousness when he doesn’t live up to God’s standard. But if God’s way of living represents a better way then there is no biblical injunction from codifying God’s standards into civil law.
In a democratic republic we have the option of passing laws that we think will benefit the common good. The way the system works is that others have the right to vote against that legislation. It’s not being a bad Christian to attempt to normalize Christian behavior. It’s not about judging the souls of non-believers. It’s about recognizing that God’s way is the best way. And if the legislation is voted down, so be it. That’s how a free government works!
Finally, Thomas says:
I also don’t have a problem with Christians participating in a government that works to advance universal human rights and the common good, so long as they are not forcing people to conform to distinctly Christian principles.
This is the tough question, because it forces us to ask which values we will support legislating and which we will let slide. I don’t think there is an easy answer, I just know that we already do it. All legislation represents a worldview and a morality. I think Thomas needs to clarify a definition of “distinctly Christian principles,” as he has not yet pointed to any principles that are distinctly Christian that would not be beneficial for all of humanity.
I think that Christian ethics and principles are sound and would benefit everybody. I know that Christianity is not monolithic and that there is WIDE variation in how Christians interpret and live out those principles. Still, when all is said and done, we must recognize that the Bible calls us to be faithful disciples where we are, and in the Western World that means citizens with a vote. We would be irresponsible citizens of God’s kingdom and of our nation (whichever nation you belong to) if we didn’t bring our voice to the political sphere.
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11 Replies to “Why Won’t You Vote For Jesus?!?”
I did indeed give you examples of ethics that are uniquely Christian that should not be in government policy:
The triune God is the only one worthy of worship.
Christ died for the sins of all of humanity, inviting all of humanity to join God in redeeming creation.
God has revealed God’s self to be a relational God, inviting all people to be in a personal relationship with God.
We as Christians would never dream of legislating these distinctly Christian (or at least Judeo-Christian) ethics. That’s why we’d never make it illegal to worship a wooden idol, require tithing to a local church, or force people to recite the Lord’s Prayer.
When I brought up these three ethical matters, you said that they are not ethics, but rather “regulations of worship of believers.” But that’s exactly the point of “ethics”! Ethics are standards that regulate human conduct, and worship is a form of human conduct. If you look up “ethics” on dictionary.com, the phrase “Christian ethics” is literally an example under definition #2, which reads, “the rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class of human actions or a particular group, culture, etc.”
We as Christians absolutely do expect our fellow Christian sisters and brothers to follow ALL “Christian ethics.” And yes, there are many ethical principles that fall under the umbrella of “Christian ethics” that we even expect out of NON-Christians (no murder, etc.). Nonetheless, there are many behaviors and prohibitions we do NOT expect out of non-Christians, for they are based upon distinctly Christian ethics (worship only the triune God, etc.).
So Chris, I am indeed bothered by your terminology because millions of non-Christians are also bothered by your terminology. Non-Christians are becoming more and more jaded with Christianity because Christians are continuing to say that they want to see “Christian morals” and “Christian ethics” and “Christian principles” incorporated into government policy. I recall that you stated that you have had discussions with atheists and humanists. Ask them about this! Ask them how they feel about Christianity when they hear Christians talk about incorporating “Christian morals” into law.
So yes, this is a semantic argument, but I think that it’s a very important semantic argument. So whenever we use the phrase “Christian ethics,” no matter what we are really trying to say, we invoking things like forced church attendance, mandatory prayer in schools, and so on. That’s why we as Christians do need to use phrases like “universal ethics” and “universal human rights.” They are very useful phrases that invoke only the more general standards that we expect out of non-Christians. We Christians should never declare–especially publicly–that we want “Christian ethics” in our laws. We absolutely will be misunderstood, and it absolutely is counterproductive to our task to redeem creation to God’s self.
“In a democratic republic we have the option of passing laws that we think will benefit the common good.”
This is absolutely true, but over the past several days you’ve been suggesting that basic universal human rights and ethics are in fact distinctly Christian. In this article, you’ve suggested that prohibitions against sexually immorality, slander, libel, public intoxication, and swindling are distinctly Christian.
I’ve said nothing of the sort about universal human rights. That’s Thomas’s phrase. I asked him to define “distinctively Christian” and never received an answer. I believe that the elements of Christian ethics ARE beneficial for the general welfare of the public. He needs to say what he means precisely since he’s the one advocating removing Christian principles from legislation.
Correct, you have not used the phrase “universal human rights.” You should, though.
In this blog post, you’ve strongly implied that prohibitions of sexual immorality, slander, libel, public intoxication, and swindling are uniquely Christian. You said:
“However, if you look at Paul’s list of inappropriate behavior you will find that we DO legislate against these things. We have laws governing sexual immorality (at least some types). We have laws about slander and libel. We have laws about public intoxication and swindling.”
You’re right, we “DO” legislate against these things, but it’s NOT because they’re “Christian.” Being in the New Testament doesn’t make a principle/idea/ethic/moral “Christian.” These prohibitions predate Christianity.
You clearly enumerated these five prohibitions as if they are distinctly Christian in some way. You brought them up as if they are counterexamples to Thomas’s declaration that we do not judge non-Christians by Christian standards.
We as Christians, especially in a Christian-majority country, make non-Christians feel alienated from Christianity when we call prohibitions like these “Christian.” No matter what one’s loving intent is for calling universal standards “Christian standards,” it makes Christians seem uppity to non-Christians. It drives them away.
So you’re bothered by terminology…?
I never said they were uniquely Christian. My point was that we already do seek to legislate things are fall under the umbrella of Christian ethics and morality. I’m still waiting for you and Thomas to tell me what Christian ethics are uniquely Christian that you want out of legislation…
“We would be irresponsible citizens of God’s kingdom and of our nation (whichever nation you belong to) if we didn’t bring our voice to the political sphere.”
That’s a pretty bold claim to make. To say one is an irresponsible citizen of the kingdom of God because they choose not to vote or take part in political matters seems to place your personal convictions on every other Christian. Whatever side you fall on, it is definitely a matter of conscience and Christian liberty, not a matter of Christian growth and kingdom advancement.
Shouldn’t Christians work to redeem every system and institution in God’s creation?
Reblogged this on reverendwg.