Monday, February 04, 2008

Toward a Biblical Understanding of the Christian and Politics Part 1

(I’ve already written part 2, I just don’t like reading terribly long posts so I assume others don’t either.)

On the Eve of Super Tuesday, I have questions that, over time, I hope to come to a better understanding of. For most of the questions, I have partial answers that need a lot of refining. I love input from others and I welcome being directed to resources. Some of these may seem like such basic and obvious questions to you, but this is a culture that is deeply polarized, even within Christianity. So I’m not going to assume anything but instead try to raise questions that need to be answered and answered well.

Is anything TRUE about politics?
Yes! As with any question, there are answers that are right and answers that are wrong. Sometimes the right answer to a question is that the question was based on a false presupposition (such as the well-know one: have you stopped beating your wife yet?) But what I continually remind myself of is that there are right answers, and that they are right for everyone. The difficulty is sometimes in asking the right questions and I hope I can do that. But we must insist on there being objective truth in politics or the rest of the questions are pointless.

What biblical principles are there that speak to the area of politics?
What I’m looking for when I ask this question are timeless, preference-free, principles. I can imagine a Christian who grew up in a very political tradition ripping Bible verses out of context to support their preference. I can also see the recluse-minded trumpeting their underdeveloped theology of Christians being separate from the world. This is where the temptation comes in to say: to each his own. “Some are politically minded, some are not, so be it.” But I’m not satisfied with that. That smacks of postmodernism where there is different truth for different people. There is an answer to how and when and to what to degree Christians should be involved in politics. This answer is binding on everyone. Of course some could be called to a life vocation and others not, but there is a principle that is true that needs to be taught and universally practiced within Christendom. I don’t know it yet but when I find out I’ll yet you know.

What does God despise?
As in all of life and especially when it comes to politics, God's concerns should be our concerns. The things that God hates the most and speaks the most strongly against should be the things we hate and speak the most strongly against.

Here is the skeleton of an answer off the top of my head: Over and over in the Old Testament we hear God plead for the cause of the orphan and the widow. God hates oppression. He hates the powerful who hoard wealth. He is constantly calling his people to take up the cause of the poor against those who exploit them. He calls for the strong to defend the defenseless. He believed that the poor should be given opportunities, but not “welfare.” The farmers were to leave behind unpicked grain in the fields for the poor to gather for themselves. They did not drop off bags of picked, polished and ground grain with the chaff removed. The poor had to do all that themselves. But the rich were not to go back over their fields taking ever little kernel and saying to themselves: “It’s their fault they’re poor.”

Who are the oppressed in our times?
Hind sight is 20/20. We can see clearly now, which side truth was on when we watch Amazing Grace and see William Wilberforce take up the cause of the oppressed. But for some reason, it wasn’t so clear to many Christians at the time. We need to think and pray hard about where there is the greatest suffering, exploitation, and oppression in our country today. We can’t deal a fatal blow to all poverty and suffering at one time. We need to pick the most urgent. If Christians were to unite around one cause at a time, a lot more could be done. In Wilberforce’s time, there were many other types of injustice and suffering occurring, but he chose the most offensive, blatant and destructive cause to tackle first. So should we!

What does God value?
What does God despise was the negative, this is the positive. What is God for? Whatever God values, we should value. We should search scripture and understand his heart. Where his emphasis lies, so should ours. We are faced with an array of issues to rally around, and the ones that are the closest to the heart of God should be closest to our heart and should be where we put the most effort. What does the Bible say are the most precious things and the things that are the most worthy of protecting?

Side Note: My questions are presupposing charity never negates the objective reality of truth. The Bible calls us to allow for differing opinions within the body of Christ on certain issues. Whether or not to eat food sacrificed to idols is one such issue that Paul mentions. However, choosing not to divide over an issue is not the same as saying there is no right answer. For example, if it were true that the Bible taught that because there is corruption in politics, Christians should not participate in the political process at all, then this would be true for all Christians. This would not just be “my truth” or “true for me.” It would not mean that because I believe that Christians shouldn’t be involved, for me to be involved is sin, but for anyone else to be involved is not sin. If the Bible really taught that, then it would be wrong for any Christian, whether or not they had come to an understanding of that truth or not.

Now I picked that particular example because it is a pretty safe example in that I don’t know any Christians that believe that it is wrong to vote. I picked something that probably no one disagrees on. But I wanted to point out the difference between there being an absolute truth, and there being the charity that allows for differing opinions between believers. There are true answers to all true political questions that are true for all believers for all time. I know I’m stating the painfully obvious here but somehow I feel like as soon as politics is brought into the discussion, everyone assumes that there isn’t truth, only personal preference.

Tomorrow I'll expand on: What do we look for in a president (or governor, senator, etc.); What about the danger of putting our hope in government and politics;
What is the primary purpose of government from scripture and how not to confuse it with the purpose of the gospel; and what about when the world cries "theocracy".
Stay tuned...

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