I’m sure you’ve been in (or at least overheard) that conversation at work or school where people get heated over a hot button political issue and are prepared to die on the hill of their beliefs. We see this kind of exchange all the time on Facebook or the comments section of any number of websites. A few months ago, I chose to unfriend a lady from my church because she was posting hateful messages on her Facebook page relative to the presidential election. It seems like a lot of folks, and yes, a lot of Christians, can get extremely caught up in political elections and social issues. But what does the Bible have to say about political discussions and involvement? How can we better represent Christ in how we conduct ourselves when the president or national healthcare comes up?
Christ is our role model in the political arena
Jesus definitely didn’t have a political affiliation, and I would even argue that he didn’t have a political ideology, but that’s a post for another time. But how did Jesus interact with the political figures of his day? Well, for one thing, we know that he didn’t take the opportunity to seize control, as he easily could have. After he miraculously fed a crowd, the Jews noticed a prophesied parallel to Moses, and they wanted to make Jesus king and overthrow Roman rule so they could govern themselves again and get revenge on their foes. But Jesus was not having it, because he knew that was not his calling.
“Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself;” (John 6:15)
While a lot of us are probably humble enough to know we shouldn’t take on being a monarch, I know many, many Christians who dream of a political resurgence of traditional values that will put our beliefs back at the forefront of culture (as if they ever were). But that’s not really how it’s supposed to be. Jesus and the writers of the New Testament warn us repeatedly that the world will always be against Christianity, because it’s a radically un-wordly belief system. We shouldn’t expect that we’re going to somehow gain control of the United States and create a paradise of Christian legislation that will eliminate persecution forever.
Jesus certainly didn’t worry about controlling the political system. He didn’t even speak out at his own unjust trial! He understood that our focus shouldn’t be on this world.
“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” (John 18:36)
Our Lord and Savior the President
I remember a few years ago I was talking with a gentleman and he was telling me that his small business was struggling, but that “as soon as Romney gets elected, the economy will pick up and we’ll be fine!” At the time I just said that the election wasn’t over yet, and marveled at the fact that he was not only so confident that his candidate would win but that he would fix the economy overnight. Looking back, it’s easy to see that the man’s faith was misplaced. And he was a devout Christian!
Politics are an area where it is so easy to get caught up in the affairs of the world, and to repose our confidence in the wrong places. I catch myself all the time thinking that if such and such a candidate is elected or such and such a policy is enacted, things will be so much better, but I know that those hopes are futile. Sure, good people are elected and good laws are passed, but the only source of enduring, reliable peace that we can have is God’s love and ultimate control of our lives.
This is great news, especially after an exceptionally nasty presidential election last year. I know so many people who are in mourning at the results, and so many others who are convinced that the economy and society are about to usher in a golden age thanks to Republican control. For my part, I’m not really too concerned either way. I think it’s important to be an informed and active citizen …. of Heaven!
How are times different today?
Now I’m not saying that we should not exercise our constitutional rights to vote, speak out in our own defense, and lobby for favorable legislation. Obviously, the political climate in Jesus’ day was very different from that of modern America. Women had essentially no legal rights, the government was a theocracy hostile to Christianity, and the vote was practically unheard of. Political activism is scarcely mentioned in the Bible, although we do see a few references, such as the widow who eventually got justice from an unjust judge through persistence (Luke 18).
A large part of why the Bible is largely silent on these matters is that they weren’t really part of the picture during Biblical times, but that doesn’t mean the Bible doesn’t have lessons for us on the topic. We do see in Romans 13 that we are to be subject to governing authorities. That means something very different that what it did in Jesus’ time. Today, we have the opportunity to be involved in the political process through voting, spreading information and contacting our representatives. We can even run for office ourself if we are called to it.
And although Jesus didn’t make an effort to seize control of the government, or even advocate for specific policies, he was very open about his opinions on how the Pharisees and Sadducees were handling their regime. He was very outspoken about how they mistreated the Jews they were supposed to be looking out for. We do notice that Jesus didn’t have a whole lot to say to the Romans, though. Perhaps this is because Jesus was holding those with a knowledge of God’s law to a higher standard.
We also see that it isn’t out of the question to leave an area or flee a tyrannical government if it comes down to it. God literally told Joseph and Mary to flee to Egypt with baby Jesus until the death of Herod, in order to keep Jesus from being murdered as a child. We also know of times in the New Testament when Paul or unnamed Christians fled a city or country because they faced being murdered or imprisoned. So while we are to abide by the laws of the land (unless they directly contradict a Biblical command), we don’t have to lay down and roll over.
WWJV — What Would Jesus Vote?
While Jesus as a Jew didn’t have the opportunity to do many of the things we do today as Americans, we can look at the civic duties that Jesus did command us to exercise. Jesus never told us to vote, and certainly never told us whether an R or a D is better on our voter registration, but he did give us two basic commands: to respect and obey the laws of the land, and to pray for those in authority.
When was the last time you prayed for an opposition candidate? I was at a church a few months ago, just a few weeks before the 2016 presidential election. A man got up to pray, and he prayed all the “normal” things you expect at a Southern church’s prayer service. He prayed for the sick, the seekers, the activities of the evening, all the students there studying for tests, Christians in other countries facing oppression, and the military. And then he prayed for President Obama, Donald Trump, and Hilary Clinton, and hoped warmly that all of them will be blessed with wisdom and that they would all be kept safe and experience God’s love. Wow! What if we all really felt and acted that way? I know I personally struggle with this, but since that service I’ve made a commitment to pray for political leaders whomever they may be, and whatever they may support or believe personally, and it’s helped me to better contextualize the important of politics during this life on earth.
A matter of priorities
Ultimately, the conclusion that I’ve come to is that political involvement is a great privilege for us Americans, and one that we certainly ought to exercise. But we can’t ever let our citizenship in America supersede our citizenship in Heaven. After all, our goal isn’t to beat our political opponents in an argument or an election, it’s to win them to Christ! What we need to be thinking of is how to do that the most effectively.
Images courtesy of StockFreeImages.com and Dreamstime.