Christians and Politics: it’s complicated

I have been writing for the Portland, ME Examiner for a little over a week now. I write about Religion and Politics. I enjoy it a lot, but I realize that it is a subject area that is quite polarizing. Some Christians believe that we should have nothing to do with government. Many others believe it is our role to reform government either to help those in need or to impose Christian morality on society.

Because of the strong feelings and, often times, heated debate that goes with politics and religion I thought I would just give a brief synopsis on my feelings on Christian responsibility in politics.

Let me first state that it is a difficult topic to come to firm beliefs on, as many of the subjects are that we so heatedly debate. I guess if they weren’t difficult to find clear answers to then there wouldn’t be much room for debate. I find it difficult to have any real firm beliefs on Christian responsibility within government because, quite frankly, the concept is completely foreign to the New Testament. Christians did not participate in government. Rome ruled Israel and most of the known world during the time the New Testament was written and they certainly weren’t participating in any form of democracy. Jesus tells his followers to “render unto Caesar what Caesar is due.” Paul states that the government is appointed by God and should be obeyed. We see that the New Testament believers took it upon themselves to care for those in need, both long term as in the case with widows and orphans, and short term as in the case with the famine in Jerusalem, as opposed to requesting aid form the government. There simply is no connection between the oppressive dictatorship of the Caesar in Rome, and the liberties and dependencies which Americans, and Westernized nations in general, have in their governments.

So, I say all that to say that we must be careful with our dogma. We must, while we may have strong opinions, be willing to understand that others don’t agree with us and they have valid reasons for that. It is not so simple, cut and dry as we may like to think it is.

So, whether you believe the government should take up the Biblical call in caring for widows and orphans, or you believe the government is a corrupt human institution that can do no good, you must be willing to act in love and understanding, not assuming others are idiots for disagreeing with you (yeah, I’m talking to you Dan!). Of course we must act in love no matter if the issue is complicated or simple, but complex issues, especially those with emotional fire in them, need to be dealt with especially gently.

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About Dan Allen

Just some guy trying to figure stuff out... View all posts by Dan Allen

5 responses to “Christians and Politics: it’s complicated

  • Following Christ and Politics | The Assembling of the Church

    […] But, now, Dan has done us all a great service by writing a post called “Christians and Politics: It’s Complicated.” […]

  • Steve Scott

    Dan,

    While I agree with you that it’s complicated, I do believe there are some clear teachings in Scripture that help to clarify things greatly. I believe these things are missed by most Westerners. I’ll briefly state a few.

    First, Jesus states clearly, I believe, in Matt. 20 and parallel passages that exercising civil authority over others is NOT CHRISTIAN. The greatest must be the servant of all. The pagan system of using civil authority to impose your beliefs upon others is clearly not in Jesus’ plan.

    Second, when Jesus states that we should “render unto Caesar the things that ARE Caesar’s”, most Christians interpret this as “render unto Caesar anything and everything that Caesar CLAIMS is Caesar’s, regardless of whether it actually is Caesar’s. Simply a claim from Caesar will do.” The context was the coin with his image on it. Suppose an image-less temple shekel were brought to Him? I think the overwhelming majority of authority the government “thinks” it has is bogus. The Jews were upset that the poll tax was one day’s wage (their tax freedom day would have been January 2!) Our governments tax far beyond that.

    Third, and I know your attention to Scripture vs. “what we’ve always been taught” might get you thinking about this for the next several years, Paul never tells us to “obey” the government. We just hear that from legions of Protestant leaders, who simultaneously advocate small government! I believe Romans 13 is the most abused chapter in the bible becuase of the dangerously mis-positioned artificial chapter division. The Romans 12 context limits government activity to “revenge.” That would mean punishment for personal crimes against others. Paul’s admonition to us is not to obey laws, but rather to submit to the punishment in wronging others. There’s a huge difference. Most people start reading at Romans 13:1, and I think this has fostered many a statist and Caesar worshipper. Although first century Rome may have been more viscious in its oppression, the scope of its oppression was child’s play compared to our western “democracies” of today.

    So when I hear Christians talking politics, I can’t help but wonder what their basis is for their beliefs. Yes, we need a great amount of love in this area, but we can also point out the clear things of Scripture that DO apply.

    • Dan Allen

      Steve

      I appreciate your thought out comment, and obvious concern in regard to this subject. I will assume you have thought substantially about this. I have a couple more posts I would like to share on the subject that I think may shed more light on my position. The intent of this post was simply to state that the issue is not cut and dry. While your references to Scripture and points based on those references are very logical and valid, I would not be willing to say that they are perfectly obvious or unquestionable. I agree with much of what you say and I think that when you read my next two posts you may see that, but I try to deal charitably with people who disagree with me on this subject.

      Again, I appreciate your thoughtful comment, as usual!

      Dan

  • Mark

    Dan,

    I have run the gamut on this issue, from being very nationalistic in my younger years, to being very anti-government in my later years, to now realizing that the kingdoms of this world are just that, kingdoms of this world, and therefore they are fallen and corrupt by nature. Is the US government any worse than most worldly governments? Probably not, although in recent years I liked to think so. That being said, even if our government was a GOOD government, it would still be a kingdom-of-this-world government, and thus must be kept separate from our identity in Christ. The place I have come to is to believe that each believer, if he/she chooses, must make decisions on political issues, and vote accordingly. In my opinion, as Christians, our involvement in the system must end right there, or at least must fall short of attempting to legislate morality on our fellow citizens, most of whom are unregenerate.

    I am probably not doing a good job explaining my thoughts, but I would HIGHLY recommend a book by Gregory Boyd, “Myth of a Christian Nation”. It is much more than the title implies, as it has taught me a lot about what it really means to be a follower of Christ. Greg makes excellent points in this book, and I wish I had time to read it through 3 times in a row!

    Mark

    • Dan Allen

      Mark

      Thanks for sharing your history and current position. I think it demonstrates what I talk about in this post: it is very complicated! I think that you and I see things very similarly. I will share my personal views in tomorrow’s post. Let me know what you think.

      Also, thanks for letting me know about that book. I had heard of it but didn’t know much about it. With your recommendation I may go pick it up. Thanks!

      Dan

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