The Rhino Room | Christians and Politics

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Are Christians morally obligated to participate in the political process of their local community or nation?

Nicolas Alford (Pastor, Grace Baptist Church of Taylors, South Carolina)

No, because of two words in the question– obligated and participateObligated is too strong, and participate is too vague for me to affirm this without heavy qualification.
To say that political participation is morally obligated would be to say that there is a moral command to do so, indeed that a Christian would be sinning if they did not participate. This goes beyond 1 Thess 4:11-12 and infringes on Christian liberty of the conscience (LBCF 21:2).

And what does participate mean in this context? Participation on what level? Voting? Signing petitions? Working on a campaign?

It’s vital to keep the mission of the church clear- and our mission is not political. However, Christians have every right to get involved in politics individually.

Furthermore– the church itself should speak to cultural issues that God’s moral law speaks to, such as abortion, sexual identity, and racism.

Samuel Barber (Pastoral Assistant, Ephesus Church of Rincon, Georgia)

There are several principles to remember while discussing the role of Christians in political processes, though the Bible does not explicitly address the issue. First, Jesus does not ask his Father to take Christians out of the world (Jn. 17:15), implying that Christians are expected to interact with the world around them. Second, while the Israelites were exiles in Babylon, God commanded them to seek the city’s welfare (Jer. 29:11). The pertinent principle in this text is that while exiles in the world, God’s people should seek the welfare of their societies; therefore, Christians should not only exist in the world, but seek its welfare. Third, Paul says the sword-bearer is God’s servant (Rom. 13). Who better to do this than Christians? Lastly, Paul commands prayer for authorities (1 Tim. 2:1-4). At a minimum, Christians should participate by praying, though God does also call us to action.

Wayne Brandow (Pastor, Bible Baptist Church of Galway, New York)

This is a question concerning the will of God for one’s life. Though Christians are citizens of another world, they live in the present one. They are called by God to love their neighbor and do him good. This entails civic responsibilities that would promote the public welfare, like voting or making their voice known. Being community minded and working with others in a worthy cause conveys that you genuinely care.

A word of caution is needful however.  A person can be so caught up in a worthy cause that one’s primary calling is neglected. Jesus focused on a kingdom that was not of this world. On the other hand, Joseph, Daniel, Mordecai, and Esther were providentially called by God to be political. Though, it is not the will of God for all to be politicians, it is the will of God to love your neighbor.

Matt Foreman (Pastor, Faith Reformed Baptist Church of Media, Pennsylvania)

Christians have a moral responsibility to do good, to uphold life and honor and human dignity, justice and truth, to be faithful in the situations God has providentially called them to. In general, this means Christians will be engaged in the lives of those around them and the normal structures of society. In a democratic government (or Constitutional republic), the government relies on the participation of its citizens. ‘Respect to the governing authorities’ will then imply, at the least, a general participation in the political process for Christians.

Marc Grimaldi (Pastor, Grace Reformed Baptist Church of Merrick, New York)

In 1 Timothy 2:2, Paul exhorts us to “pray for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.” Furthermore, the Scriptures tell us to be subject to the rulers and authorities, whom God places over us (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-17).

As Americans, we have been blessed to live within the confines of a democratic republic. This being the case, providentially, we have the ability to help determine the makeup of our government, by taking part in the political process of electing our leaders. For the sake of restraining evil, securing a righteous atmosphere, maintaining a peaceful environment for the growth and fellowship of the church, it is our duty to help elect leaders, who would best help to serve these ends.

While the Gospel alone is the power, which is ultimately used to change a nation (from the inside out), Christians are morally obligated to participate in the political process for the above stated reasons.

Nicholas Kennicott (Pastor, Ephesus Church of Rincon, Georgia)

Throughout the history of the church, Christians have lived under the authority of different kinds of government. Some allow for the participation of individual citizens (e.g. constitutional republic), while others do not (e.g. monarchy). Therefore, the ability for Christians to be involved in a political process is oftentimes limited or non-existent. However, for Christians living under governments that allow for open debates, campaigning, and voting, they should take the right seriously for the sake of the gospel.

The most political action anyone can take is to educate their children. The most important action a Christian can take is to work to preserve religious freedom. Christians are concerned about justice and social issues, but gospel preaching is ultimate. Christians, therefore, ought not take a “pass” on the political process if for no other reason than to help protect our legal right to proclaim Christ in the public square.

Chris Marley (Pastor, Miller Valley Baptist Church of Miller Valley, Arizona)

I know this is a delicate subject for those who are struggling with degrees of theonomy, but I think the answer is fairly straightforward. It is wise, good, and even important for Christians to be involved in politics. My associate pastor is a mayor. Action and inaction have repercussions. Yet I cannot say that it is morally obligatory, because I don’t see that command given to the church in Scripture. We tread on quicksand to ever assume legislative authority on what is sin or good works, and to declare something as morally obligatory when Scripture doesn’t is to do exactly that.

Douglas Van Dorn (Pastor, Reformed Baptist Church of Northern Colorado)

Part of me wants to be snarky: “What political process?” meaning I wonder what political process we even have to participate in anymore that resembles what our Founding Fathers gave us. That would beg the question, but actually causes me to expand my thinking beyond some dreamy political ideal that many of us still live with, to any political situation that any Christian living in any country at any time in history might find him or herself.

My answer would therefore be, “It depends.” How much freedom would a Christian legally have in said nation to do anything about the process? In a republic, we have freedoms and therefore, I believe, responsibilities to be involved in some way, since this is (supposed to be) government of the people, by the people, and for the people. In a totalitarian dictatorship or a monarchy, there might not be any freedom to use.

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20 thoughts on “The Rhino Room | Christians and Politics

  1. I remember the pastor of my youth in intoning the adage that “privileges taken for granted become privileged abused and privileges abused become privileges removed.” If participation in the political process is a divinely given privilege in America than it is a stewardship we had best utilize responsibly and not ignore. Everyone is not given a role in political campaigns, a place on the ballot or a soapbox from which to exert a high profile or significant influence. What we do all possess is a vote and a voice. These ought to be used with intelligence and discretion. That does imply a moral obligation to inform ourselves about issues and candidates and to use our influence if not for the greatest good, at least for the lesser of the available evils.

    If you require scriptural support from me, I would say it is an application of love to neighbor. While a Christian voice and vote in the political process is clearly not the greatest good we bring can offer our neighbor, it is a good nonetheless.

    1. Good thoughts, Paul. Although I personally chafe at the language of “moral obligation” in this case (Marley articulates my concerns on that count very ably above) most of what you list here describes well why I do participate in the political process. I especially appreciate your last sentence.

          1. I tried to make it as delicious as possible…. but maybe not the same kind of bait as you expect… I can’t be THAT obvious!

            My follow-up question is really about wanting to know if you think there are other ways in which we can accomplish the same thing as opposed to relying on a political process. In other words, what other means do we have that are as effective and available to us to ensure that gospel preaching/religious liberty is protected?

  2. Nicolas, my original response was in Greek. Apparently, the English translation is a little longer. ;0)
    I will seek to be more careful in the future.

  3. I personally chafe Nick at the thought that every moral obligation needs a specific commandment. My children tried to get away with that when I would tell them not to leave their used kleenex anywhere but the trash can. They would ask, “but where in the Bible does it say ‘thou shalt dispose of used wet tissues in the trash can?” I would of course respond that it is in fact stated under such commandments as “honor your Father” and the Golden Rule and even “thou shalt not kill” as who knows what contagion may be in one of those gross little snot rags. In the same way the Bible that commands us to pray for kings and nations, to be good citizens of the nation’s where in God’s providence we reside and to do good to all men by just and necessary inference would require a well instructed believer to use the voice and vote we are privileged to possess for the articulation and advancement of Kingdom values.

    1. Did you really use the sixth commandment to teach your kids to throw away their snot rags? I’m totally stealing that.

      I absolutely concede the point that good and necessary inference can bear the weight of moral command (so long as the inference is indeed good and necessary).

      Look, what I said in response to the question is not quite as radical as I think it is being taken (I have already been referred to privately as a passive nihilist- and that was by a friend!). I said I could not affirm it *without heavy qualification*, meaning that with some thoughtful qualifications I could indeed affirm the point.

      But this is the whole point of the Rhino Room, so I’ll stick to my guns 🙂 What exactly do we mean by a phrase like *kingdom values* in the realm of politics? Far too often that means simply baptizing whatever our particular political agenda is and making it morally obligatory for Christians. Not accusing you of that, just explaining my reticence. In our milieu of evangelical political activism and rampant mission creep in the church, I think we need to at a minimum be very qualified and careful in how we talk about Christianity and politics. That’s what lies behind my response.

  4. In response to Nick: Well that’s a little different than the bait, isn’t it? 😉 Is *the gospel being preached far and wide* equivalent to the state *ensuring religious liberty*? Doesn’t that beg the question? But I get what you’re saying and I won’t be difficult.

    Let’s back up. Christians should be involved in all sorts of issues and processes that are political in nature. My blunt *no* wasn’t a blanket *no* to any Christian political involvement.

    Your example (engaging the political process with the end of seeking religious freedom that the gospel might not be hindered by the state) is a good one I would fully support. Of course I would. But that wasn’t the question posed. The question posed had to do with the *moral obligation* (a very strong phrase) to *participate* (a very vague phrase) in the *political process* (again, very vague). I chose to respond to it as asked, and I do think that what is on the table for discussion is important.

    The issue of most Christians in our particular cultural context isn’t an over division of the two kingdoms, it’s kingdom confusion. We don’t so much have the problem of an over-monasticism, we have the problem of churches becoming shills for their particular brand of politics. So in that context, *participation in political process* is very loaded and fraught. I don’t think we should condone a moral obligation to get involved in political processes without careful delineation of what we are and aren’t saying.

    Someone quite erudite explained all of this in this illustrious post: https://thedecablog.wordpress.com/2012/10/21/why-i-love-politics-and-why-i-wont-preach-them-from-the-pulpit/

    I agree with that guy 🙂

    Had I felt like being less contentious when I responded I probably would have said something like what Wayne or Chris said.

    1. I think it’s a question of means and ends, so I don’t really think we’re far off (if at all). In our context (those of us in 21st century America), the primary means by which the average citizen is able to ensure religious liberty (for all religions) is through lobby, protest, and voting. So I suppose what I see is the end (i.e. having a platform to proclaim the gospel) necessitates the means (i.e. the political process, primarily through voting). I still stand firmly in my conviction that I would never tell our congregation who to vote for or how to vote for specific policies, but I do hope that given a right biblical worldview, God’s people will pretty much come to the same basic conclusions on policy issues like religious liberty.

      Truth be told, I really do see a huge problem in how many evangelicals approach this. For example, there’s a constant battle cry for prayer in public schools, but if we are to truly allow for religious freedom, praying in public school should include Muslims and Hindus just as much as Christians. So the Christian response in my mind is one of three things: 1. Embrace the public system as being multi-religious because a public entity necessitates such a position if we are to truly maintain our OWN religious freedom; 2. Send children to a private school that teaches your specific worldview; or 3. Home educate and teach what you want your children to know. I don’t think any of these responses are sinful, but I do think Christians ought to be very thoughtful here given the necessity that comes with religious freedom in a land. While the Christians may have a majority of religious opinion in the nation today, there is sure to come a day when this is no longer true. Therefore, shutting down religious expression of one religion will set precedence for our very own freedom of religious expression to be shut down in the future.

  5. Okay, I’ll admit it. I was the one who called Nic a “passive nihilist” in a private thread. Someone else said that Nic might as well be from Canada, especially since he liked Trueman’s “Republocrat.” But even I wouldn’t go so far as to label him a Canadian…

  6. So I guess The Rhino Room was an apt name, as in skin as thick as. This is what happens when I forget my own internet rules… never discuss politics, Mark Driscoll, or vaccines.

  7. …Wishing you could solicit 150 words from Oliver Cromwell on this subject. I’m reading D’Aubigne’s biography of him right now and thinking he would contribute an interesting perspective to this discussion were it possible.

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