As Christians, we have a problem. Too many of us have become sectarian in our politics, and it’s causing harm. We’re just not listening to other believers different to our own because we’re too quick to label or judge. Without realising it many Christians have become ‘ideologically possessed’, thinking their political convictions are more biblical than those of other believers.
But in reality for people like this there are two belief systems running at the same time; one is faith, the other their politics. But the two are getting mixed together as if it were the same thing. It’s a big problem right now because the Body of Christ is dividing itself and our witness to the world is being compromised.
What’s more, this issue is a problem for both sides of the political divide, whether you identify as liberal or conservative or somewhere in between, you’re likely to be equally guilty.
So what I’m about to do is pull apart your political fantasies. Let’s call it a cold shower because too many believers are getting dirty. Time for a clean fresh perspective, so hear me out, if you can bear to. I want to outline the main problems with Christians and politics and put forward a solution. Here goes.
The reality of ‘Ideological Possession.’
First, a clarification. I have absolutely no objection to Christians who are motivated by their faith to go into politics. In fact, we need more Christians doing it, but from different political perspectives. There are many decent MPs in Great Britain (as there are representatives in other countries) who serve their constituents faithfully and are motivated by what we could call a biblical sense of justice and a calling to serve.
But there is a big difference between having a political conviction and being sectarian.
A political conviction is for something as well as a response against. It also welcomes having an opposition, so that it can differentiate and contrast against it because arguments (or policies) are refined in relation to its opposite.
But someone sectarian believes the world would be better if there were no opposition. That’s the difference. And if that’s your position, then watch out, because you’ve become ideologically possessed. Your politics have become a belief system.
We should all be on guard because this possession can be very subtle. You can tell you’re ideologically possessed if the way you see the world falls into simple categories. It could be that you believe all of history is a struggle between the oppressor and the oppressed. Or that you believe that white males are pretty much responsible for all the wrongs in the world. You’ll be quick to see minorities being oppressed or denied their ‘rights’.
Or on the opposite side, you’ll see ‘liberals’ as dangerous fanatics motivated to overturn Christian traditions and destroy their country. Liberals conspire together in the media and politics pushing onto an unwary public their moral relativism and minority rights agenda that undermine the Christian foundations of the nation. Etc, etc. You’ve heard it before I’m sure.
The problem with both these ideologies (and these are the main two at the moment) is that they’re half right. It all builds on a seed of truth but soon becomes a lens by which the world is viewed. However, what can be most troubling is how people act out those views.
And this is where Christians have not been honouring their calling to ‘love their enemies’ politically in the way they should nor are they heeding some of the words of scripture, such as;
‘the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.’ James 3:17.
There is no ‘salvation’ in politics or politicians.
Further to ideological possession, people can have way too high expectations of their political leaders. But these always end in disappointment (and anger, and disillusion).
When I hear phrases like, “make America great again”, I just want to reach for the sick bucket. This is the current mantra from the Trump side, but it could just as easily come from any populist politician. Ask anyone at a Trump rally, what ‘great’ actually means and in all likelihood you’ll get a hundred different answers depending on that person’s perspective.
Don’t get me wrong, America is already a great country. I would rather a ‘great America’ over a ‘great China’ or a ‘great Russia’, simply because the United States of America (along with other mature democracies) already have one incredible blessing, and it’s this, people can vote out their leaders.
That’s what makes a nation truly great. Every other good thing that comes from this hard-won reality, unique in human history, is a bonus.
When we really consider just how many countries around the world live in sham democracies or are really run by corrupt elites, then it’s worth remembering if you live in an open society, you already have something truly great. Thank God for it, please.
So when I hear phrases like ‘I can make you great’, I hear the unbelievable promises of a politician working a crowd and even manipulating people’s anger. But the reality is they actually have limited powers to make any nation better.
If a country really can be ‘great’ (it’s democratic tradition aside), that depends on every individual doing their bit to make up an even greater sum of greatness.
If you want to make your country great again, start with yourself. Charity begins at home after all.
But if you want to project all your hopes for the future or for making your country ‘more Godly’, give up now. Because if you truly believe that, then you and everyone else are beginning to walk along a horrific road that has deceived and destroyed nations before it.
The truth will at last be spoken when a political leader says instead, ‘I can make our nation a little bit better than before’ because in reality that’s all the power they have to do. But that day could be a long time coming.
Not Left or Right but Up.
Now you might be thinking, of course, there’s no salvation in politics, only in Jesus. While this is true, it doesn’t take away the need for politics and for society to organize itself in the fairest way it can. But the truth is that no one side has all the perfect answers and I can prove it.
If you believe the unborn child is vulnerable and you want to protect them from harm, then you will likely vote one way. If you are fundamentally opposed to war and believe international co-operation saves millions of lives, then you will likely vote in a different direction. It’s a shame we have to choose, but that’s just the nature of party politics today. It’s always going to be an imperfect way to balancing competing interests.
We just have to prayerfully do our best. And that’s the decision for you when you vote in the voting booth, and it’s your decision done alone with God. It’s why every Christian should not be completely committed to their political conviction as if it represented an all-inclusive truth. The problem is, it never can in our fallen compromised world. They should hold their politics lightly and in tension with what scripture says, bearing in mind there may be valid viewpoints from across the divide.
For those Christians actively involved in politics, they must critique and speak out against the more dangerous ideas in their own parties. They must resist all ideologies that impose a simple solution to the problems of the world.
The tendency to utopian thinking is there on all sides, whether it’s the unshakeable conviction that free markets redistribute wealth or that governments can effectively regulate and control life to make everybody happier (to put it simply).
We all need to get wisdom and get discernment to what ideas people are getting possessed by in the culture. And this is where looking to God through scripture and realising when our ideology starts to become a God-replacement.
Much of the violence and destruction of the 20th were due to ideas replacing the religious vacuum after the European ‘death of God’ in our culture. Replacement philosophies, such as Communism and Fascism rushed in to fill the gap. G.K. Chesterton observed that “When men chose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything”. This has tragically been the case for the whole of last century, and it’s been a political ideology that has been the cause.
Rooting our lives in the moral, ethical and pride-pricking truths of the Bible, should humble every person’s perspective. The word here is, should.
Be ‘political’ about the right things.
Now you might be saying, ‘so what’s the use’, if all politics and politicians are compromised, partial truths in one bigger complicated world, what’s the point in doing anything?’
Not so, and it’s actually not biblical to be defeatist in this way. At the heart of much of Scripture is the theme of justice. Many of the Old Testament prophets protested the corruption of their Kings, the barbarity of foreign powers bent on dominance and the exploitation of the poor. God’s heart is for fairness, justice, and peace (a much bigger idea than our idea of peace).
So any issue where there are an injustice, an oppression and an opposition to God’s love, mercy, and dignity of the individual (a Judeo-Christian idea originally), then every Christian has a duty to act. And yes, that can be political.
Here are some recent examples of successful campaigns that have a moral and justice cause at its heart: Jubilee 2000 campaign, Fairtrade Movement, Stop the Traffik, Campaign Against the Arms Trade, only to name a few.
Politicians are creatures that like to jump on to movements and be seen to be champions. The better politicians promote the causes in most need of attention at an early stage. These issues are political issues that often sit outside party politics or the particular obsessions of idealogues. They are clear right and wrong causes that demand attention, justice, and redress. It’s these things that many Christians have and must continue to focus on.
The ballot box is still important of course but while reflecting on my own country’s recent election, it almost seemed absurd that the length of my participation was 1 minute in a voting booth ticking a box. It seems wholly insufficient given everything that is going on in the world.
But even in such a small thing, God honours our conscience and our ability to reason (when we can actually be bothered doing it) in how we vote. God is relaxed about argument and debate over controversial topics. Jesus did it with his whole ministry. We shouldn’t be afraid of the same thing, to pray and to vote in alignment with our consciences and how we feel God leads us to prioritise different values, all things being the same in Him.
But God does not desire to see his Church, the Body of Christ, torn apart because of different political beliefs. We have one belief in a God who came to redeem and rescue us from the injustices and evil in the world, who lived out his whole ministry in a country and culture under occupation with a complicit religious elite.
He also wasn’t afraid to call out injustices when he saw it, and he took the ultimate punishment of shame, the most horrific form of torture designed to humiliate and set an example to those who dare think and act differently.
But by being victorious in the resurrection, the transforming of humanity could now begin, as we who put our faith in him can become more like Christ, into a new creation.
So, can we do this in our politics? Can we model this example to the rest of the world?
Jeremy- Not Only Sundays – Bible Wisdom for Every day.
© Not Only Sundays, July 2017.
Scripture quoted from the NIV translation.
Images sourced on www.pixabay.com image under a creative commons licence CC.