The first draft of this article was written about two weeks before the 2012 election. At the time I found myself frustrated, as I am in every election cycle, by the goings-on attendant to the American political process.
Apocalyptic predictions were being made by partisans of both sides, and both parties were talking about their candidate’s ability to fix America’s problems in near-messianic terms.
That, however, was not the source of my frustration. It doesn’t take much to look past the bombast and find the important issues. Rather, my frustration with these issues stems from the way that religion and politics interact.
Those Policies Which Are NOT Matters of Faith
As I have grown both as a Christian, and as a participant in American democracy, it has become increasingly clear to me that, when considered dispassionately, most political issues are simply not matters of faith.
Let me say that again, because it bears repeating:
The vast majority of political issues are not matters of faith.
For example, consider the following:
- What role should the federal government play in determining education policy at the state and local levels?
- What is the proper size, role, and deployment strategy of the American military?
- To what extent, if at all, should workers be allowed to organize and bargain collectively, and should public employees be allowed to do this?
- What is the government’s responsibility, if any, toward the planet’s climate?
It seems obvious to me that these are not, strictly speaking, religious issues. As far as I can tell, the bible simply does not speak to issues of collective bargaining or education policy.#Political ideologies and political parties are human creations and are ipso facto imperfect. Click To Tweet
I conclude from this that these are issues on which reasonable Christians can disagree with one another, since most political issues are simply not matters of faith.
Again, I must repeat: reasonable Christians can disgree on political issues, because most political issues are not matters of faith. This means that Christians can differ on politics without rupturing the bond of faith they share.
Those Policies Which ARE a Matter of Faith
Throughout the Old and New Testaments alike, God seems to demonstrate a love and concern for families and healthy family relationships. How should this knowledge impact our relationship to politics?
Or again, God demonstrates a manifest concern for the poor, the downtrodden, and the oppressed. How should this knowledge impact our choices in government?
But although there are issues of politics that have religious implications, I don’t think that this means that we have to pick sides in a partisan way.
And it definitely doesn’t mean that one of the parties is the right, proper, or only choice for Christians.
As I survey the platforms and records of our two political parties, I cannot see how either one lines up perfectly behind God’s desires for humanity. On both sides, I see policies and actions that reinforce biblical values, and on both sides, I see policies and actions that are, as far as I can tell, contrary to biblical values.The vast majority of #political issues are not matters of #faith. Click To Tweet
If we are going to vote at all, we will always be voting for someone with whom we disagree on some point or other. And we will always be voting for someone whose policies do not entirely or perfectly align with God’s will.
Voting for that person does not mean that we endorse their views in their entirety. If it did, then we would never vote at all, since the only person with whom are are in complete agreement is ourselves!
And so again, I conclude that reasonable Christians can disagree with one another, since no party and no candidate perfectly represents God’s will. This means that Christians can differ on matters of parties and candidates without falling out of fellowship with one another.
No single political party or political ideology can claim to be the perfect expression of God’s intention for the American government. Hence no single political party can claim to be the exclusive home for Christian voters.
The danger is that if we believe that one political party or the other is the exclusive home for all Christian believers, then we (erroneously) believe that anyone outside that party can’t possibly be a Christian. And this has the effect of smuggling a decidedly unbiblical element into what it means to be a member of God’s household.
There is no political requirement for membership with Christ—only the requirement, as Paul said, to “believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).
If most political issues are not religious ones, and if no political party perfectly represents God’s will, and if no political party is the exclusive home of all Christians, then we as Christians should make room for political disagreement, knowing that our ultimate hope is not in the American state, but in God’s kingdom.