2010/01/19

XC: Recantation of Political Participation

If others partake of this right over you, do not we yet more? Nevertheless we did not use this right; but we bear all things, that we may cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ (1 Corinthians 9:12).


For some time I have defended the Christian's ability to vote and to thus participate in the political domain as a liberty-- taking concrete action to promote peace and tranquility for the Kingdom (1 Timothy 2:1-2). I have also established that the choice to vote for a particular political candidate is also a matter of liberty, based on the individual believer's sober judgment in regards to a given politician and their belief as to whether he or she would best uphold peace and tranquility for the Kingdom (1 Timothy 2:1-2). I, myself, have participated in such processes.

Nevertheless, on the basis of further study and examination of the current political climate, the ways in which Christians are participating in the political realm, and the impact of all such things on the health and promotion of the Kingdom, I feel compelled to now recant of my participation in the political processes of the United States and to eschew any such future participation for the sake of promoting God's Kingdom, and I would like for my fellow believers to soberly consider their own participation in this process and its implications and consequences.

As it is written,

Therefore let us also, seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us (Hebrews 12:1).


Participation in the political realm easily turns into, if nothing else, a "weight," and can also turn into "sin," and all too often hinders our effectiveness in promoting God's Kingdom because of dual loyalties.

As Jesus indicated in regards to God and Mammon in Matthew 6:24, "no man can serve two masters." This is no less true in the political realm. It is easy to get passionately involved in politics and voting and find oneself in morally hazardous terrain.

I feel compelled to establish first and foremost that politicians and the political systems boast of greater power and effectiveness than they can deliver, and Christians should not be fooled into believing their claims. There is no effective deliverance or salvation from evil on account of political action. God has made it very clear how people are saved:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16).


For a time in human history, God worked through a particular physical nation, Israel. The new covenant in Christ, however, stands as a clear repudiation of the idea that one particular earthly nation can be "God's nation," for God has people who belong to Him from many nations (John 18:36, Galatians 3:28). In the new covenant, salvation and deliverance does not come through acts of legislation or government mandates-- it can only come through the promotion and acceptance of the Gospel of Christ!

A country could theoretically have God's laws enshrined as their own laws, but such is never a guarantee that people are following those laws. Furthermore, how can there be any guarantee that legislation leads people to the knowledge of God in Christ? What would be gained if all the laws of the land were made to conform to God's laws, but not a soul was converted in the process? It would all be to no avail!

There are no commands, examples, or inferences in the New Testament that would lead us to believe that God saves anyone through the political process. There are no guidelines in the New Testament for establishing a "Christian nation." Furthermore, there is no evidence from the New Testament that any of the believers of the day-- Jesus, the Apostles, or anyone else-- depended upon or worked through the political system to advance God's purposes. The closest example we have is Paul using his Roman citizenship to avoid beatings and to be granted an audience with Caesar, a moment he intended to use to promote the Gospel (cf. Acts 22:25-29, 23:11, 25:10-11).

Therefore, any belief that God's purposes are going to be best served by devoting our efforts and resources to the political sphere are misguided. Politics are part of this world that is declared vanity by the Preacher (Ecclesiastes 1:2), and politics are indeed vanity. Should we devote our time, energy, and resources to vanity and striving after wind or after the spiritual treasures which will not perish (cf. Matthew 6:19-20)?

Most will declare that the Kingdom should come first, of course, but then that there is no difficulty also doing what one can in the political realm to advance God's purposes.

But we must ask the question-- can God's purposes ever be really advanced in the political realm, and is it really profitable to throw oneself into the political sphere?

Politics is a dirty endeavor, full of compromises and moral hazards. And when people with great moral integrity who seek to stand for God's values begin to enmesh themselves with politics, the darkness far too often proves too strong for the light!

Politics is not for the truly principled, and participation in the political realm as is invites moral compromise. Most recognize that voting ends up being choosing the "lesser of two evils," but notice that means that we are choosing an evil!

And herein is the inconsistency in political participation. There are a few people who stand by their integrity and participate in politics: they will only vote for candidates who have a fully Biblical stance on morality. But if you vote for anyone from the two major parties, you are by necessity compromising moral stances, because neither political party upholds God's system of morality.

The most damaging element of politics that I fear is causing great pain for the Kingdom involves party ideology. Too many Christians seem more than willing to align themselves with a given political party and to defend and justify whatever that party happens to do while excoriating and lambasting the other party no matter what they may do.

If a candidate of the opposing party has public moral failings, those are highlighted and condemned. But if a candidate from the "acceptable" party has public moral failings, such is ignored, minimized, or blunted with talk of forgiveness and the like.

If the time is convenient to push regarding a "moral" argument, any candidate who does not accept the truth regarding that "moral" argument is accursed. But if there are other, more pressing political issues, even a candidate from the "acceptable" party who does not hold to that particular "moral" argument can be justified. Furthermore, if one were to vote for a candidate from the "other" party who does not accept the truth regarding that "moral" argument, such is a sin, but if one votes for a candidate from the "acceptable" party who also does not accept the truth regarding that "moral" argument, it is understood that one voted for their other positions and not for their position on that "moral" argument.

Whatever political shenanigans the "other" party engages in shows how corrupt, evil, and debased they are, but the political shenanigans of the "acceptable" party are always justifiable.

Nothing evil can be said about candidates from the "acceptable" party, but it is always open season on the "other" party.

The people in the "other" party are always out for the destruction of everything we hold dear, while the people in the "acceptable" party always act sincerely in what they believe to be the best interest of this nation.

These types of attitudes and actions are hypocritical to the extreme and shameful. They indicate just how far politics can go in dividing people and alienating people. I am ashamed to say that I myself have participated at times in such arguments and have at times spoken improperly to my fellow brethren regarding such profitless and worthless disputations, and for that I have repented and continue to repent.

Consider what the New Testament says in contrast to what happens today.

Render to no man evil for evil. Take thought for things honorable in the sight of all men (Romans 12:17).

Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king (1 Peter 2:17).


God says that we should take thought for what is honorable in the sight of all and that we should honor all men. If we engage in partisan character attacks and speak evilly of people with whom we disagree politically, are we acting in honorable ways? Do we show that we honor all men, even those with political opinions with which we differ, through such discussions and statements?

Put them in mind to be in subjection to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready unto every good work, to speak evil of no man, not to be contentious, to be gentle, showing all meekness toward all men (Titus 3:1-2).

Putting away therefore all wickedness, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings (1 Peter 2:1).


God also makes evident that we are to not speak evil of anyone, and yet it seems to be par for the course to assume that the people in power with whom we disagree clearly have evil intentions. The same benefit of the doubt that are given to one group are never given to others.

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things (Philippians 4:8).


Paul here emphasizes the importance of devoting our minds to the things that are good and pleasing. He indicates that we must take thought as to what we take into ourselves in terms of information and where we obtain that information. There are many venues of information out there whose purpose is to promote a certain worldview and to alienate and malign any other perspective. All kinds of form of manipulation are used to distort reality in order to conform to the narrative of choice. This is done from both sides of the political spectrum, but as Christians, we should say enough, and no longer allow ourselves to be filled with messages that divide, alienate, and do not lead to peace!

Are we entirely ignorant of what the great push toward political participation has done to the Kingdom? Do we not see how our conduct among the Gentiles has been less than honorable because we have allowed ourselves to be wrapped into this pointless, futile contest of wills?

Regardless of where you live in America, odds are that between 45-65% of the population does not agree with your political preference, if you have gone along with one of the two major parties. If we push political messages, however consciously or unconsciously, are we not hindering our effectiveness in reaching 45-65% of those around us with the message that is really important?

What if the intense political participation that is manifest in Bible class discussions, stray comments from the pulpit, bulletin articles, Facebook statuses, blog posts, and the like, were responsible for pushing some people away from the Gospel message? How should we feel if we are allowing something as trivial and as unimportant as politics to get in the way from them learning of the truth of God?

I am sure that if such comments were made in regards to passion regarding sports teams or food preferences or some other such thing, we would all recognize how damaging that would be. How is politics any different?

If the political climate presents constant temptation to demonize my fellow man because of his different political beliefs, how is that going to help me break down barriers and to show him the love of Christ?

If I am pushing a particular political agenda, and the person with whom I am trying to show the Gospel already has a preconceived notion of the way Christians are based on that political agenda, is that political agenda going to assist or hinder my work?

If all the energy, time, money, and other resources that Christians expend in the political arena were redirected toward the promotion of the Gospel of Christ and the demonstration of love and compassion for our fellow man, how much further could Christ's cause be advanced?

I want to be clear: I am not condemning anyone for participating in the political process if they so choose. That remains a liberty even if I no longer practice it. This does not mean that I will cease from ever speaking about politics, especially when it comes to the intersection of politics and the Kingdom. I also recognize that many are able to keep their political views and their religious views separate, do not make a big deal about their political views, and certainly do not make their political views tests of fellowship, and for such brethren I am thankful.

Nevertheless, I have some questions that I believe merit consideration.

Has any soul been saved because of Christian participation in the political realm?

How, in any measurable spiritual way, has the Kingdom of God been advanced by Christian participation in the political realm?

How much damage has been done to the Kingdom by Christians participating in the political realm and getting caught up in evil surmisings, dishonorable words and actions, and antagonism toward people of a different political persuasion?

How many souls have been alienated from the commonwealth of Christ on account of the forceful presentation of the political opinions of Christians?

How has politics built up and encouraged the Lord's Body? In how many ways have politics instead torn down and distressed the Lord's Body?

If there is so much lost because of political participation, and so little gained, how can it ever be considered profitable for Christians to engage in it?

I have considered these questions and I cannot help but decide that political participation is not profitable when it comes to advancing the agenda of the Lord of all. Our fight is not with Democrats or Republicans or Independents or even with al-Qaeda or Iraq or terrorists or homosexuals or atheists-- Paul makes it clear that our fight is not with flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12). Instead, our fight is with " the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12). And those powers of darkness are well-served by Christians expending their energy fighting the futile fight of politics and losing ground in the good, necessary, and eternally consequent fight.

ELDV

2 comments:

Ken said...

Ethan, I think you make a lot of good points. It is especially important for ministers to be careful when they step into the political arena. The idea though that Christians ought to withdraw from political participation seems to me misguided. The world we live in is systemically evil. There is no avoiding this. Even God causes it to rain on the righteous and unrighteous alike. We are called to participate in God's redemptive activity in this world. The logical and inevitable consequence of your interpretation is complete segregation and separation, which is antithetical to biblical teaching in my view. The products you buy, the investments you make, the places you go, the things you watch, the clothes you wear, every aspect of this culture is tainted with moral ambiguities and the presence of evil. It is especially important in this reality to engage our culture, working for its redemption, in the knowledge that God's grace is sufficient to cover all of our inevitable shortcomings. I am not a Republican nor a Democrat. I support freedom and liberty because I believe it is the responsibility of the church, not the government, to minister to the poor, the sick, and the downtrodden. I support political candidates who advocate for that cause and best reflect that position, fully aware that I do not agree with them in everything and that the process of which they are part involves compromise, corruption, and difficult decisions. Yet, how is this different from any other arena of life? I am more than willing to support you and your family in whatever way I can, though I do not agree with significant aspects of your religious worldview and biblical interpretations. Nevertheless, I know that in doing so Christ will be glorified and Christ will be preached. Grace is an amazing gift. It is grace that allows us to escape the inevitably of systemic evil. We must allow and indeed hope that God will continue to send his rain, on the righteous and the unrighteous, because only grace truly allows us to be certain of our salvation. The moment we abandon this law of grace is the moment that our sin condemns us for "you heard that it was said... but I say to you."

Ken said...

BTW, if you want encouragement and an answer to your question about how politics has helped the Lord's body, I highly recommend the movie "Amazing Grace"!