A guide for thinking Biblically in American politics.
People and parties change. A Democrat in 1922 doesn’t necessarily think the same as a Democrat in 2012, and the same is true for Republicans. Let me begin with a brief, cursory history of the two primary political parties to illustrate what I mean.
The Democratic Party evolved from Anti-Federalist factions that opposed the fiscal policies of Alexander Hamilton in the early 1790s. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison organized these factions into the Democratic-Republican Party. The party favored states’ rights and strict adherence to the Constitution; it opposed a national bank and wealthy, moneyed interests. The Democratic-Republican Party ascended to power in the election of 1800. [source]
So, the Democrats were the strict constitutionalists and favored states’ rights.
Founded in Northern States in 1854 by anti-slavery activists, modernizers, ex-Whigs and ex-Free Soilers, the Republican Party quickly became the principal opposition to the dominant Democratic Party and the briefly popular. The main cause was opposition to the Kansas–Nebraska Act, which repealed the Missouri Compromise by which slavery was kept out of Kansas. The Republicans saw the expansion of slavery as a great evil. The first public meeting where the name “Republican” was suggested for a new anti-slavery party was held on March 20, 1854 in a schoolhouse in Ripon, Wisconsin. [source]
And the Republicans were the civil rights activists. Am I the only one who finds this ironic?
To think Biblically about politics we must avoid blind association with a party. They change – century to century, decade to decade, year to year. Your grandfather might have been a staunch Democrat, but that was before Roe v. Wade (1973), and that issue dramatically changed the parties. You’re grandfather might not recognize today’s Democrat party, and I doubt Honest Abe would recognize the GOP. Associating with a group is fine, but you are individually accountable for the decisions you make politically. It’s an issue of stewardship.
Stewardship is an ethic that embodies responsible planning and management of resources [source]. The Bible defines God as the owner of everything (Psalm 24:1-2, Haggai 2:8, 1 Chronicles 29:11-12) and ‘we the people’ as His stewards. It’s not our money or house. They aren’t our kids. It’s not our talent, and it’s not our vote. Every choice we make is a spiritual act of stewardship, but we live in an era that tries to separate matters of faith from matters of, in this case, politics. Bill Clinton’s impeachment and, more recently, Newt Gingrich’s marital issues are examples of this dichotomy. The truth is, thinking Biblically doesn’t allow us to apply truth on Sunday and ignore it on Tuesday; truth is true in the sanctuary and the Oval Office. Whether you’re writing law or voting for a county commissioner, you are operating in God’s kingdom and excellent stewardship is expected. To think Biblically about politics we must understand that we are God’s stewards.
“If God owns everything, and America is a democratic republic, does that mean that God endorses our government? Is democracy Biblical?” In a word, No. Now hang on, put the monitor back on your desk, count to ten, and hear me out. I didn’t say democracy was un-biblical, just that it wasn’t Biblical – it’s Biblically neutral… sort of.
God’s design was for men and women to live governed only by their love relationship with Him. Sin entered the world, Adam and Eve exited Eden, and humanity began operating with their relationship to God fractured. People grew in their evil towards each other and the Ten Commandments were issued. We still wronged each other and ignored God, so some clamored for a king – a government. God told them it was a bad idea, but they persisted and God granted their request (1 Samuel 8). The rest is a bloody history. Government is an idea conjured in the minds of men as a means to govern a society outside, or in addition to, God’s law. God said “thou shall not kill” long before it was illegal. Is Democracy better than a dictatorship? I think so, but that doesn’t make it necessarily Biblical. To think Biblically about politics we must understand that democracy is like a prosthetic – functional but not part of the original design.
“So does that mean we aren’t supposed to vote?” I don’t think so, in fact I believe the reverse is true. If you’re curious to study what the Word of God says about politics, Romans 13:1-7 is a good place to begin. In the passage we are admonished to submit to those in authority, assuming that submission wouldn’t cause you to rebel against God’s authority. The Constitution doesn’t mandate that every citizen vote, however it is the proper means of expressing your voice. Your voice is not really yours don’t forget; as a steward I believe (me speaking, not God) we must steward our political voice and leverage it for His Kingdom.
“Some people tell me I’m throwing away my vote if I support Candidate A.” I’ve heard that too. I supported Mike Huckabee in the last primary and when it became my turn to vote (I was in NC at the time) I was “encouraged” to go another route because Huckabee “couldn’t win.” The winner and the loser isn’t my primary concern; my primary concern is to be a good steward of my vote. Only I will be called to question with my votes, or what issues I support. To think Biblically about politics we must understand that, like a dollar, our vote is an issue of stewardship. To vote, or not to vote, and who gets our support if we do vote is a spiritual decision with spiritual ramifications.
“You mentioned the constitution; what about it? Do we have to do what it says?” The Constitution established the way our country would operate and we are to submit to the mandates within. However, and this is where Christians can get in trouble, the U.S. Constitution is not equal to God’s Word. Romans 13:1-7 applies here, but so does Philippians 3:20-21 which declares that our citizenship is in Heaven. Our Heavenly citizenship trumps our American citizenship, just like it did for the Christians living in Roman Empire. As long as our Constitution doesn’t contradict God’s Word, we should submit to it. However, if there is ever a conflict of authority, God’s Word must win the battle for our submission. To think Biblically about politics we must remember that the documents of the government do not hold authority over, and are not equal to God’s Word.
“I follow that, but politics confuses me. I never know what’s being voted on or who’s being ‘constitutional.’ What do I do?” There is no denying the convoluted and confusing web of jargon that our political spiders weave. A vote on oil includes an amendment for taxing an import from Jamaica, and an earmark to fund a water fountain in Ohio. All I’ll offer is that 1 Corinthians 14:33 tells us “God is not a God of confusion…” and I’ll say no more.
I use a funnel system for evaluating potential candidates or upcoming issues – everyone goes in the top and the pool gradually thins until I’m left with my candidate. Unfortunately, many of the issues fall into areas where scripture is silent – there aren’t verses that speak to offshore drilling or the use of solar panels. Sharp thinkers develop positions using Biblical inference, but these are issues of wisdom, not Biblical decree.
I begin with what’s clear. First, I do my best to understand the spiritual makeup of the candidates. The Constitution does say, “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States,” but this speaks to governmental controls, not an individual’s vote. As a steward of God’s vote, I do not believe He would want it to be given to someone who denies His existence, for example. In a time when having a “spiritual side” is politically advantageous discerning a candidate’s view of God is no easy task. Sometimes we will be forced to make our best guess, but I try to make the guess as educated as possible. Second, I evaluate the potential candidates on the issues that scripture is clear about. Before I go on, I need to make a distinction: I’m not so much concerned with someone’s political view on an issue, like if a state should make the law or the federal government should, not at this level as least. I want to know if the candidate has a Biblical view on the issue I’m considering.
Abortion is an example. Scripture is clear that a baby in the womb is a life (Psalm 139:13-16), that children are a gift from God (Psalm 127:3-5), and that we are not to kill them (Exodus 20:13, Matthew 5:21-22). If a candidate is anything less than pro-life, he will not get my vote, ever. Condoning the murder of children is a contradiction to the authority of God, and a good steward will not give God’s vote to a candidate who supports that idea. I’m normally left with one or two candidates to choose from and my decision normally hinges on whom I believe to be more authentic. To think Biblically about politics we must let the issues that are Biblically clear carry greater weight than those that are based upon inference.
“Okay, let’s say we find an ideal candidate, will they fix our culture?” No, and this is another area where we get into trouble. Politics cannot redeem our culture because politics is an element of our culture. Redemption requires something that transcends the situation to interject, like a lifeguard entering the water to rescue a drowning person. The Bible teaches us that the individual believer is indwelt by God and has the power of the Holy Spirit. And we know that when two or three are gathered in His name, He is there with them. To redeem culture we need individual believers submitting their lives to the authority of God, local churches submitting to the authority of God, and those entities collectively engaging our culture in the realms of business, art, politics, and academia. To think Biblically about politics we must understand that an individual politician or party is not “the answer.”
God is sovereign. Whether our president is a devout Christian or a raging atheist, God is still the one who places them into office (Romans 13:1, John 19:10-11). Our submission is ultimately owed to God, not to man. Our submission to those in power is an act of worship to God and can never violate one of God’s decrees. We are expected to be stewards of what we’ve been given charge over, be it a person, a precinct, or Pennsylvania, and place our faith in God, not the political system. May God bless you as you seek to be His steward in this area of your life.