I am not apolitical. I try to be. It’s complicated. I do not fall into the traditional definition of either of the two major political parties here in the United States. Unfortunately, I have not yet transcended the political fray either; detached from the engagement and tension that inevitably accompanies political discussion. While I try to focus on the Gospel, I find myself unable to ignore the politics of the Gospel. No, not that of parties and election cycles, but people. The people who make up the polis. Yet, in an ironic twist, to not be political, is to also be political – just for the wrong reasons.
The church not only has a spiritual mission, but a social mission as well; which by nature is a political mission. Not of politics as we might appreciate it, but seeking the benefit and well-being of those around us. Politics, from the Greek Πολιτικά (politiká), meaning “affairs of the cities,” is the living dynamic of people in community. The community encompasses everyone: from poor to rich; female to male; old to young; stranger to citizen. The mission of the church is to the human other: for salvation, and for well-being.
God’s people have been involved with the politics of nations from the dawn of biblical history. Abraham as a “prince among us” bringing ethical monotheism to Canaan. Joseph as the viceroy of Egypt. Daniel as an advisor in Babylon. This involvement is one avenue for loving your neighbor as yourself. From positions of prominence, faithful work can be done for the benefit of the community, and the individual. However, these positions are not available to all of us.
Still, we mustn’t allow the political framework – a party system – to be our definer. People very passionately believe in and support political figures or party platforms, at times concluding that heavens endorsement falls along party lines. This is regrettably shortsighted. Those of biblical faith should raise their voices on social, cultural, and economic issues; informed, not by party, but from the Word of God. As disciples of Messiah we find biblical imperatives to advocate for the poor, and supply their need; to defend the rights of the oppressed; to defend and preserve life; and fight racism (as an immediate example), which is a sin, as it violates the command of Messiah to love our neighbor as ourselves. We must be cautious not to confuse biblical imperatives, with political motives.
To commit to supporting and defending the poor, the widow, the stranger, the orphan, the oppressed, the unborn, the environment, and life is not an option for those of biblical faith. Still, how this is accomplished is the root of much dispute.
More or Less?
Should government be slimmed down in order to allow the private sector to address the needs of those listed above? An unlikely solution. Should government be given more power to redistribute the wealth of its citizens? An unlikely solution. The Bible does not give an answer for these questions originating with government. The Lord expects the individual, in faith-obedience, to work in concert with other individuals to fulfill his command to be charitable and open-handed with their brother (Deut. 15:11). One avenue of this is known as tithing. The tithe, given over six years in two three year patterns, with a seventh year rest, provided for the individual giving, the poor, the widow, the orphan, the Temple, and the Levite. The Lord also expects the individual acting in concert with other individuals, in faith-obedience, to secure justice in community (Deut. 16:20).
As you might imagine, the living reality of such action would cross the modern party lines several times.
All too often political parties expect party members to accept the package deal – package-deal politics. Nevertheless, with the biblical imperative to advocate for the poor, and fight racial injustice, as examples, one might believe I am advocating for one political party. Moreover, with the biblical perspective that sexual intimacy is for the married male and female couple, one might believe I am advocating for another political party. The issue is, the biblical norms on social, cultural, religious, and economic issues do not align perfectly with any contemporary political party. Package-deal politics is simply untenable from a biblical perspective.
What To Do?
Be apolitical? Assimilate assigned party positions? Neither is workable, or biblical. When we consider the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:25-37), Messiah reveals a hero who crossed the racial, social, and religious divide, a Samaritan, who was an enemy of the Jewish people. The Samaritan invested his means into the life of the injured man. He did what others were unwilling to do. As Messiah teaches, to advocate, support, and invest in life is to be involved in the political process – “affairs of the cities” – otherwise, we avoid the downtrodden.
Still more, it is to be involved in a way that crosses lines of allegiance established by man. It is to risk scorn, mockery, isolation, and persecution. Nonetheless, Yeshua/Jesus gives comfort, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great! For in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11-12). To be faithful, especially when facing criticism from every direction is to be a city shining on a hill, which in the end will be a place where people glorify God (Matt. 5:14-16).
Inevitably, failing to align with expected party positions and personages will lead to rejection. This is part and parcel of the politics of politics. It is part and parcel of following the Messiah. The Gospel gives resources of comfort and assurance for those moments.
What drives my conviction is my rescue, my salvation. How did he rescue me? He did so by coming to earth stripped of glory and power, position and prestige. He did so counterintuitively by dying the death of a criminal on a cross. He did so, not by the power of the state or political affiliation. He did so by nailed hands and feet. He did so by overcoming the king of terrors, death and the grave. He did so, because he is the King of kings, and Lord of lords.
Faith-obedience is not immediate victory or comfort. It is loving the God of our salvation with all our heart, soul and strength (Deut. 6:5), and loving the human other as ourselves (Lev. 19:18, 34). This is involvement in the “affairs of the cities,” the living people in need of hope, and salvation.
While I am not political, I am, I find, very political, as I am concerned with the “affairs of the cities,” more precisely, its people.
There is, in this age, few, if any, places of safe harbor for the believer; where one will not risk offending others due to biblical convictions. This is as it should be. This world is not our home (Heb. 13:14). We are looking for a city yet to come, where the Lord will wipe away every tear. Where death and mourning will be no more. Until then, we wipe the tears, bandage the wounds, and give hope in the name of Yeshua.
Be well; shalom.
4 thoughts on “The Politics of Politics”
I enjoyed the perspective you took. It will always boil down to following the Word of God and following the teachings of Yeshua.
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Very well thought out and stated in biblical balance. My extended family, until Jimmy Carter, voted for generations on Democrat Party lines. Since then, the majority of my extended family has become Independent voters to escape, when possible, the “package politics” of one party or the other.
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Thank you Dr. John!
That’s a balanced biblical perspective on the issue of Christian involvement in politics. In the end, Christians belong to Jesus’ party, and work from there to reach out to men of all colours and status and religions, to win them to Christ, while loving them with God’s love. We miss the mark when we brand ourselves with men’s brand and get entangled in their messy politics based on entirely different world views from Christ’s.
God bless you for this article.
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