Political Engagement: Responsibility, Government & God
- Friday, November 10, 2006
Evangelical political engagement is a topic of concern and discussion among many Christians. As the believer's raison d'etre is the advancement of the gospel for the joy of the nations and the glory of God, that reality is accomplished in obedience to the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18f) and the Cultural Mandate (Gen. 1:28). Charles Spurgeon understood that twin directive and preached Christ and the application of His will as it had bearing on the politics of his day and often swayed elections at the local and national levels. Many evangelical pastors of a bygone era did the same without compromising or neglecting the gospel of Christ. Hence, it seems appropriate to offer a few observations along those lines.
First, the government must be engaged by the believer. We live between two worlds as Augustine termed them: the city of God and the city of man. We are to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's (Matt. 22:21) but our ultimate citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20) and that citizenship is prioritized over our earthly citizenship. After all, we are strangers in this world (1 Pet. 1:1) and therefore our ultimate allegiance is to Christ. But, our citizenship here demands a certain measure of political involvement when given opportunity. For example, in the aftermath of King Solomon's death, "Rehoboam went to Shechem, for all Israel had gone to Shechem to make him king (1 Kings 12:1)." The people were involved, even if only in a small way, in making Rehoboam king.
The extent of any individual's involvement in the political arena is grounded in calling and giftedness just as the extent of one's involvement in missions, prison ministry, or a myriad of other spheres is so determined. At the same time, just as all believers are to engage in evangelism, all believers are to be involved in the political process in some way.
Of course, our influence as Christians is in the realm of ideas and not exerted by force or coercion. Freedom of conscience, religion, and speech, among other freedoms, are unalienable rights and gifts from the Lord God Himself. Christianity cannot be coerced, mandated, or legislated and our goal, as in any endeavor, is the salvation of souls. The government cannot accomplish that. Only God can.
Now, freedom entails responsibility and the understanding that we are bound by God's will, ways, and sovereignty. Thus, while Christianity cannot be legislated, political engagement is part of the cultural mandate which is inextricably intertwined with the Great Commission. We must not coerce but we must influence.
Recently David Kuo, a former Special Assistant to President George W. Bush and Deputy Director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, published his book, Tempting Faith, the result, in part, of his disillusionment over administration staffers calling evangelicals "nuts" and "goofy." He urges the religious right to take a two-year fast from politics.
While much of what Kuo says should be heard and heeded, regarding the fast, Chuck Colson has a more biblical proposal. He notes, "Kuo is right about one thing: Christians involved in politics must maintain their independence; without that, we play into the hands of those -- Republicans and Democrats -- who would use us. Both parties are doing and saying things to attract so-called values voters. But Kuo is dead wrong to suggest that that Christians ought to enter into a time of 'fasting' from politics... Christians need to influence politics for justice and righteousness. But we must do so with eyes open, aware of the snares... Today Christians may find themselves suspect -- I have experienced this myself -- to the very people on whose side they are fighting. But that is the price they must pay to preserve their independence and not be beholden to any political ideological alignment... Only by continuing to fight for our beliefs, regardless of the temptations, compromises, or being called 'nuts,' can we achieve the kind of moral reform and protection of human rights that Christians throughout the centuries and in every culture work for." The point is that the government must be engaged by the believer.
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