Faith and Politics – should they mix?

Posted on August 20, 2009 at 9:55 pm,

Ghandi once said that “anyone who thinks that religion and politics can be kept apart understands neither religion or politics”. For a Christian like myself who is a member of a political party, the question of how my faith and my politics should interact is really important.

In today’s world there are many different takes on how faith and politics should interact. At one extreme, some within America’s Religious Right or in the Liberation Theology camp have been known to treat their faith as, essentially, a political ideology. At the other, there are some Christians who believe that politics is too worldly to pursue and some atheists who think that religion should be kept away from politics at all costs.

I would suggest that neither extreme is healthy or helpful. Christians, and those from other faiths, should be free to bring our faith into the political sphere without being criticised for doing so. But equally we must recognise that there are ways of doing so that are unhelpful and counterproductive, and seek to avoid those.

Before looking at the question of how Christians should do politics, however, we should first look at the reasons why Christians should do politics. I believe that there are three things that are key to any Christian understanding of politics.

The Bible neither commands nor forbids individual Christians to be involved in politics.

The New Testament doesn’t explicitly teach about Christian involvement in politics. However, it does provide us with clear evidence that there were Christians who were both involved in politics (the proconsul of Cyprus in Acts 13) and that many Christians were from social groups whose only method of political involvement would have been rioting (1 Corinthians 1:26). In the New Testament, politics was neither commanded for believers nor was it forbidden.

Sometimes our faith demands political action

Jesus summarised the law of Moses in two commandments. Firstly, we are to love God with our entire being. Secondly, we are to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. Jesus then defined “neighbour” so wide that it includes groups of people that we hate (Luke 10:25-37). If we are to genuinely attempt to fulfil the second of these commands, then we will eventually end up getting involved in politics.

If, for example, a church runs a homeless shelter and discovers that a particular law is causing people to lose their homes, how can they say they love the people they serve unless they campaign for the law to be changed? The only circumstance in which they could justify staying out of politics is if there is no chance that the law in question could be repealed or if there was a strong chance that the campaign would actually make things worse.

We should, of course, remember that one person or one church cannot do everything, and focus our efforts to love others on the specific things we believe God has called us to. But to deny ourselves the option of going into politics is to admit that our love for others is only skin-deep.

Our Christian faith should shape our political views

Christianity is not a faith that can be compartmentalised. The Bible contains teaching on every aspect of life. The two great commandments clearly touch on every aspect of the way we live our lives. Therefore Christians cannot engage in politics in a way that leaves our faith behind. Equally, politics without a firm foundation of moral values (such as the ones that religious faith provides) becomes short-term opportunism and a desperate grasping for power.

Religion and politics cannot be separated without diminishing both.

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