Although faith and politics should not be separated, Christians need to be careful how we link the two. There are ways of doing politics as Christians which are unhelpful. The most obvious example of getting it wrong is America’s Religious Right, who have turned many US churches into de facto branches of the Republican Party and, in doing so, have lost – or at least obscured – the heart of their faith.
So how should Christians approach politics?
Christians should be “salt and light”
Jesus said that Christians are to be salt and light in society (Matthew 5:13-16). Back in the first century, salt was used mostly to stop things from going off. Light is, of course, what enables us to see things. What Jesus meant by these two metaphors is to say that Christians should, by the way we live, stop things from going corrupt and make it easier for people to see God through our actions and lifestyles.
For those of us involved in politics, that means that we should be beyond reproach in our conduct and serve as good examples to others. If there had been more MPs who had taken a biblical approach to the use of money and who were clearly seen to do so by other MPs, then would there have been the same culture of entitlement that caused the recent scandal about MPs expenses? Perhaps so, but at least it would have been less severe.
Such an approach should apply to money, campaign tactics, the way Christians in elected office serve their constituents, the way we relate to others within our party, and pretty much every aspect of political life. We are to demonstrate the fruit of the spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control) in all that we do.
Christians should not aim to create a Theocracy
Whilst the Bible is clear that Jesus will, ultimately, directly rule over the whole Earth, it is also clear that, whilst God is still sovereign, this will not happen until He returns. Therefore, Christians should not try to preempt Him by trying to use the force of law to enforce Christianity (or, rather, the outward appearance of Christian behaviour) onto the kind of pluralistic society that exists in the Western world.
What I mean by this is not that Christians should not use the political process to fight against injustice or to help support institutions like the family. What I do mean is that politics should not be our first resort. In a representative democracy, politics tends to follow the culture (except, perhaps, when there are large sums of money involved) rather than lead it.
Unless we first win over public opinion to our point of view on an issue, any attempt to change things through our involvement in the political process is doomed to failure. An attempt to ban a sinful activity is likely to simply drive it underground (as happened in the US during the era of prohibition) unless people are convinced to abandon it. An attempt to stamp out an injustice needs enough public support to create the necessary political will in order to succeed, and that may take years or decades to create.
In short, Christians should be strategic in the way we engage with politics. If we wish to be salt and light, then we must pick the political battles we can realistically win and seek other strategies on those we cannot.
Christianity must not be equated with a political agenda
Whilst there are certainly political positions that are incompatible with Christianity (e.g. support for apartheid), and others that clearly arise from it (e.g. the campaign to abolish slavery), there is no one political party, election platform, or policy agenda that can properly be described as Christian. There are many issues, particularly in a 21st Century context, where God is silent, and there are others where a wide range of positions are compatible with what He has said.
Yes, our political views should ultimately come from the moral values we get from our faith. However, we must avoid portraying our personal politics as being the only political platform that is compatible with Christianity. That doesn’t mean that we can’t allow others to see the association between our faith and our politics. Terms such as “Christian Socialist” “Christian Democrat”, or even “Green Christian” make it clear that, whilst our politics are shaped by our faith, there are other political positions that Christians can legitimately take.
Ultimately, we must make it clear that our politics are not the core of our faith. Jesus, and particularly His death and resurrection, are.