Guest post by: Chad E. Graham
Should Christians mix faith and politics? This question has always bothered me—even to the extent that I am currently working on a thesis titled Doing Good in the Republic: The Ethics of Christian Political Engagement. Like me, you might have some concerns with the question as stated. I ask: What does it mean to “mix” faith and politics? Why would mixing them be an ethical concern? Does the question, as stated, presuppose that politics is bad? The question itself is problematic.
When people ask me if Christians should mix faith and politics, I answer, “Christians in a democratic republic (the U.S.) must engage in politics.” I will defend that answer here, but I should explain what I mean by “engage in politics.” In the United States of America, citizens have the right and responsibility to elect their own state and federal representatives. These officials make, adjudicate, and enforce laws that reflect the will of the people, within the parameters set forth in the Constitution. In a rudimentary sense, U.S. citizens are a “self-governing” people.
Politics encompasses the activities associated with governance and civil rule. Whenever citizens vote to elect officials, they are “engaging in politics.” Voting is the most fundamental and tangible form of political engagement in the United States. By voting for a candidate at any level, you are playing a role in the self-governance of civil society. It is my understanding that Christians are to do good (Ps. 37:3) and restrain evil (Isa. 1:17). The Christian notion of “good” is akin to the Hebrew word shalom meaning “peace” and the Greek term eudaimonia meaning “human flourishing.” Given the duty to be and do good, here are three of many reasons why I think Christians must engage in politics:
If all citizens did not vote, society would collapse into chaos. If all citizens abrogated their duty to vote, we would have no representation, no military, and no governance. The citizens who enjoy the freedom America provides are duty-bound to maintain that freedom through voting and engaging civil society. Should Christians be exempt from this duty? Are we advocates of chaos? Are we advocates of freedom with no form? No—we are advocates and doers of good (1 Tim. 6:18; Gal. 6:9; Heb. 10:24). How can we promote human flourishing by undermining the infrastructure of our society?
For elected government to be good government, good citizens must vote. Who will elect good representatives, who have authority to make good laws? Who will elect good judges, judges that have a proper notion of justice, if good citizens abstain from voting? Christians believe that God is good (2 Pet. 1:3; 1 Tim. 4:4; Jas. 1:17), and Christians, therefore, are to be and do good as People of God (Matt. 5:16; Jas. 4:17; Rom. 12:2). I assume that this means: use your influence for good, use your money for good, use your word for good, and also use your vote for doing good.
Laws have power to help or hurt the poor. Laws protect the equality of citizens. Laws protect children from becoming a cheap labor force. Laws can be utilized to protect the economy from collapsing. Laws guarantee education rights and rights to emergency medical care. Bills are passed that fund weather alert programs in poor neighborhoods and fund inner-city food pantries that feed the homeless. Elected officials lobby for laws that do good, when good citizens elect them to office. If good citizens do not caucus for good representatives, the needs of the poor are left to cultural currents—or worse. Christians are mandated to care for the poor (Prov. 22:9; 31:20; Dan. 4:27; Matt. 19:21; Gal. 2:10; Jas. 2:5). Should we pretend that our vote does not affect the poor?
The Church should be like the prophets of the Old Testament, who cried out to their leaders for justice and conduct honoring to God. The Church must respond to injustice in unison with Habakkuk, moaning, “So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted” (Hab. 1:4). Christians must identify injustice and fight against it, being equipped with the very Word of God. The prophet Micah affirms our duty to God, pleading: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic. 6:8). If civic duty does not compel our vote, God’s requirement for justice should suffice as motive.
It is also a mistake to think that justice and good deeds should remain within the walls of the Church. Think about the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:25–37). We are called to reach out into the world and help our neighbor. One way to do that is to give a meal to a homeless person. Is it not also important that we support representatives who will fund programs to help that same person out of homelessness? Is it important that we elect officials who know when an emancipation proclamation is necessary or when to declare our independence from tyrannical powers or when to lobby amendments ending slavery? We need governors to be good and to do good.
Christians in the U.S. must engage in politics as a means of doing good and correcting oppression. There are no neutral options in a self-governing society. There is a duty observed or neglected. So use your vote and your voice to do good in the republic.