Christianity and Politics: A Confusing Relationship.

Coming off of a national holiday like Memorial Day, it is interesting to see how the church and other Christians celebrate the day. Seeing this it often really leaves me confused. I am an American and I have pride in my country, not a pride that is blind to our faults, but I am still proud of the USA. I am thankful for the men and women who have risked their lives to protect our country and the ideals that it has stood for since its inception. This doesn’t cause me too much confusion on its own, but when I think of how we as Christians are to interact with the reality of politics and being part of a nation I become very frustrated and uncertain.

Coming off of the weekend, I felt that the Christian response was largely country/flag/military worship with a coat of let’s not forget that Jesus is even greater than this paint brushed over it. Which to me is the opposite of what it should be. It should be that our worship of God is at the center of this, and from there we can show how that is lived out in the sacrifice of those who have died for the sake of our country. I think that we as Christians can certainly celebrate a holiday like Memorial Day, but I do think we must use care on it, particularly when we bring it into the worship service of a church. This is one to worry about for any holiday that is not a church holiday. There is a fine line between honoring mothers/fathers/military and having the service in essence worship that particular group for a week.

In all honesty though my confusion with Christians’ involvement in politics goes deeper than a holiday like this. There are a great number of people who equate being a Christian to being a Republican, which I’m not sure I understand entirely. I know it tends to be due to the stance of Republicans on abortion and homosexuality, but it seems there is a spectrum even on the Republican side on these matters. While I can understand these positions and why Christians tend to land here, it can be dangerous to join our identity as Christians to a political party or any particular group. It can easily bias our reading of Scripture and cause us to pick and choose passages that support our other affiliation(s).

A recent example of this comes from a “champion” of the conservative cause, Glenn Beck. While I understand he certainly doesn’t speak for all Christians who are Republican, it gives a clear example of how a bias can affect our reading of Scripture. His attack is on Christians who have focused on social justice. On his show was Jerry Falwell, Jr. who used the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-28) as “proof” that Jesus was supporting the idea of getting what we earn, capitalism and free market. This completely ignores a parable like the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) where it is clearly not about free market and capitalism, or about getting what we’re due. The show seemed focused on the idea of how salvation is individual and really seemed to downplay or remove the aspect of community.

However, while he is correct to say salvation is individual it also has a community dimension to it. Matthew 25:31-46 shows both of these dimensions. It is an individual person getting judged, but it was connected to how he lived his life in service of others. The fact that this comes after the before mentioned parable of the talents, is showing that this isn’t about free market and capitalism. It is instead about using what God has given you and using it for God. This doesn’t, or at least shouldn’t, lead to works righteousness and that we are only saved by our charity, because as the parable shows, these people were not doing it to impress God, but it was a natural outflow from what God had given them.We can also see how the faith is expressed in community looking at the church in Acts, where individuals shared possessions and broke bread together on a regular basis while discussing the teachings of the Apostles.

Overall, that means that being a Christian is about both individual aspects as well as community ones. It is also clear to me that all the charity in the world isn’t going to be enough to bring salvation to anyone. On top of it all though is the crystal clear fact that Christianity is not about getting what we’re due, thankfully. Either way we can let our political affiliations taint how we read the Bible. We can’t treat the Bible as a guide to political theory because we’ll find it sorely lacking and have to make connections that are just not there, which can lead us to say things that actually go against the teachings of the Bible.

I wish I had the answers as to how involved we should be as Christians in the world of politics and where our focus should be, but I don’t. What I do know is we need to ask ourselves a serious question. If we were forced to choose between being a _______ or being a Christian what would be chosen? Fill in that blank however you choose, for this post it’d be most fitting to ask things like “If I had to choose between being an American or being a Christian what would I choose? If I had to choose between being Republican/Democrat and being a Christian what would I choose?” I hope that such answers would be simple, but I find that there is much more energy and passion displayed when politics and political issues are involved than on other matters of faith.

Don’t get me wrong I’m not anti-politics or anti-American, it is simply wondering if we have the proper perspective. Do I even have the proper perspective? I’m willing to admit that maybe I don’t, is everyone else equally as willing?

  1. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/mayweb-only/30.53.0.html (Christianity Today article referencing the Glenn Beck show)
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