Waiting for November 9th

Politics and Theology

Waiting for November 9th: Politics and Theology

It seems like most people I know are ready for November 9th. That’s the day after the big votes are counted. On that day the postmortem really begins, and the predominant narrative in American culture will shift away from fever pitched political jockeying to whatever we choose to worry about before we do it all again in another three and a half years. There will be the usual depressed wallowing for the losers, and pretentious gloating from the winners, but for most the new normal will set in just after the holidays.

One particularly egregious aspect to political cycles like this one is the relationship between theology and politics. I will be glad when this dies down. For the sake of this piece, here is what I mean by ‘theology’ and ‘politics.’

  • Your theology is what you believe about God.
  • Your politics is how you view and interact with governing power in the nation where you live.

Complete compartmentalization between your theology and your politics is impossible. Particularly for those who believe the Bible, these two arenas will and must intersect at some point. The Bible calls the Christian to engage in the city/nation they reside in,[1] and like it or not, sometimes that is going to involve dealing with the governing power structures in those nations. Theology and politics probably meet most powerfully in cases where obedience to God leads to civil disobedience, when man’s laws contradict God’s laws.[2]

For the Christian, theology and politics intersect at certain points. However, I don’t think that means that it is in bounds for Christians to theologize their politics or politicize their theology.

Let me define these terms:

1) Theologizing my politics:

  • Taking my political stance and dressing it up in theology.
  • Making my political opinions doctrinal issues.
  • Misreading Scripture in order to base my political beliefs in the text.
  • Erroneously interpreting biblical texts to support my political viewpoints.

There are so many examples of this from our latest political cycle. Two simple ones I can cite have to do with immigration reform and economic entitlements.

I heard someone arguing for strong borders the other day by using Psalm 104:9 as their support: “You set a boundary that they may not pass, so that they might not again cover the earth.” In context, this Psalm is praising God for his matchless wonder displayed in creation. The boundary the text is talking about is the boundary God sets for the mountains and valleys. It has nothing to do with borders or boundaries between modern (or ancient) nations. Applying that verse to immigration reform is absurd. If this paragraph is upsetting you, you may have a tendency to theologize your politics. I have said nothing thus far about what I believe about immigration reform or which candidate I personally prefer on the issue. I’ll leave that for you to decide.

I have also heard a number of Scriptures used to support economic policies that align with a big centralized government. I’ve heard Acts 2:44 used to support redistribution of wealth: “And all who believed were together and had all things in common.” In context this verse is describing how the Jerusalem church functioned post-Pentecost, not prescribing how a 21st century secular government should function. I’ve also heard Jesus’ words from Matthew 25:40 “as you’ve done unto the least of these,” used to support the idea that having more government entitlement programs means we’re a more biblical and compassionate society. This idea is asinine. Nowhere does the Bible prescribe that the compassionate thing to do is to build a strong centralized secular government to be generous for us, or to legislate generosity with the money individual citizens earn. Christians are called to be radically generous, but to assume that the application of that principle is massive government entitlement programs is to theologize your politics.

An equal error is politicizing my theology.

2) Politicizing my theology:

  • When I lose my religion because I am more committed to political power than to truth and righteousness.
  • When my hunger for cultural influence dilutes my theology.
  • When I fall into the trap of believing that to be in control or to be culturally approved is the only way to live as a Christian.

Bible-believing Christians are being moved further and further to the margin in American culture. Some have called it a move toward a ‘post-Christian’ society. Some are openly celebrating this move, believing that the church will thrive in exile, because history testifies to this reality. I think this is true, but I don’t share the glee. I don’t know that true Christians in any time or place have ever celebrated when their culture, laws, or government has become less aligned with Christian principles.

I see three things happening among Christians in response to the increasingly post-Christian move in America.

First, there are those who have grabbed a hold of the rope, dug in their heels, and are pulling with all their might to keep as much political power as possible. This group doesn’t want Christendom to die. This group ends up compromising not only their private principles, but also their public persona.

Second, there are those who are selling out historic Christian faith altogether. They are aligning with platforms or stances that are completely unscriptural in order to gain influence in the new era of post-Christendom. In self-righteous judgment on the first group, this group sells out right theology in their attempt to counteract the sellouts. The compromise is equally egregious.

The third group is where I want to land. These are Christians who pray about politics privately more than they post publicly. They keep a firm grip on their Bibles, but also have an informed take on their newspapers. They are sober-minded, and civically engaged. They take their justice cues from Scripture, rather than the talking heads or self-interest groups shouting back and forth in American culture. They think biblically and respond compassionately. They don’t trade truth for lies. They refuse to blindly adhere to talking points. They don’t operate ignorant of humanity’s fall, or unaware of God’s plan of redemption in Christ. Everything is seen through these lenses.

Let's be Christians who pray about politics privately more than we post publicly. Click To Tweet

While hands continue to wring about the outcome of November 8th, third groupers are living today just like we will on November 9th. Join us.

[1] 1 Timothy 2:1-2, Titus 3:1ff, Romans 13:1ff, 1 Peter 2:13-14.

[2] Daniel 3.