A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Should Christians Align Themselves with a Political Party?

The church... is not the master or servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool.-- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Blogger and friend Ted Gossard posted this quote from Dr. King on his blog last week. It led to a good exchange between the two of us and some others. I expressed to Ted that while I fundamentally agreed with King, my concerns when it comes to the church and the state are two-fold: First, while the church clearly can play the role of the nation's conscience, the church is much more than that. It is in and of itself its own nation with its own political integrity. Second, I suggested that once Christians align themselves too closely to the cause of the state, they by default become the tools of the state.

I had not intended to comment on this on my blog, but then I read a post by Shane Raynor who writes,

Christians should go out of their way to avoid aligning with any political parties or obviously partisan movements. This includes tea party organizations, the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, even Sojourners. We live in a culture where everything has become “us versus them” and no one wants to recognize the fact that, politically at least, the truth– along with a good percentage of Christians– are often somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. The problem with identifying with political groups and ideologies is we often become more associated with those groups than with Christ. If I’m more of a kindred spirit with a nonchristian who shares my politics than with a fellow Christian who doesn’t, then doesn’t that say a lot about who my god really is?

Ten years ago I would have disagreed with Shane. I remember hearing George Hunter say one time that both political parties needed to have Christians as members in order to keep the organizations honest and accountable. At one time I agreed with Hunter. But in the last decade I have come to see that the only people that Christians in the Democratic Party want to hold accountable are Republicans. And the only persons that Christians in the Republican Party put under scrutiny are the Democrats. Thus what indeed happens is exactly what Shane notes-- Christians who identify with the Democratic Party identify more with nonchristians who share their politics, than with Christians who don't. And the same, of course, is true with those Christians on the Republican side of the political aisle. Indeed, for those of us who spend any time on Christian blogs where politics is discussed, the posts and subsequent comments do not concern the politics of the Kingdom per se, but the politics of left and right. Indeed, as one reads through the discussion, one wonders what is specifically Christian about the debate. Even posts specifically on the politics of the Kingdom often move exclusively to the politics of right and left.

I have no doubt that most of those reading this will disagree with me, but I concur with Shane. I have come to believe that as long we believers identify and line up too closely with one side or the other, with either the Republican Party or the Democratic Party, Christians will unintentionally eclipse the politics of the God's Kingdom and our prophetic voice and witness as the church will be undermined if not completely muted. Hunter's suggestion that Christians should join both political parties to hold them accountable sounds good, but in the final analysis those Christian individuals who do so, while well-meaning and sincerely motivated for the good, end up being the tools of the party they have joined.

Indeed, what does our politics say about the God (god?) we worship?

I welcome all to comment whether you agree or not. This is an important discussion, so let's have it.


Will Grady said...

I want to agree with you and Shane. But, I also wonder how do we have Christians in public office if they don't align with a political party. I also think of the British Methodists who were integral in starting the Labour Party over here because of their involvement with unions.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Allan, Interesting. I will agree with Will on wanting to agree with you and Shane. But I have to look at the example of Daniel. Can we carry that over to the new covenant in Jesus and God's kingdom come in him, and if so, what would that mean? Daniel belonged to God and his kingdom while serving in the Babylonian and Persian kingdoms.

I do wince as I think I am disassociated by some who though professing strong faith, see the world and America coming to an end. Maybe I have to step back and wonder if such actions betray a syncretism on their part.

I wonder about the thought too, that achieving justice can be messy in this world, and we Christians should applaud such, wherever it happens, suggested by Scot McKnight (I hope I'm representing his thought accurately).

I am thinking too that shouldn't there be Christians who are present and involved in the political parties, so as to influence them, without dreaming that they will ever get everything right?

Anonymous said...

Church folk who are most concerned with politics also tend to be the least gracious. Politics makes them bitter and angry. If they pursue political goals and still have the fruit of the Spirit, I am all for it. But that usually isn't how it happens.

Chuck Tackett said...

A few reactions to the post and comments.

Ted's point about Daniel strikes an interesting chord. I would look to see what an analogous position in our government would be, city manager, county commissioner, governor, president? As an administrator the role is similar but the political process is very different. The need to seek support in an election and maintain our integrity is one of the major challenges facing Christians in our political process.

Allan, I would also question your notion of there being a Christian nation separate from the political nation. While I think I understand your point, extending the notion of the family of God to nationhood does harm to our body.

I think that saying the body of Christ has a political integrity alters the notion of faith into worldly terms that does violence to that faith. I know that mercy, compassion and justice, among many other Christian values, all have political implications or equivalents. However, those values are integral to a believer's way of life and are difficult to reduce to political mantra or agenda.

The charge to be in the world but not of it leaves plenty of room for involvement and possibly even demands it. The ultimate concern is who comes first, Caesar or God? However, even the answer to that question is ambiguous in it's impact.

I started reading Edmund Morris' biography (Theodore Rex) of Teddy Roosevelt and have been consistently surprised by repeated mentions of Teddy's reliance on his faith and conscience in making decisions. I'm still early in the book so who knows but even Jimmy Carter could be another example of a faithful believer who maintained his integrity while serving in public office.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Thanks for your comments, Chuck. I am heading out the door, so I will comment more later, but the New Testament affirms the nationhood of the church (see 1 Peter 1:9). Peter and others take OT passages that clearly refer to the nation of Israel and apply them to the church, in the same way they take passages that refer to Yahweh and apply them to Jesus.

Now I suppose we should ask the question, "OK, what do we do with this?" A fair question, but the affirmations are clearly there.

It's good to have you commenting again!

Country Parson said...

I spent thirty years of my adult life engaged in political action at one level or another, mostly on behalf of business interests that rarely ventured far from conventional Republican ideology. If one is honest in one's policy analysis, it has to be obvious that what business leadership thinks is good for business is not necessarily good for the nation, and frequently it's not even good for business. Equally obvious must be that the same is true for all other competing interests. The solution is to let these competing interests have it out on as level a playing field as possible in the context of a legislative process that has as much integrity as possible. I don't think we have had either for quite some time.

For me, the guiding principles pointing the way between Charybdis and Scylia were to be found in the life and teaching of Jesus and the wisdom of the eight century prophets. As a result, I long ago departed from any affiliation with the GOP and yet cannot commit to the Democrats with more than a cast ballot here and there. Because I am interested in politics, economics and theology, I have found myself in a place of tremendous emotional tension that can be very uncomfortable. Putting God first doesn't solve things, it just makes them more complicated. How much easier it would be to be like the majority of my parishioners who follow Rush Limbaugh during the week, Jesus on Sunday, and never see the irony.

Allan R. Bevere said...


Thanks for sharing your experience. It is quite important as we work through this.

You write, "How much easier it would be to be like the majority of my parishioners who follow Rush Limbaugh during the week, Jesus on Sunday, and never see the irony."

I completely agree, but I would also say that the same is true with those individuals who substitute Keith Olbermann for Rush.

I do not see where either extreme helps further God's Kingdom in this world.

Your thoughts?

Ted M. Gossard said...

Goodness. WordPress is better. Or is it just my computer, or me?

Here goes again: In the United States every citizen is the government. Surely taking sides on various issues is not necessarily surrendering our identity as citizens of heaven.

And if Daniel could serve in the hierarchy of the kingdoms of Babylon and Persia, who's to say a Christian could not serve in some similar entity, even in one of the political parties. Not easy, but impossible?

Allan R. Bevere said...


Of course it is not impossible, but we must ask what is happening that Christians on the right and on the left find that their politics have more in common with people who are not Christians than with Christians on the "other side." Surely, the lordship of Jesus Christ suggests this should not be.

It appears as if by default Christians who engage themselves in partisan politics end up being identified more as Democrats or Republicans, than Christians. I suggest this is because we continue to buy into the idea that the state is where the political action is, instead of the church.

I submit that what the church should do is test the call to nation state politics in the same way they test the call to ministry. Power and money are so seductive that when a Christian feels called to such politics, the church should determine whether that person has the gifts and graces for such "ministry."

Will that ever happen? Nope... but that doesn't prevent me from reminding everyone that there is something wrong in our current context that when we Christians hear the word "politics" we first think of state and not church.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Good answer, Allan. You are making me think, which I appreciate!

Anonymous said...

I guess where I would disagree is with the idea that we are more in agreement with non-believers than believers whene we align with certain parties. To me, that is the least of the issues and is actually more positive than negative. We are here to effect change in the name of Christ and if I happen to agree with a non-believer, so long as Christ is influencing me and my decisions, I don't see an issue here.