Christians and Politics

Yesterday, my family and I went shopping, and in the parking lot of a superstore we passed a car with a bumper sticker which read, “Who Would Jesus Torture?” Like so many bumper stickers, this one was a trite attempt to suggest that Christians who support the war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan are hypocrites. I could have written a lengthy article on why the bumper sticker was itself hypocritical and malicious, but there is a larger, more important issue to be examined here – the political character of the Christian in the United States.

Lately, it has become fashionable for Liberals to pretend that Jesus Christ would prefer Barack Obama to John McCain. In so far as everyone has a right to make their case and have an opinion that is fine, but when someone who is not a practicing Christian decides that they have the authority to speak for the Master who warned “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36), they show a disappointing arrogance which cheapens their position. Also, there are dozens of significant denominations, and each holds strong beliefs which differ in various ways from other associations; the idea that a single political opinion on a controversial question would be monolithically held through all Christian churches betrays a simplistic and biased view of the Christian mind. Further, the American character of Christianity is distinct from the rest of the faith; not better or worse because of its differences, but ignoring those differences is to ignore History. American Christians have often taken stronger positions than other Christians on political issues, though in the main the decision has always been individual, not so much institutional. And in the past generation, those religious “leaders” who demand a specific political stance from their denomination have more and more been those individuals whose work has been almost exclusively political, and thoroughly lacking in pastoral acts of charity and, well, feeding their flock.

I have studied the Scriptures extensively, and from what I see it is very difficult to find a political position that is perfectly, hmm, “Christ-like”. Take war, for example. Jesus is known colloquially as the “Prince of Peace”, and Scripture tells us that he warned His disciples, that “all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52). Yet it is also written that when a Roman Centurion asked Jesus to heal his servant, Jesus not only did so, but strongly praised the faith of the Centurion (Matthew 8:5-13). What’s more, there is not a single verse in the Bible where a soldier is condemned or war itself is condemned. There are verses, actually, which suggest the Lord thinks well of honest soldiers (e.g. Exodus 15:3, Deuteronomy 20:1, Judges 3:10, Judges 6:12, Revelation 19:11). That is not to say that God thinks war is always a good thing, or even usually a good thing. But it is a fact of this world that wars happen, and that good men have to fight in them. From there, reasonable people can differ about the decision to go to war, or the decisions made by leaders. But it is plainly arrogant to claim that Christ sides with your own political position, especially if you are not a practicing Christian.

There are a lot of issues like that, where there is no clear political position which a person can properly say God advocates. It’s easy to rip out something you found in the Bible that seems to say what you want, but in many of those cases the actual context of the Scripture is less obvious, especially given twenty centuries or so between the time they were written and today.

Both major political parties have been guilty at one time or another with playing the ‘God likes me better’ card. From where I sit, it may play out to a temporary advantage, but for the tens of millions of Christians who do their level best every day to walk in Christ’s teachings, it mocks who we are and what we stand for. It’s fine if you hold different beliefs from me and honestly express your own opinion, although I may say that I think you are wrong. But if you try to pretend that a faith you don’t even believe in teaches morality according to your political position, that is simply lying arrogance. And it’s not fooling the people you think it is.

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