Religion and Politics

Religion and Politics

Can religion and politics mix? Can there be a true separation between church and state? Are there two realms—sacred and secular? Is it possible for a Christian to be a Democrat? Is it possible for a Christian to be a Republican?

As followers of God, we are given the capacity to see and hear the guiding activity of God all around us and to participate in it. As the world pressures us in one direction, the Spirit of the kingdom guides us in another. The goal of God is to restore in us the mind of Christ. We are meant, as Christians, to have a Christian worldview. This means that we draw our political understandings from God.

Political arrangements can get messy when we look to our Scriptures, because the people of God have lived under six different forms of governance and none of them have brought the kingdom to earth.

  1. We’ve been slaves in Pharaoh’s Egypt. To be without voice, vote, or government representative is horrible. No one gave a rip about our well-being. From this setting, we learned to cry out to God on behalf of the powerless, asking that this enslaving government be brought to its knees before the power of God.
  2. We’ve been a loose federation of tribes with no central government. This story is found in Joshua and Judges and happened just after our entrance to the Promised Land. The only time we needed a central government was in crisis or threat, which seems to suggest the less government the better. Republicans tend to favor this one. When trouble came, the Spirit of the Lord would fall on a leader (male or female), and he or she would unify the people to resist the threat as guided by the protective Spirit. Once the enemy was defeated, the people would disband and get back to living as normal. There was no king but God.
  3. But soon, we wanted to be like the other nations around us. In a sense, we wished to join the League of Nations. For this, we needed a king. And kings need palaces, armies, taxes, cabinets, courts—well, you know. And there you go—government. God did not want to give us a king, but he finally relented. It is frightening when God gives in to our wishes. This story is found in the books of Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, and Psalms. The form of government was technically a theocracy, but it actually turned out to be a succession of really bad rulers sandwiched between a few good ones. The king was thought to be the God-appointed, priest-anointed son of God sitting on a throne speaking for God. This is God and government hand-in-hand. Sometimes it worked. Most of the time it didn’t. While not the Christian kind, this is how fundamentalist Islamic states are run.
  4. The failure of this government led to a new political arrangement called exile. We were conquered by the Babylonians and hauled off to Babylon to live out our days under a pagan power. The Babylonians were somewhat merciful but believed in the back of their minds that our God was a pushover. To them, Baal had triumphed over Yahweh, and that’s why we were in Babylon. We were not slaves. We were permitted to live as we pleased but were subtly encouraged by all the Baal hoopla to assimilate. Like the Borg on Star Trek, resistance would be futile. This story is found in Isaiah, Ezekiel, and other prophetic books. From this arrangement we learned it is a challenge to keep rituals, worship, and sacred memories alive when surrounded by pagans. The role of Christians in this kind of political arrangement is to remember who we are and not forsake our faith. Resistance to the dominant culture can be costly.
  5. We have also been a majority in our own land, but under Roman rule. This story is in the Gospels. Jesus lived on earth under this arrangement.The Pharisees refused to assimilate. The Sadducees made concessions to Rome for the privilege of getting along in reasonable peace. The Zealots ran an underground resistance movement.As far as we can tell, Jesus voted for none of the above. His kingdom business seemed to go on in the middle of this; he was fully aware of what was happening but not devoted that passionately to any party.
  6. We’ve been Christian minorities in cities and nations where we are citizens but under suspicion. This story is told in the letters of Paul, the letters to the churches of the New Testament, and the Revelation of Jesus to John.We did missionary work as the first known Christians. Sometimes we were a threat. Sometimes we were welcomed.

So where are we now? We’re certainly not slaves. We’re definitely not a theocracy. The United Methodist bishops didn’t inaugurate George Bush, and the United Church of Christ didn’t inaugurate Barack Obama.

We’re a little like the exiles in Babylon in a pagan culture, but the ruler of our nation is a Christian, so where is home? We may be becoming a minority and needing to learn to live in post-Christian America like the Pharisees.

I wonder if that’s why the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Zealots are making a comeback in new uniforms. When the church crawled in bed with the Republican party and won the White House, the Senate, and the House, we finally claimed a moral majority, but even then, we didn’t transform our culture. We are no longer a majority voting block that can elect our candidate and thereby secure our agenda.

So we are finding our way in the politics of our world as it is today. Stating the obvious, the kingdoms of this world will not embrace the kingdom of God and his righteousness. There may be overlap in the two agendas, but not much.

Our ultimate hope is rooted in neither the Republicans nor the Democrats but in Christ, who makes all things new. Do not let any president’s hand resting on a swearing-in Bible fool you.

Our government is not seeking to align itself with the kingdom of God. Yet being a citizen of God’s kingdom is not an excuse to drop out, not vote, and care less.

We are called to be light in the darkness, God’s persons in this world.

Today’s post is an excerpt from A Charitable Discourse: Talking About the Things That Divide Us.


  1. Rusty Rabon says

    Thank you for this post! I appreciate the biblical worldview you present as to the role of God’s people in human government.

  2. Emily JoAnn Haynes says

    Jesus for president 🙂

  3. Jim Elkiins II says

    Dan, religious fundamentalism- religion and politics/church and state still is one of the hot topics in the world today and want to thank for providing your great website/forum. Common-Sense is one technique we can use to disperse the foul and rotten smells. It’s really a breath of fresh air in an otherwise odious and toxic political-religious environment. It is a celebration of spitting out the hook. Without dissent, things-the-way-they-are will always continue on indefinitely. People will continue to tyrannize and opppress-people. The planet will continue to groan and fight back. To Dissent is Holy is one of our most precious rights…one reason most people don’t see the Big Picture is that they stay within thier frames and little-boxes. They never dare venture outside the frame’s safe borders by thinking “outside the box or area-code.”

    I not a reactionary democrat or republican/left or right/conservative or liberal and believe in “individual-liberty and personal-responsibility on all issues at all times.” Why i’m Not? The terms “Left” and “Rright” are really “each descriptive of authoritarian political positions.” One should never define the identyity-positions in terms coined by liberals or conservatives- nor as some variant of their positions. If I had to definre myself, I guess i’d lean more towards an Independent and Moderarte-Libertarian position.

    I’m also basically Pro-life in that the Spirit of Loving-Protection of all God’s Creatures “both Great and Small, Born and Unborn.” Honouring all God’s creatures. And the spirit of spreading kindness,tolerance, neighborly-love, brotherhood, peace throughout the world. I firmly believe an individual human being, born or unborn, is sovereign over his body, personhood, mind, extending to life, and liberty. Liberty as being completely free in action, while not initiating force or fraud against the life, liberty or property of another.

    If one employs the terms “left” and “right,” he is falling into the semantic trap of being a “rightist” (fascist) by virtue of not being a “leftist” (communist). This is a “Semantic Graveyard.” These are all coercive systems. Liberty as being completely free in action, while not initiating force or fraud against the life, liberty or property of another. By the way, the Repubs and Dems have both spent us all into the Poor-House in largess out of the Pubic Treasury. LOL.

    -I believe all man standing upon an equal keel at birth and making for themselves what they will through individual responsibility” and liberty.
    -I strive to honestly express the best of myself in my contacts with other people.
    -I rejoice in pleasure over the happiness of others and for their well-being.
    -I try to use my intelligence and my abilities to live, help and to serve others.
    -I respect Nature and it’s presevation for generations to come.

    If there’s a lesson that I think all people can go home with, that is stop this sick social-class, in-fighting, tics, political-religious divisionism, and come together for once because it’s so depressing. As long as the politicians, religionists and media have got us out fighting somebody else, we’re not joining forces together.
    Tomorrow never knows. “I do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” -Matthew 6:34

    “The spirit spreads wherever it wants,” says John 3:8.

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