Why Christians Should Be Politically Active
"I don't think God says, 'Go to church and pray all day and everything will be fine.' No. For me God says, 'Go out and make the changes that need to be made, and I'll be there to help you.'" (Elvia Alvarado)
Sometimes I hear people say that Jesus wasn’t really interested in politics so his followers shouldn’t be either. They seem to think that because Jesus didn’t vote, we shouldn’t vote. Politics starts to sound inherently bad, and people who believe Christians should be politically active get lumped in with the homeschool crazies — the ones who believe women should never cut their hair (it is their glory, after all) and should only wear gingham dresses or denim jumpers out in public.
Nope, we’re told, Christians should stay out of politics. Separation of church and state and all that, you know. After all, Jesus’ kingdom is not of this earth. Christians should just worry about saving souls and leave the politics to the politicians.
Politics. We keep using that word. I do not think it means what we think it means.
Broadly speaking, politics means life in the city (polis) and the responsibilities of citizens. Essentially, politics is the art of living together in a community, peaceful coexistence, neighborly living, good business practices — that kind of stuff.
But there is also a narrow definition of politics: the science of government. That narrow definition has to do with specific governmental policies and practices, legislation and law enforcement.
Now, you tell me: Was Jesus political?
Well…it depends on whether you’re using the broad definition or the narrow one.
Obviously, Jesus never formed a political party or organized a political protest. He never tried to influence public policy or worked to reform the way Herod, Pilate, or Caesar governed. In fact, there were times when people tried to push him into that arena, and he clearly stated that he hadn’t come to be a career politician. He never encouraged or required political action of the kind we typically consider. He never called his followers to become a voting block. They didn’t hand out voting guides at the Sermon on the Mount.
If you take that broader view of politics, Jesus’ whole life and ministry was political. It was all about a new kind of kingdom, a kingdom with a radically new social structure, a kingdom which elevated people’s values and standards and their ability to live at peace with one another, honoring one another and caring for everyone, even those who would be typically marginalized by society. His teachings clearly had political implications, offering a better alternative, a startling alternative, to the status quo.
It’s no wonder those in power saw him as a threat. People won’t kill you for being a wandering holy man. It’s when you start meddling with their power base that they start looking for a rope.
Jesus had a radically different view of power. He never saw power as a means of forcing his will on others. Jesus saw power as an opportunity to serve. That means, if we are to take Jesus seriously, there are political implications. His teachings, when applied and lived out, challenge unjust political systems, upending oppression by offering a promise of life in a kingdom characterized by justice and truth and freedom.
Jesus did not lobby for the abolition of slavery. But aren’t you glad that his followers eventually did?
Jesus never built an orphanage or a hospital. But aren’t you glad that his followers eventually did?
These are legitimate results of Jesus’ teachings internalized and put into practice. They are based on clear biblical teachings about the value and dignity of human life and the demands compassion makes. Why would we think political action (which is often nothing more than love seeking justice for the oppressed) should be anything other than this?
Photo Credit: Vadim Sherbakov