Editor’s note: This week, we’re running a series on questions, inspired by Matthew Lee Anderson’s book, The End of Our Exploring. We reviewed his book here. There’s a great deal going on this week: buy one copy of Matt’s book, and you can give one away for free. Check out the details here.
Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. – Romans 13:1
And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, saying, ‘Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!’ But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: ‘We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree.’ – Acts 5:27-30
There are many Scripture passages one could point to in a discussion on politics and “governing authorities;” these are just two, and they serve to raise the question: how should Christians interact with politics? How does our faith in Christ and His Church interact with political issues and secular authority?
I’ve never been a very politically minded person, and I must admit that I haven’t seriously considered how I, as a Christian, ought to interact with politics. Of course, many Christians are way ahead of me on this front, but this is my attempt to breach the subject in my own, small way. Being a Christian is the most important defining aspect of my life, so it only seems natural that it would influence my political beliefs and activity. The question of how Christians should interact with politics is an important one to consider, which is why I’m taking the opportunity this week, not to try and answer the question, but rather to consider why the question is an important one with which Christians (like myself) should grapple. I tread forward cautiously.
I don’t believe there is, necessarily, a single, “right” way to answer the question. Many political issues are complex and multi-faceted, and politics is a hot-button topic for anyone because there are so many varied opinions about the right way to do things. In some cases, I think it is no different for Christians; it doesn’t seem as simple as “All Christians should vote [insert political party here],” for example. It’s difficult to paint the topic in broad, black-and-white strokes.
The difference, it seems, comes when moral issues become political issues, which is something I’ve noticed more and more in recent years. For example, abortion has become a women’s rights issue and the subject of a heated, ongoing political debate in our culture. I admit that there are complex factors involved, but the heart of the issue is the sanctity of human life. In this case, a moral issue has evolved into a prominent political issue, and as Christians we need to take such issues seriously and consider how to respond to them in light of our faith. (Of course, the tricky part is that many Christians are in disagreement about whether abortion is right or wrong, what constitutes a human life, in what specific contexts abortion is or isn’t acceptable, etc.)
Gay marriage is another example. The Church has a radically different perspective on what marriage is, as well as who can and should get married, than does the secular world. For Christians, marriage is a moral and spiritual issue; it is a sacrament, a holy mystery of our faith. But our country and culture are becoming increasingly open to varied forms and opinions of marriage. It is an important political issue for Christians to consider because it leads to other valuable questions, such as: who defines marriage (the government, the Church, or some third party)? What is marriage, according to the Church, and how does it differ from secular views of marriage? There is an important distinction to draw between civil, legal marriage and spiritual, Church marriage; the two are entirely separate from each other. No matter your opinion on what should or should not be legal regarding marriage licenses issued by the government, it is an important issue to consider because it can help clarify what Christian marriage is and how it differs from secular, legal marriage.
A further question that stems from this discussion could be, What are the potential consequences for Christians not interacting with politics? At the very least, we’d be isolating ourselves from a very real and significant part of living as contemporary Christians in this world. It seems to me that it’s better to be active politically while guided by our faith than to be passive politically, potentially falling into the belief that politics don’t matter that much for Christians. I think the development of the two issues I mentioned—abortion and gay marriage—provide ample evidence that politics very much do matter, or at least should matter, to the Christian life. The extent and form of the action one takes in response to certain political issues depends, I think, on one’s particular spiritual and life path. Perhaps monks in a monastery respond by praying for the leaders of our country; perhaps I can respond by voting more conscientiously. All Christians should strive to respond in kindness and love above all else.
I mention these things and raise these questions in an effort to explore and broaden my own relationship to politics. Some folks are too politically active…but I’m not very active at all, and as a Christian who only recently realized she ought to take politics more seriously, these are the types of issues and questions that make me think it’s time to make a change.