One group believes that the church should be used as a political platform, the other advocates passivity. So, what’s the answer?
First, we cannot deny our primary responsibility: To preach the gospel. This is how America will “truly” change from the inside out. The No. 1 problem in America is not a political problem; it’s a spiritual problem called sin. The primary goal of the church is not to become a political movement, but a spiritual influence.
Politics won’t save America; however, we cannot ignore our God-given civic responsibility and the massive impact that politics has on our society. Make no mistake about it: America’s leaders play an enormous role in shaping the direction of the country: “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; but when the wicked man rules, the people groan” (Proverbs 29:2). For instance, there are legislators who support partial-birth abortion, as well as gay-marriage and other disturbing legislation. Do we honestly think that God is not concerned about our laws? “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20).
Politics is not always a bad word. It refers to governing or leading a group of people. We don’t have to abandon our ethics or compromise our principles to be involved in politics—what good is salt left in the shaker, or a light that is hidden? Contextually, when Jesus referred to being the “salt and light,” He was referring to holy living at the individual level, but the overlapping principle applies to all areas.
Politics has been instrumental in movements to protect the unborn and the poor, as well as the abolition of slavery, and civil rights, to mention only a few. These events all transpired because Christians took action. Leadership matters!
Now, with that said, as a pastor my involvement is limited more than most. My calling is not political; it’s preaching the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ! That’s my primary focus. Failure to recognize diverse gifts may explain why many people are divided. For instance, John MacArthur, James Dobson, Chuck Colson, and Billy Graham have/had different ministries. We should thank God for these men instead of critique them for their involvement (or lack thereof) in politics.
If God has called a man to preach and teach His Word, that will be his passion. If God has called a Christian to pursue politics, that will be his or her passion, and so on. Problems arise when we become judgmental and fail to respect our differences. Activists should not expect everyone to share their passion for politics, and those who believe Christians should stay out of politics must understand that God clearly calls some Christians to the political arena. God established the concept of government, why would He not desire godly leadership?
The state and the church are to be separate in their duties and functions, but interwoven in their core beliefs and principles. The institution of government was created by God to govern man—to protect and defend, and to administer justice. This is why it’s unwise to apply, as some do, many of Jesus’ teachings such as, “turning the other cheek,” to the institution of government. Contextually, Jesus was referring to personal affronts and insults, not to the administration of justice. One of the primary purposes of government is to protect those who obey the law from those who break it. (Refer to Romans 13:1-7.)
The question often arises, “Can we legislate morality?” No and yes. No, we cannot change a person’s heart by forcing a set of laws or rules upon them, but we can restrain evil and deter wrongdoing. Most laws are connected to some type of moral system—the laws of a nation establish the foundation. The government cannot remain neutral, or separate, from the foundation on which it rests. Granted, many governments, including our own, often fall short; that’s why we should strive to be on God’s side rather than always assuming that He is on ours. God ordained the institution of government, but He does not approve of every form of government.
Second, we should not overlook our civic responsibilities as Christians—if a mere 50 percent of eligible Christian voters would vote, the political landscape would change dramatically. James A. Garfield, an ordained minister and twentieth President of the United States, said, “Now, more than ever before, the people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless, and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness, and corruption.”
Politics that once focused largely on economic and security issues now tackles important moral issues. To remain silent actually makes a statement that we are not concerned. This is not just about the loss of jobs; it’s about the loss of morality. We’re not just talking about adding billions of dollars to the national deficit; we’re talking about aborting millions of babies. We’re not only talking about recovery in the housing market; we’re talking about creating life simply to destroy it. Topics that are “too controversial” are often critically important; we can no longer ignore them.
The short answer to, “Can we mix religion and politics?” is yes—separate but interwoven. Government and religion should not “sleep in the same bed” so to speak. The government has distinct and separate responsibilities from the church; abuses can occur under a State Church form of government; most students of history realize this. On the other hand, leaders must lead according to unchanging biblical truths found in God’s Word. “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state” (Martin Luther King, Jr.).