Christmas has passed and the New Year has officially been celebrated. Now most of us will have to learn how to date our checks all over again! Most radio and television networks as well as news periodicals have done their obligatory year in review. January 2 became the official kick off of the political season leading up to the 2012 election. Iowa has been the center of activity as the Republican Party tries to decide who will run as its candidate and now the attention turns to New Hampshire.
For most of my life I have been told that two things which should not be discussed in polite company are religion and politics. As a missionary to cults and New Religious Movements by definition I discuss religion. Although I have been interested in politics for many years it has only been the last 3 years or so that we have written on faith and politics. So far, we have done 44 blog articles and a Journal article on faith and politics. In part this is because the current president used religious language so much in his first run for office that we felt we felt we needed to ask questions about his faith claims. I am blessed to have Jonathan Miles working with us in MCOI. He too loves to kick around faith and political questions. With the official kick off of the political season, which will be long and most of us will likely be very tired of it before it is over, it seems appropriate to venture in, at least ankle deep, at this juncture.
In the late 1970â€™s, Evangelicals awoke to the call to get politically involved. This was largely due to the late Jerry Falwell being challenged by Francis Schaeffer and C. Everett Koop on the issue of abortion. Falwellâ€™s founding of the The Moral Majority had a big impact on the election of Ronald Reagan and caught the press off guard as Evangelicals made a large scale public appearance for the first time since the 1930â€™s. Since then political activism has grown in sophistication among Evangelicals I think it raises certain questions that we probably need to answer. Obviously we have touched on this in the past but a quote from Jonathan Miles post, There is no Christian Political Philosophy (And itâ€™s a good thing too!) Pt. 1 seems a good place to revisit this topic:
In one sense there is an easy answer. If people should be involved in politics and Christians are people, then Christians should be involved in politics. This gets at Donâ€™s point that there is no â€œChristian Politicsâ€ any more than there are â€œChristian mechanics.â€ And not to belabor the point, but itâ€™s a good thing too. As C.S. Lewis put into the demonic voice of Screwtape, if Christians begin to think their politics is the most important part of the Christian involvement, then itâ€™s a short step to their Christianity is the most important part of their politics. I should know. By nature Iâ€™m a political junkie. I would take intravenous doses of CNN, Fox News, and blogs from the left and right if I could. I thrive on the discussion. But hereâ€™s the thing, I care about the political scene for the same reason NASCAR fans care about the Winston Cup. There are heroes and villains, suspense and great crashes with lots of destruction. Sure I care about the country my son will grow up in but thatâ€™s not why I get involved with these debates.
In the book, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World James Davison Hunter comments on the â€œValues and the Tactic of Political Actionâ€:
Interestingly, this emphasis on values, choice, and spiritual renewal has also predisposed nearly everyone to focus on politics as the central means of changing the world. The reasoning goes like this: bad law is the outcome of bad choices made by individual politicians, judges, and policy makers. Thus, changing the world requires that individual Christians vote into office those who hold the right values or possess the right worldview and therefore will make the right choices.
I have just started Hunterâ€™s book and am not sure where his conclusions will lead. Although I personally think that in this nation political involvement is a part of living out our Christian life, it is not the way to change the world. It is but one way of influencing culture and cultural behavior but, as Jonathon pointed out, â€œif Christians begin to think their politics is the most important part of the Christian involvement, then itâ€™s a short step to their Christianity is the most important part of their politics.â€ Is it our mission to bring about better behaved sinners through legislation and thus make the world more moral place to live?
All of that to get to my first question of this political season. Does the idea that, â€œchanging the world requires that individual Christians vote into office those who hold the right values or possess the right worldview and therefore will make the right choicesâ€ preclude Godâ€™s intervention in the affairs of men? In other words, can God use non-believing leaders to bless His people?