The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Man, Part 3: The Case Against Political Activism

John’s note: This post was written by a good friend of mine, Tom Milton. Tom is a former Phoenix City Councilman as well as Vice Mayor, and teaches a class on Christianity and Politics at Southwestern College. I will offer a little extra insight at the end.

As Christians in America, we should fight for the Christian political agenda, right? It includes issues like opposing gay marriage, outlawing abortion, removing evolution from public schools, keeping the words “under God” in the pledge of allegiance, fighting for prayer in public schools, displaying nativity scenes anywhere we want at Christmas, and keeping the Ten Commandments posted in public places. This agenda is about winning the culture war and electing Christian men and women to public offices.

The conflict is less about this agenda and more about our means of accomplishing it.

In his book The Myth of a Christian Nation, Gregory Boyd describes a fundamental conflict relevant to the question of how Christians should be involved in politics. He describes this conflict between “the Kingdom of the Cross and the Kingdom of the Sword.”

The Kingdom of the Sword is in the world and upon us now. Although worldly governments can be good and useful (Romans 13:1-7) they also have an evil influence. In the wilderness, Satan offers Christ authority over all the kingdoms of the world. Jesus does not refute Satan’s authority to offer this to Him, although he does resist the temptation. This shows Satan’s authority in the world. In the Gospel of John, Jesus refers to Satan as the ruler of the world three times (John 12:31, 14:30, and 16:11). Every nation on earth, no matter how good, is still influenced by the ruler of this world. A government’s authority lies in its ability to make people do (or not do) things based on its power and might. In the Kingdom of the Sword, order is kept with a sword, has worldly influences, and God has declared that it will someday end.

Contrast this with the Kingdom of the Cross. This is a kingdom without worldly power and might. In John 18:36, Jesus tells Pontius Pilate “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” Jesus is actually explaining how His followers will not abide by the Kingdom of the Sword. His was a ministry of humility, grace, and service. Jesus came to change hearts. The Kingdom of the Cross began with Christ’s ministry and will continue through eternity.

In the Kingdom of the Sword, people might not murder because they fear the earthly consequences. In the Kingdom of the Cross, people will not murder because their hearts will be transformed and loving. Both of these kingdoms can achieve the same outcomes (people not murdering). One will use the threat of force; the other will use a converted heart. One is controlling; the other is transformational. One of them is temporary; the other eternal.

So how do we apply this to Christian political involvement? For some time now, Christians have had their agenda backwards. We try to force people’s behavior to fit a Christian idea of morality and presume their heart will follow their actions. Everything I have experienced in my Christian walk has been exactly the opposite. As Christ affected my heart, my actions followed. Christian activism should focus first on hearts!

Is there a case for political activism among Christians? Yes, but I would suggest we rethink our traditional approach to politics. We have been using the methods of the Kingdom of the Sword to attain outcomes only achievable through the Kingdom of the Cross.

We MUST resist fighting a spiritual battle for the hearts of our neighbors with worldly approaches. We can’t allow homosexuals to only be defined in our eyes as sinners. We must stop throwing anger and shame at women (and men) who have had (or supported) abortions. We must quit battling over superficial debates that alienate non-believers and don’t serve the Gospel. We have to stop preaching a one-dimensional God who only values holiness. We have to demonstrate love in all of our political activity. Some day all of the things of this world will pass, but the Kingdom of Heaven will reign forever.

Change their actions and their hearts MIGHT follow, but they might not.

Change their hearts and their actions WILL follow, and there will be a great rejoicing in heaven.

First off, thanks to Tom for the interaction. Secondly, notice the main argument against political activism in evangelicalism today. The argument says that we should focus on changing hearts, because change from the inside out makes a difference in both kingdoms while change forced from outside affects only the kingdom of man. So the argument says to make the Gospel the main thing and the political issues a secondary concern (if at all). Let God change people from the inside out, and don’t expect the world to meet the moral standards of Christianity.

Next week I will post my interactions with both sides.

2 thoughts on “The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Man, Part 3: The Case Against Political Activism

  1. This was a really great blog. I agree that outward change and adherence to God's statutes will not bring about a heart change. However, I do think that some sort of political activism on the part of those called to it by God is part of what is going to preserve the good. For example, if homosexual marriage becomes federal law, will pastors be required to perform the marriages? In the new health care bill there is a stipulation that says that the program will pay for abortions. That will make it almost like routine health care to kill a baby. Many women may be talked into having abortions rather than adopting out their babies. There is a way to respectfully stand against the current of the culture. I don't think that includes harassing people outside abortion clinics and hating gay people. We can use the political processes that are in place to make our voices heard. If it doesn't work out, then at least we took a stand.
    The word says we are to hate evil (not people) so we can take a stand against principles and philosophies without attacking the people.I think that Christians need to stand up for some of these things and make our voice heard as well as evangelize.

  2. I agree with his thinking a lot. I am not really upset by Obama saying we're not a Christian nation anymore because, really, I don't think we ever have been. A lot of what we define as morality lines up with Christianity, but that doesn't mean the nation's hearts were (or are) turned to God. However, I also agree that we don't have to stand by and vote for more wrong. Since we live in a (somewhat) democratic nation, we do have a chance to at least state what we believe. I think there is nothing wrong with voting for anti-abortion laws, but we do need to always keep in mind that Jesus meant what He said when He said His kingdom is not of this world. If we can't accomplish change here, we can rest assured that His kingdom will be that much more awesome to live in because we've experienced the bad first.

    And I really believe that people have choices–ALL of them have choices. The ones who choose to abort have information at their fingertips if they wanted to go looking for it. They still have the freedom to make their own choice. I think we lose out on some of our ability to love them when we make it all the government's fault. It's not. Each dear woman who makes that choice is just like any other dear woman who doesn't. We are all flawed, we all make choices that are imperfect. We need to be careful how swift our judgment and how slow our love. It should be the other way around.

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