The question has been asked as to where Christians should intersect faith and politics. Should we sit on our morals and do nothing but preach the message of eternal life in Christ, or should we advocate for laws that honor God and change our culture to be more moral?
I dislike the question, to be blunt. I think it frames the discussion in terms of a false “either/or” mentality that says that we may do only one or the other, which I think does nothing to help us meaningfully interact with the issue. Instead, I think that the answer here is much the same as in many areas of life: BALANCE. Swinging the pendulum too far in one direction seldom leads to the right answer, and certainly doesn’t in this case in my opinion.
When Paul wrote his command to us in Romans 13:1-7 he was writing to a people who had very little say in the affairs of their life. The people had no real input in their government; since God was in control, they trusted in His sovereignty and submitted to the government that existed. (of course, keep the principle of Acts 5:29 in mind as well) Christians never would obey the law of man and break God’s commands. However, when the secular authority made a law that dishonored God, the church when allowed not to participate would submit and then not participate. The church never tried to outlaw emperor worship in the first century or temple prostitution, both of which were very common in the first century. Instead, the church avoided those practices themselves and reached out with the gospel.
However, we live in a day when we have a civic DUTY to be a part of our government. I vote in every election that comes, and I take my faith into the voting booth with me. I vote in the way that I think God wants me to, both for candidates and initiatives. I recognize, though, that as a fallen person I am not perfect and other Christians may disagree with my voting decisions. I also know that many who are not interested in Christianity would disagree with me, while others would be right with me from a moral perspective.
Now let’s apply that a bit. I voted for McCain in 2008. If you know me that should be no shock to you. However, Obama won. (Phooey) I know the truth of Romans 13:1, that God used the free choices of the people of the United States of America to appoint Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States according to His sovereign will! (this, in my opinion, is a good example of a theological idea known as Middle Knowledge or more commonly as Molinism, though the two are not strictly the same; for a full rundown from an excellent philosophical perspective head here) So today I follow 1 Timothy 2:1-2 and pray for my president regularly. It’s God’s will that he is in the office, so I pray for him.*
Likewise, I don’t lose my mind about laws that don’t go “my way.” There are lots of laws that I don’t like, but outside of my power to vote and run for office I cannot change that, so I allow God to be sovereign and live for Him as best I can.
That said, though, it is clear that we cannot legislate true Christianity into the world. When people don’t know Christ, why in the world do we expect them to live like they follow Him? Jesus went to the tax collectors and sinners and prostitutes and undesirables and worked on them from the inside out, not the outside in. He didn’t call prostitutes to give up prostitution; He called them to trust in Him as the only way to atone for their sin.
Our focus must be on the kingdom of God rather than the kingdom of man. When we advocate for issues in a civil and respectful manner, that is great. When we shriek in front of San Francisco City Hall, not so much. I can’t tell you how much it hurt me when someone I know and love sent me an email telling me how much it hurt that, since they told me that they were in a same-gender relationship, it meant that my God must loathe them and think that they were trash. By definition, then, I hated them and thought they were trash. Of course, those thoughts never came out of my mouth, but that is the impression this person had of what it meant to be a Christian. Now some of that comes from media misrepresentations of Christianity, but much of it comes from Christians.
When did Christ do that? He didn’t rail against Roman oppression; He met tax collectors in their tax booths and called them to follow Him. He hung out with the irreligious and HAD A GLASS OF WINE WITH THEM.** He met them on their terms and gave them an open door to seek God. Paul did the same thing in Acts 17:22-23. Rather than condemning the Athenians for their idolatry Paul used their culture, even their sinful worship of false gods, to draw a bridge to God for them. The focus was never on their sin, but on God and His calling them to a change of heart.
So in my mind the issue really is not one or the other. Our focus as Christians must always be to shine the light of Christ into the world and provide the message of the cross to people who desperately need it. The world needs Christ, not morality. If we make them all stop sinning on the outside, they will still go straight to hell at the end of their very moral lives. (i.e. Revelation 20:11-15)
I will, though, continue to advocate for those who are powerless. I will seek to be a voice for those who are not yet born, for the child prostitutes on the streets of Phoenix, for the homeless, for the elderly and children and others. I will vote my conscience in every election, knowing that God uses my choices to accomplish His will in His world. And most of all I will try to live for Christ as an authentic and transparent disciple, knowing that I am still a sinner every day, hoping and praying that God sends me people to lead to Jesus. And I put His priorities first and try to help people live lives that honor Him from the inside out.
This is my mission statement: John Correia exists to know Jesus Christ, to grow in Him, to serve Him, and to help others do the same. Not to make them moral, but to help them know Christ, grow in Him, and serve Him. That is an inside-out process.
*Now lest you think I stay up late at night wondering if I voted outside the will of God, I do not. God often gives nations the leaders they deserve rather than the ones they need, as a short reading of the books of Kings and Chronicles shows. I also realize that I can’t equate modern history there, so please do not hear me equating Obama with an ungodly king.
**Yes, I know that I have just had my Baptist credentials revoked. You can have them, though I pastor a SBC church. Jesus drank alcohol. He did. He made wine in John 2. Get over it. Alcoholism is bad, but alcohol consumption is not sin.