This post is in response to the following question submitted via Ask Footsteps – Should Christians vote or become involved in politics?
The quick answer:
Yes, Christians should take an interest in politics and the society in which they live, particularly in terms of praying for those in authority, and in ‘being salt and light’. Part of this may be voting, which is fine but not mandatory. Belonging to a political party and even standing for election may also be ok, but requires very careful thought.
In more detail:
Christians should always try to have a positive impact on the society in which they live. There are two practical ways in which this manifests itself – evangelism and social action.
Jesus himself is the great example of this. Whilst his mission on earth was a spiritual one, he also went around doing good. His preaching was accompanied by healing and caring for those in need. As we will see, Jesus clearly taught his disciples that whilst they would become his spiritual ambassadors on earth, they were also to carry on the task of doing practical good. Think of the two great commandments – the first to love God, and the second to love our neighbour as ourselves. Then the parable of the good Samaritan that followed.
Social action can take the form of helping those in need, by addressing the symptoms of a problem. Christians – as individuals and as local churches – have always been active in this. However, another valid approach is tackling the causes of problems – very often this requires more strategic action and has taken place in the political arena. One major example is the work of William Wilberforce and others in the abolition of the slave trade. As will become clear below, I am not forgetting that the ultimate cause of society’s problems is sin and that the ultimate solution is the gospel. However, this does not diminish the responsibility we have to try and make the world we inhabit a better place, even whilst we acknowledge the realities of a fallen creation that will only be truely renewed, in the future, by God himself.
Much more could be written by way of introduction, particularly about the church and social action. However, this post tackles the rights and wrongs of Christians getting involved in politics specifically. There is an interesting debate to be had about how political the church should be as a corporate entity. The leaders of the mainstream churches in the UK often seem more interested in making political statements than they do about the spiritual welfare of the nation. However, this is not the place for taking that further, and my intention is to focus on the individual Christian rather than the church as a whole.
For most of us, the ways we’ll be involved in politics is in taking a general interest – keeping informed, lobbying our MP and voting in elections. If we look at Scripture, we find that this is right and proper. Firstly, a couple of things Jesus taught:
- Christians are in the world, but not of the world (John 17) [Note 1]. ‘In the world’ means that we should live as part of society and interact with everyone else around us. We should not be worldly – Christians are different, they do not fit in with the world, and their lifestyle and attitudes are distinctive. However, we don’t hide away in monasteries, neither to we hide our light, but seek to serve and honour God, and through this be a positive influence on the world around us. This brings us to a second aspect of Jesus’s teaching…
- We are called to be ‘salt and light’ (Matthew 5:13-16). Salt is a preservative, and as such was used to prevent meat from going bad. Christians should seek to preserve what is good in society and stop it corrupting further. Light dispels darkness, and Christians should shine in terms of living godly lives which glorify God, and in bringing the light of the gospel to a dark world that has rebelled against God.
Taking an active interest in and engaging with politics, how we are governed and by whom, is an important part of being in the world. Through this we can try to be a good influence, both on our leaders and on how society functions as a whole.
In his second letter to Timothy, Paul tells us that another really important way we should all be active is in praying for our leaders.
‘I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.’1 Timothy 2:1-2
Paul exhorts us to pray for ‘all men‘, then emphasises ‘kings‘ and those that ‘are in authority‘. It seems logical that, if we are to pray for our rulers, we ought to know who they are and what they are doing, which means taking an active interest. It is also worth noting that our prayers should include the ‘giving of thanks‘ for our government. This might seem hard, but we are fortunate in the UK to live in a relatively stable, peaceful democracy. Our prayer should be that this will continue, and that our rulers would allow us to live godly and honest lives.
One further thought on voting. It may be that all the options are unpalatable. In this case, we have to carefully weigh up whether we can justify voting for anyone – should we abstain, or can we vote for the least of the evils? This is something to be considered prayerfully before the Lord on a case by case basis.
Now let’s briefly look at getting actively involved with a political party and even standing for election. I going to sit on the fence a bit here! But there are a few things to think through.
- Can you endorse the majority of what a particular party stands for? There may be a major topic on which you are aligned with them, but many of the rest of their policies are unbiblical. In this case I would find it hard to be a member. Voting for such a party as the best of a bad lot is one thing, actively representing them or working for them is something else entirely.
- Be careful about thinking you could be a good influence and change things. There are some circumstances when this is possible (e.g. a school governor), however, it is unlikely to be the case in a major political party. Sadly, often we’ll actually find that the bad has a negative influence the other way.
- Linked to both these points, we are told not to be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. This is as applicable in belonging to a political party as it is in marriage or business.
- All that said, we often pray for Christians to be raised up in positions of influence and in our government. Therefore, we must logically believe that it is ok for Christians to be this involved in politics! And indeed, there have been godly men in our parliament throughout history, although sadly a very small minority.
A final point. Psalm 146 says ‘Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.‘ We have to realise that, because we live in a fallen world, politics cannot fundamentally change society for the better, (and even the best of Christian politicians will still be human). Yes, we should seek leaders who will do what is right, but the only way we will see radical improvement is through spiritual revival and widespread repentance. So, whilst it is fine to be involved in politics and to vote, our focus as Christians should be the preaching of the gospel. It’s a generalisation – God has uses for different people in different places – but being an active member of the Church of God will likely do more good than being a member of a political party. Psalm 146 goes on to say ‘Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the LORD his God…The LORD shall reign for ever, even thy God, O Zion, unto all generations. Praise ye the LORD.’ Whatever we do, first and foremost, let’s make sure we are serving the ultimate ruler and putting our trust in him.
Note 1 – This phrase is not actually in the Bible, but is a good summary of parts of Jesus’s High Priestly prayer for his people in John 17.
Hopefully that has been helpful. If there are any follow-up questions, feel free to post a comment below or drop us a note using the Ask Footsteps form.[A00114 – 28/06/2019]