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Politics and Religion

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Senior Pastor Oakwood Presbyterian Church

QUESTION: “Isn’t it wrong for a government official to make decisions for others based upon their religious views?”

ANSWER: This whole issue is much more complex than you are making it out to be. No leader makes decisions or acts contrary to their own religious views. What do you expect a leader to do - make decisions that are contrary to the will of God, as he or she understands it? And if the leader doesn't believe in God, whose will should they try to lead by - their own? The forefathers of our country? The public opinion polls? Where do their ideas and principles come from?

     It helps if we think in terms of "worldviews" instead of "religions." Dr. Armand Nicholi of Harvard University once said, "Whether we realize it or not, all of us possess a worldview. We make one of two basic assumptions: We view the universe as an accident, or we assume an intelligence beyond the universe who gives the universe order and, for some of us, meaning to life." When a person makes a choice between those two assumptions, they lay a foundation for their worldview, and by extension, their views on philosophy, morality, politics, etc. Is killing wrong? In all circumstances? Is there such a thing as a just war? Does life begin at conception? Is there an objective, Divinely-ordained standard for marriage and family, or are these man-made traditions that can be altered? All answers to these kinds of questions will be based upon a person's worldview, and that worldview must encompass both the physical and the metaphysical, the spiritual and the material (even if it denies the existence of anything spiritual). You can't separate a person's "secular" opinions from "religious" opinions - they are all interdependent.

     My point is that "strong religious views" shouldn't disqualify a politician or anyone in public discourse. What's the alternative? Weak religious views? That would be a sign of intellectual laziness...not a characteristic I want in a leader. No religious views? There is no such thing. If a person has committed himself to a worldview that denies or ignores the existence of God, they aren't either secular or uninfluenced by religion. They have a view of the world and spiritual matters that has a huge impact on how they will live their daily lives and how they will govern others. If this is a position they've come to after in-depth study and investigation, then it is a strong religious view, and one that I want to know about as I vote.

     When we vote for our leaders, we should be studying their worldview; assessing their character; measuring their positions and actions against their worldview to see if they are acting with integrity; and then choose a candidate who consistently leads based upon a worldview that most closely reflects our own. Just once I'd love to listen to two presidential candidates have an honest debate about the foundational issues – a worldview debate. There are two kinds of politicians that I won't vote for or trust - those who appear to have a worldview that is too far removed from my own; and those (many) who vote with an eye only to public opinion polls, special interests, or self-interest.

     Don’t let anyone try to convince you that a Christian politician or a Christian voter has to suppress or deny their convictions when it comes to public policy or debate out in the pluralistic marketplace. We live in a time in America where there is a back-lash against some strategic mistakes of the “Christian Right,” as well as an understandable fear of Islamic fundamentalism. As a result, many people want to muzzle anyone who has “religious” views, especially if you feel strongly about them. We must not concede to this mindset. We must show others that everyone has a worldview based on faith in something, and by our words and our works we must show that the Biblical worldview is the right one – the one revealed by the true Creator of the universe and His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

Political Debates

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 Senior Pastor of Oakwood Presbyterian Church

QUESTION: “It bothers me to get into debates with other believers about politics. How should I handle differences with Christian brothers or sisters on political or social issues?”

ANSWER: I usually stay out of the political debates, not because I don't have opinions or feel strongly about them, but because I rarely find them to be productive and because they usually produce so much more heat than light.  I think that my greatest frustration is that we tend to bring all the cultural political labels and their baggage with us into the discussion. Conservatives and liberals are equally guilty - "Oh, you're liberal, so you're for big government..."; "You're conservative, so you're for imposing your morality on other people". Once the label is applied, all your thoughts and motivations are assumed, and battle lines are drawn.  Because of this some of my Christian friends work hard to confound any attempts to pigeon-hole them with political labels.

      When there are divisions in our church family, I always ask one question of the "parties" involved - "Is this a disagreement over principle or is it over strategy?" If we differ in principle (i.e., inerrancy of Scripture, deity of Christ, exclusivity of salvation in Christ), then if we can't agree we may well have to part ways. On the other hand, if we agree in principle but differ in strategy (i.e., methods of evangelism, style of worship, color of the carpet), then we should strive to maintain unity and work through our differences. Our unity in principle should trump our diversity in strategies. 

      The same should be true in political and social issues. Evangelical Christian "liberals" have radically different worldviews and motivations than non-Christian "liberals", and the same is true for Christian "conservatives" compared to non-Christian "conservatives". A Christian "conservative" may agree wholeheartedly with a non-Christian "conservative" about the strategy of passing an amendment to the constitution to protect a traditional understanding of marriage, but the principles upon which they base their strategy are very different. A Christian "liberal" and a non-Christian "liberal" will both demand that the government care for the needs of the poor, but based upon different principles. The PRINCIPLES that bind Christian liberals and conservatives together in Christ are much stronger than the STRATEGIES that bind Christian and non-Christian conservatives together. But you'd never know it by some of the caustic debates that go on among believers. 

      If you were to ask me to fill out a survey of my "strategies" for current issues, you would all no doubt end up labeling me a right-wing conservative. But I would then be handicapped by that label, because of all the wrong assumptions that come with it. For instance, like my socially liberal Christian friends, I feel very strongly about the principle that we are called by God to embrace and care for the orphan & widow, the needy and oppressed. But when it comes to "strategy", I don't believe that it is wise to look to or expect the civil government to be a primary care-giver in society. 

     I guess my point is that I prefer to be labeled a citizen of Christ's kingdom who is struggling by grace to apply Biblical principles to a messed up world. I hope that we all share that in common. Our unity in principle trumps our diversity in strategies.