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Christians and Politics

Christians and Politics

Amare Tabor 

The idea of Christians engaging in politics has never been a popular or a noncontroversial one. There were times when the church got too involved in politics and lost her prophetic voice or withdrew altogether from engaging in issues of social justice. Ethiopian evangelicals have always looked on politics with wary eyes. Interestingly, those outside the Christian community never fail to censure Christians for participating in politics - except when they need them on their side! So where is the balance? How does Jesus' instruction that Christians are 'in' the world but not 'of' the world translate in practical terms? How could Christians play a role in the political process without compromising their witness? Or to state positively, How could Christians bring to bear their faith values on social policy issues? We believe those and similar questions could be tackled intelligently and with grace. We appreciate brother Amare Tabor for sending us this post. Please have your say. Ed.

(1) Christianity and Politics: I was inspired to write this article after reading an article in one of the few Christian web-sites that post news and articles written in English and Amharic. The article is written in Amharic, and the title could be translated as ‘Christianity and Politics’. ‘Christianity and Politics’ urges Christians (or Religious people) to stand up and make their voices heard for the injustice they see, or hear or witness. I commend authors of this kind of article for their courage and taking the initiative for raising this kind of ‘hot’ subjects; because this kind of subjects might be (or are) considered as a ‘red-button’ or controversial issues for many. I also see the point this article is trying to make. However, being a Christian, I can’t hide to reveal that I read and take this kind of issues very cautiously. I argue that, as Christians, we have to be very careful not to be trapped in thinking that we have an obligation to solve the problems of this world. First of all, this is not what we are called for. Second, it seems to me that it is beyond our capacity to eradicate oppression and injustice and misery from this world. I admit that, Christians (and human beings generally) play a great role in this equation; however, I also note that it seems the greatest share of the matter falls entirely on God’s hand. We have to remember one thing: as long as this earth is in existence, oppression and injustice and misery will be in this earth. The simple fact is, because of Father Adam’s and ours (as his decedents) SIN, this earth is cursed by God. As long as this earth is in existence, it will grow thorns, thistles, weeds, etc (see for example, Genesis 3:17-18 “Then to Adam He [God] said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’: “ Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, And you shall eat the herb of the field.”); and there will be sickness and death till the end (see how God concluded cursing Adam: In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread Till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return.” (Gen.3:19)
(2) Christians and Government: As a simple note, I want to inject here that The Holy Scripture does not tell and support the notion of Christians (i.e., followers of Christ) not to obey the law of the land they live in. Scripture does not in anyway support the notion of rebelling against Government. On the contrary, the Word of God instructs us to submit and be subject to Government (see for example, Romans 13: 1-7 “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.”) In addition, as The Scriptural passage cited above clearly states, we don’t have to forget that it is God, none other, that puts a person in an authority. It doesn’t matter whether the Government is democratic or undemocratic; it is with God’s final permission that a person could seat in as a ruler.
(3) Mutually Exclusive: One thing is certain. Politics is politics, and The Gospel is the Gospel. Period! The former is concerned with promoting democracy; and the latter is concerned with spreading The Good News; i.e., The Gospel of Jesus Christ. The former is an earthly kingdom; and the latter is a heavenly kingdom. The former is concerned with earthly matters; and the latter is concerned with heavenly matters. The former is concerned with fulfilling our earthly needs; and the latter is concerned with fulfilling our spiritual needs. The former is concerned with implementing good governance in society by implementing democracy (for example, by ensuring freedom to speak, to write, to own property, freely act in politics, etc); and the latter is concerned with spreading The Gospel and freeing individuals from the bondage of sin (for example, see what Jesus said in John 8: 32 “you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free”).
(4) Scriptural Support: Being Christians and The Bible being God’s Book, we MUST base the points we try to make with the Word of God. We also need to furnish Scriptural support for the arguments we present. For example, in the article that inspired me to raise my hand to say something about Christians and Politics, I commend the author for carefully choosing three Scriptural passages to support his arguments. As the author indicated, in the cited passages, neither Isaiah nor John nor Jesus, are speaking about challenging Government for oppressing their people. All the passages are directed to individuals and instructing us to care for those who are in need.For example, In Isaiah 1: 17, when God says (through prophet Isaiah): “Learn to do good; Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless, Plead for the widow.” We have to ask ourselves “to whom this message is addressed to?” As clearly seen from the opening of Isaiah Chapter 1 (see for example, verse 2: “…I have nourished and brought up children, And they have rebelled against Me;”) this message is to the people of Israel, who claim to be Children of God, and God is warning them no to oppress and stand up for their fellow brothers and sisters. And finally, I want to remind that we have to be very careful not to mis-apply Scriptural passages. For example, I note that I differ a little bit from the author of ‘Christianity and Politics’ regarding Nathan and John the Baptist. As God’s Prophet, Nathan didn’t confront King David for oppressing the people; but rather Nathan rebuked David for breaking God’s law (like ‘ye shall not commit adultery’ and ‘ye shall not commit murder’). The same holds true for the story of John the Baptist too. He didn’t challenge the king for oppressing his (John the Baptist’s) countrymen/women; but John rebuked the King for taking his (the King) brother’s wife as a wife.
(5) Examples: We can also choose individuals (whether living or deceased) as our examples. However, we have to be very careful whom to follow as role models. For example, the author of the article that inspired me to write this also argued that we should follow role model-individuals like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther, Jr. and Abune Petros. I don’t want to be taken wrong here; because I respect and admire the works and dedication of these dignified individuals. Nevertheless, I don’t see a significant difference between the above pair (Rev. Martin Luther, Jr.-Abune Petros) and the pair Nelson Mandela-Mahatma Gandhi. Except that the former have ‘Rev.’ and ‘Abune’ in front of their names, because both pairs had loudly shouted for civil liberties. Therefore, I argue that, as Disciples of Christ and soldiers of The Gospel, we have to be very careful when choosing whom we should follow as our role model. I want remind Christians to consider Bible characters first.Therefore, above all Bible characters and individuals, as His followers, we have to take our Lord Jesus Christ as our first and foremost role model. Returning back to our subject: ‘Christians and Politics' and as a reminder, when Jesus was in this earth for 33 (or so) years, his country (and country men/women) was under the rule and colony of Rome. But you don’t see a single record (at least in The Four Gospels), Jesus speaking against and confronting The Romans of that day. Instead, He said “…They say unto him, Caesar's. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.” (Matt.22:21) Of course, this Scripture is related to paying taxes to Government; however, I argue that the passage can be equally applied to other matters (such as: obeying, recognizing and/or respecting rulers, obeying the law of the land, etc) too (see Romans 13 again). Jesus’ real concerns were not addressing the earthly needs and matters that His country-men/women were facing that day (whether it be poverty or persecution or any kind of flesh misery); but rather, Jesus’ main concern was addressing their real problem; i.e., their spiritual need. We have to be very careful not to be snared in believing that Jesus did come to deliver them from the colony of Rome, as most of them thought back then; but He came to preach the Gospel and give them a true spiritual freedom (see for example, Luke 4:16-22:
“So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed MeTo preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.”Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”)The second role model that I want to bring here is, the man whom God used to write almost half of The Books of The New Testament: The Apostle Paul. Just like His Lord, Paul was also living in a very troubled time, where the Nation of Israel, his brothers and sisters in blood, were under the colony and oppression of Rome. What was The Apostle Paul’s main message in his 13 (or 14) Epistles? It was simply concerned with Spreading The Good News of The Lord Jesus (The Gospel). Period! As a matter of fact, as shown above (Romans 13 and Ephesians 6) The Apostle has boldly declared Christians should submit to authority.As simple reminder: The Lord Jesus was put on the Cross for saying He is The Son of God. The Apostle Paul and Jesus’ other Disciples were hated and were persecuted for being followers of Jesus. They were not persecuted for speaking on behalf of their countrymen/women for the misery and oppression and injustice done by Government. They would have been praised and decorated if they had done that. However, they were persecuted for one and only one reason: for talking about Jesus as being The Only Savior. They were persecuted and killed for telling the real TRUTH. They were stoned to death for declaring that Jesus is The Son of God. A classic example to bring here is the case of Steven (see for example, Acts.7:54-59 “When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.”) As a matter of fact, history tells that many Christians were persecuted (up to the costing their life, and we don’t have to forget to remember that many were killed very cruelly) for simply being Christians. We also have to remember that, many brothers and sisters in many countries are paying a great price for being just a Christian even today.Thus, again and again I would like to emphasize that our major concern and task should be in spreading the Gospel. In addition, we should constantly pray and stretch out our helping hand for those who are paying a price to spread The Good News in a very difficult and dangerous situations.
(6) Our Neighbor: It is true that in addition to spreading The Good New of The Gospel, Scripture instruct us to Love Our Neighbor (see for example, Romans 13:8-10 “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”) And it is clear that ‘Our Neighbor’ is anybody that needs our help; it does not matter whether the help-seeker is a believer or not. Therefore, we should ask the question ‘As The Word requires it from me, do I love my neighbor?’ Or, ‘Do (or did)I help those who are in need?’In addition to Romans 13, I want to add one more similar passage: James 2: 5-9“Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called? If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors”.
(7) A Question and Challenge: At this point I want to question and challenge Christians who involve (and have desire to involve) themselves in political matters; and also challenge those who support this kind of message. I simply ask: “what did (or are) you do (or doing) to help your neighbor?” For example, in the article that inspired me and quite some articles written by other our Christian leaders, the case of Birtukan Midekssa is mentioned and raised as an example. What I ask and challenge these brothers and sisters who write (and supporters of the message) is:(i) “Do they in any way tried to help (either financially or morally) the individual?”(ii) “If they do (or did) help her, did they also tried comfort her?”(This could be by witnessing to her; and for example, showing her that there are many who claim to be free and yet they are prisoners of sin; and on the other hand, there are many in prison cells and yet they are spiritually free because of The Gospel of Jesus Christ)(iii) “Have they in any way tried to make contact with her family””(We’re told Birtukan has an aging mother and a small girl)(iv) “Are they praying for her?” “Is the prayer constant?”(v) etc.
(8) Grey Area(s): After saying all this, I admit that there are grey areas. For example, being a Christians, we may be required to bear arms, and be a soldier to defend our country. Or, it is not wrong for us to run for a Government Office (for example, being a true Child of God, David was also King of Israel). In addition, some of us might be called for a specific task that God wants us to do. For example, Moses was called by God to deliver The Nation of Israel from the tyranny and grip of Egypt’s Pharaoh. We find God’s prophets (like Elijah and Elisha) confronting kings of Israel for doing injustice to a person (or a nation). In the same fashion, they may be few Christians who feel a serious burden (just like feeling great pain) in their heart urging them to talk (or do something about) against an injustice or misery or oppression (or poverty or …) they have seen, heard or witnessed. Like Esther, God might put us in a position where we could save a nation. Thus, if God put us in this or similar situation, we don’t have choice. We have to speak! We have to obey God; and He (God) surely will give us the courage, the power and wisdom to fulfill the duty.
(9) When? A legitimate question might be: “When and where should a Christian speak against authority and/or refuse to obey the law of the land he/she lives in?” A Christian should refuse to obey a Government only when he (the Christian) is directed to worship another god; instead of worshipping The God of The Scriptures. A classic example for this is found in The Book of Daniel, where three young Israelites boldly refused to worship an image that King of Babylon set up (see for example, Daniel 3:16-18 “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.””)
(10) The Great Commission: I want to repeat the following point: my biggest concern is that as Christians; i.e., followers and Disciples of Christ, we have to know explicitly what we are called for. Our major call is to boldly spread The Gospel to the whole world (see for example, Acts 1:8 “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”)This is The Great Commission our dear Lord has given and passed to us. We have to be careful not to broad our focus much; and we have to be very careful not miss our one and only one target (Spreading The Good News of The Lord Jesus). Lastly, I believe that, if we are true Christians, we have to invest out time and our energy to the fullest to fulfill this Great Commission only! So Help Us God!
Note: The statements and views expressed herein are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of The Ethiopian Church Journal.