In a recent article in The New York Times about the political views of C.S. Lewis, Peter Wehner writes,
For those of us who believe in the truth of Christianity and still believe in the good of politics, the last several decades — and the last 15 months in particular — have often been painful. Like water that refracts light and changes the shape of things, politics can distort and invert Christianity, turning a faith that at its core is about grace, reconciliation and redemption into one that is characterized by bitterness, recriminations and lack of charity. There is a good deal of hating and dehumanization going on in the name of Christ.
Followers of Jesus aren’t doing a very good job of living faithfully in a broken world, perhaps because we’re looking inward instead of upward. “Aim at heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in,’ ” Lewis reminded us. “Aim at earth and you will get neither.”
We need to each, for the benefit of our relationships with others, and especially in this election year fervor, figure out how to disentangle our faith from politics. To help us do that, I’m calling on the trusted words of C.S. Lewis, which, because they were spoken from another country way before Christianity in America got entangled with politics, makes their relevance to us today even more important.
For example, during a period when the criminalization of homosexuality was considered by many to be justified, Lewis asked, “What business is it of the State’s?” Nor did he believe it was the duty of government to promote the Christian ideal of marriage. “A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for everyone,” he wrote in Mere Christianity. “I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mohammedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine. My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognize that the majority of the British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives.” We could have saved ourselves a lot of trouble had we heard those words 30 years ago.
According to the New Testament, government exists primarily to keep order in society — to punish evil and reward good. It’s not going make anybody a better person, and certainly, is it not going help anyone be a Christian. And even if it could get people to behave like Christians, without a relationship with Jesus Christ, they, and we, would be worse off thinking that their compliance with Christian behavior made them Christians.
One of Lewis’s most famous quotes helps us balance our faith and our politics: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” Our Christianity doesn’t give us a Christian politic, it gives us a Christian perspective on politics, and because of a certain ambiguity in the views of both, this is not, nor ever will be, a dogmatic, closed position.