One of our readers was wondering about my comment yesterday that politics cannot do the work of the kingdom of God and vice versa. He brought up William Wilberforce, a member of the British Parliament in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century, who was instrumental, as a born again Christian, in helping abolish the slave trade in that country. It was a good point, well taken, that made me look into some history on that.
What you find out is that Wilberforce championed certain causes and campaigns that he personally felt were important. He formed organizations and helped others already formed that were social causes he believed in. Besides his work to abolish slavery, he stood against vice in government, he supported mission work in various places around the world, he tried to help create free societies elsewhere in the world, and he helped form the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The key question is, how did he do this? Did he organize Christians into political blocs, or did he use his position in government and his influence to personally get behind things he felt, as a Christian, were important? He was independent of party so he could support what he believed in aside from party politics. In fact, it doesn’t appear that he used politics to accomplish his goals; he used his political influence to support the things he felt were important, and he used persuasion to articulate his worldview as a Christian. By doing so, he maintained his right to speak into all areas of public life, not just the interests of one party or one group.
This is where I think the Christian church has lost out in the last 30 years, and why we, as individual believers and representatives of Grace Turned Outward, need to be careful we do not fall into the same trap. The church has become political by siding with one political bloc and lost its ability to speak outside of politics from the standpoint of the truth of God’s word. When Christians organize politically, we ultimately reduce the power of the truth to one party, one candidate or one Supreme Court judge. The church becomes a pawn. We are forced to get in bed with people we shouldn’t be in bed with just because of the way those people stand on a few issues we think are important, forcing us to close our eyes to a host of other things that are wrong.
John the Baptist called out King Herod for adultery and lost his head over it. Now what if King Herod was particularly kind to the Jews in one area or another, and John had felt it was in the Jews’ best interest to buddy up to him. What if he had gotten appointed to some high place as a result? What if he had decided to let Herod’s “little indiscretion” go because of what he was gaining for his people? He would have kept his head and the Jews would have gotten a better shake, at least temporarily, from the government. But he also would have lost his right to speak from God in all areas. He would have become a pawn, not a prophet.
William Wilberforce is an example of conviction without compromise and without selling out. If we are going to speak into the culture, we must rise above politics and not become embroiled in it.
Okay, so we’re not all going to become little William Wilberforces, but we all can be smarter and more informed about what is going on culturally and politically. If I have even raised some questions in your mind about politics and Christianity, that’s good. We need to be more thoughtful about our place in the marketplace, and this would be one off those areas that is important. Too many Christians have just gone on with the Christian crowd led by a pastor, an influential speaker or a radio show host and not questioned anything. If you want to do some reading that asks a lot of those questions, here’s a good start. Also, Keith Giles and Os Guinness have each been on our radio show twice. Those podcasts are well worth listening to.
Gregory A. Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church
Keith Giles; Jesus Untangled: Crucifying our Politics to Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb
Cal Thomas & Ed Dobson; Blinded by Might: Can the Religious Right Save America?
Os Guinness; The Global Public Square: Religious Freedom and the Making of a World Safe for Diversity