How can a Christian take a stand on issues and put godly pressure on the political system?
In recent announcements about the new Liberty University School of Law and the Jesse Helms School of Government, Jerry Falwell argued that Christians are called to be both salt and light. By evangelizing and spreading the gospel, believers bring light to the world. By working to preserve a culture and bring Biblical standards into politics, they are salt.
Falwell is the quintessential Christian activist. An early advocate of Christian schools, he built a Christian university. Now Christians can receive an education kindergarten-through-Ph.D., he notes, without ever sitting under a “secular humanist.” A generation ago, alarmed by abortion, activist courts, and the removal of the Bible from the public square, Falwell got involved in politics. He started the Moral Majority and played a key role in the election of Ronald Reagan.
Falwell took a stand on issues when most pietistic fundamentalists refused to do anything. (Condemning the activism of the Christian Right, for instance, Bob Jones once called Falwell “the most dangerous man in America.”) Most Christians don’t know it, but Falwell’s mentor in Christian activism —and one of the greatest influences on his life — was the Presbyterian theologian Francis Schaeffer.
As citizens of this Republic, American Christians have a right and an obligation to be involved politically. The spiritual heirs of Francis Schaeffer have a special duty to be salt and light. But we must make sure that our engagement is Biblical and genuinely Christian.
American Christians have ample opportunities to engage the system. In 1984, while a pastor in northern Minnesota, I decided to get involved, and so I talked one of our elders into attending a political caucus in our local township. Nobody else showed up, so Joel and I voted ourselves the chairman and secretary of the Republican Party, passed platform resolutions (pro-life and flat tax measures), and elected ourselves delegates to the county convention, where we guided our platform issues to passage. (However, neither of us wanted to drive to Minneapolis for the state convention, so we gracefully withdrew from politics.)
Our take-over of the Republican Party in Eckles Township was swift, sweet, brief, and uncontested. Of course, our township was very small and, truth be told, nobody much cared who was leading the local Republicans. But there was a real opportunity for Christians who wanted to make a difference: through voter education programs, get-out-the-vote initiatives, candidate recruitment, and pressure for better laws and platforms.1
One of my Christ College students served as an intern this summer with the Peroutka campaign, and is an enthusiastic supporter of the Constitution Party. Neither of the major parties is conservative, and both are prone to compromise, so a third party is the best bet for advancing a Christian agenda. Does this student worry that third parties can’t win and will only be election spoilers? Not at all. Third parties can advance issues (especially moral ones) that major parties will not touch. They can better educate voters, offer real choices, and put pressure on major parties.
Christians must strive to be faithful. Above all, Christians must understand that election results are in God’s hands.
However Christians are involved, it is important to keep the work of the gospel distinct from naked political organizing and manipulation. Some churches register voters, promote parties, boost candidates (with a nod and a wink), and transform themselves into satellite operations of one party or another. This is a dangerous trend. There is only one leader that the church should support, totally and unquestioningly, and that is King Jesus.2
Christians should take every opportunity to inform people of issues from a Biblical frame of reference. Christians are required to teach the nations all things that Jesus commanded (Mt. 28:20), and to teach the full counsel of God’s Word (Ac. 20:27). With educational outreaches, Christians can pick issues they fully support and not worry about being contaminated by compromising parties.
The people in our congregation, for example, serve in a variety of ways. One man is on the board of a crisis pregnancy center. It’s a ministry he supports whole-heartedly. Given the chance, he will eagerly talk about the success of a newly acquired ultrasound machine and the lives that it has saved. Falwell himself started a godparent home, providing unwed mothers an alternative to abortion. Girls in the home receive food and shelter, adoption services, educational benefits, and spiritual guidance — and many are brought to saving faith during counseling.
Another man has a calling to teach Christian principles of government and has become the mentor-teacher for some local homeschool students. Homeschoolers often need help, and Christians with a special area of expertise can have a great outreach to the next generation.
Another young man is concerned about the homosexual cultural jihad. When gays and lesbians assemble in Lynchburg (which they often do to bug Falwell), he is ready for action. With Bible and bullhorn, he preaches the gospel to the parading activists or privately witnesses to them.
Churches can reach out through educational conferences. The ACTRA Conference (Appalachian Conference to Rebuild America) has had a powerful witness in east Tennessee. ACTRA sponsors an annual fall conference where leading Reformed speakers teach Biblical principles and challenge people to make a difference culturally. Over the years, people have been able to hear and meet Rousas Rushdoony, Greg Bahnsen, Ken Gentry, Joe Morecraft, George Grant, Gary DeMar, Herb Titus, Steve Wilkins, Steve Schlissel, Howard Philips, and a host of others.
On October 22, 2004, Westminster Reformed Presbyterian Church sponsored a Conference on Biblical Law and Jurisprudence in Lynchburg, following the ACTRA model. The idea was to reach the community, Liberty University, and the new LU Law School with Biblical principles of government, law and ethics. Our special speaker was theologian and attorney George Gatis. We met at Christ College, had overflow crowds, and had law students visiting with us until 2:00 in the morning! There is reason for hope when people are hungry for the Word of God and its application to all of life.
Ultimately, however, the real issues of life are not political. They are spiritual. We desperately need preachers that focus on the Word, make practical application to believers, and show the Word’s comprehensive utility. Preachers might return to the old tradition of Election Sermons — giving practical instruction on the themes of godly government. A good series might include sermons from Psalm 2, Deuteronomy 17, 1 Samuel 8, Exodus 18, and 1 Chronicles 7.
Christians should educate themselves. Liberty Fund has a number of excellent and inexpensive reprints of classic documents, many of them conservative, many from the period of the American War for Independence. Political Sermons of the American Founding Era, edited by Ellis Sandoz, is especially good. Read for yourself how preachers two hundred years ago explained God’s sovereignty over human affairs and called people to action.
Most importantly, Christians must become people of prayer. In times of calamity, believers must humble themselves, seek the Lord’s face, turn from wickedness and pray (2 Chr. 7:14). We cannot expect national security and prosperity without God’s blessing, and we have no right to expect it if we do not seek Him faithfully. Political activism will never replace the humble petitions of the people of God.
Above all we must acknowledge Christ as our King. Psalm 2 describes the nations in rebellion, and emphasizes the sovereignty of God and the rule of His anointed one. The warning (2:10), which is given especially to kings and judges, is to submit to King Jesus or face His wrath. We put pressure on our nation for godly reform because the consequences of failure are severe. But in becoming salt and light for our generation, we may be able to bring revival and preserve our land.
1. If Christians are to do this well, they must be well-informed. Keeping up with talk radio, though helpful, will not give enough political depth. Christian activists should read broadly, in a variety of journals, to understand what is happening. I would recommend Human Events, The Weekly Standard, and National Review, for instance, to get a sense of what different conservative agendas are.
2. In 1996, I heard a vigorous debate between Dole and Philips supporters after church. The Philips fan wanted the Dole supporter to sign a Constitution Party ballot access petition. He finally broke down her defenses and placed the petition on the Communion Table to await her signature. The Lord’s Day wasn’t a good time circulate petitions, I suggested to my friend, and using the Communion Table for partisan politics just didn’t seem quite right.