It has begun. One major political party hasn’t yet gotten over the results of the last presidential election and the next campaign has already begun. The Democrats have begun the debates among themselves to determine who will head their ticket. The Republicans already know who their standard bearer will be. For those of us whose hearts beat a little faster when the political heat is on it’s a wonderful, giddy, time. For others, some Christians among them, this is a time to avoid the TV and newspapers, spurn radio talk shows and pray for it all to be over. It’s for this second group that I write these words. I’d like to change your mind about the political process. I’d even like to stir a little political passion.
God’s people have not always shunned political action. Moses, for instance, was a political appointee. In his role as second in command of the vast Egyptian empire he had no problem acting on behalf of his co-religionists while at the same time being faithful to the needs of the nation and Pharaoh.
Religious leaders in public office are no new phenomenon. At the beginning of the 20th century Dr. Abraham Kuyper, a leader of the Reformed Church in Holland and founder of the Free University of Amsterdam, became Prime Minister. As a minister of the Gospel, a newspaper editor, a writer, and a politician, Kuyper served his country well. He experienced no remorse over his role as a Christian in the political sphere.
In the United States, such names as Pat Robertson and Jesse Jackson, both ordained ministers, have appeared on presidential primary ballots, one for each of the two major political parties. In 2003, Al Sharpton is in the vying to be the poster boy for the religious left. Many ministers have served as Congressmen and/or Senators. Reverend Governors are far from rare.
So why is it that Americans — including Christians — find it so shocking when Christians express patriotism, run for office, back political candidates, or try to impose their own political agenda on the American political landscape? One wonders, at times, whether by virtue of being “born again” one is supposed to be disenfranchised.
Perhaps a quick look at what conservative Christians tend to believe about the political process is in order.
Simply put, Christians believe that they have a responsibility to work for moral order within their own societies. They believe that the Bible teaches that they should be involved, educated citizens. They also believe that they are mandated to make society a better, more equitable, place in which to live, raise a family and pass on their own set of beliefs.
Christians who understand their Biblical mandate will be involved, somehow, in the running of the towns, the cities and the states. They may be in elective or appointed offices at the federal level. They might be lawyers or judges, seeking to protect the interests of the alien and fatherless. They may also serve as volunteers in civic and charitable organizations, schools, literacy programs, disaster relief boards, or a myriad of other possibilities.
If Christians of a conservative bent were to restrict their activities to the generally-accepted non-profits, they'd hardly merit a notice. But, of course, they do have an agenda. While Christians do not agree on all the specifics, they are increasingly involved in somewhat unpopular causes. The more conservative of them want to influence the public discourse on such subjects as abortion, same-sex marriage, condom distribution in schools, the teaching of creationism, and gambling. Many are just learning how to carry on the debate and how to be heard. They are learning, however. Maybe that's what bothers some folks.
America should not be surprised that presidential hopefuls like Alan Keyes, Gary Bauer, and George W. Bush bring their Christian values into the public arena with them. They believe it's their duty. They don't necessarily want to legislate their own brand of religion, but they all believe that a society without solid moorings in the Judeo-Christian ethical system is a lost society.
A few years back, a candidate for statewide office in Washington wrote that “having ‘done our own thing’ for decades, we are now suffering the gaping devastation of crime, broken homes, abused and aborted children, sexual immorality, drug and alcohol problems, corrupt government, reckless taxing and spending, warped welfare programs and deficient education.” She advocates a return to a Biblical value system. If her analysis of society's condition is anywhere near accurate, can we afford to ignore her message?
The United States, with all its well-publicized faults, has the best, most equitable political system yet invented by mankind. While election cycles in many countries are characterized by shootings, coercion, intimidation and all-out terror campaigns, little of that happens here. Most of the time, especially at local levels, it’s still possible for average folk to get elected or appointed to important positions.
My purpose here is not to load guilt on people. Not everyone can respond in the same manner. Nor can everyone respond at all seasons of life. Raising godly children, for instance, is at least as important as being a godly mayor. I just want us all to recognize that Christians must take a pivotal role in the maintenance of a wholly civil order in society.
We've already seen what the alternative is.