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SOUDER: On politics and religion – in polite company

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It's political season, and the Bible is the ultimate touchstone for our beliefs – or should be.

By Chuck Souder

In case you haven’t been paying attention to the news lately, both major political parties have had their respective conventions, and the presidential election season is now fully under way. Some of you no doubt follow such things very closely with great interest, and others generally dread the next two months of political advertisements that constantly will be interrupting your favorite television shows.

As alert readers will know, I fall into the first category. But not only do I follow the political scene closely, I believe that you should, too – particularly if you are a person of faith.

Of course I realize that many people believe that politics and religion shouldn’t mix, and that neither should be discussed in polite company. I believe that nothing could be further from the truth.

Governing is first and foremost a moral enterprise, as all laws purport to teach us what is right and what is wrong. The familiar cry of those on the political left that those on the political right shouldn’t try to “legislate their morality” belies a misunderstanding of what the words in question actually mean. Because every law legislates someone’s morality, the only question is “whose morality will be legislated?”

So, because both politics and religion concern issues of morality, trying to separate them is not only undesirable, it is impossible.

The reality is that in most elections there are huge differences in the platforms of the major parties and the positions of the candidates, significant differences from a spiritual perspective – differences that should matter to you if you are a Christ-follower. This presidential election is certainly not an exception. As Christians, we must look at our politics through the lens of the Bible to try to see the issues from a biblical perspective.

Noting that in the last presidential election those identifying themselves as Christians split their votes nearly equally, I began a recent class at my church by asking the participants to agree or disagree with this statement:As Christians, our position on social issues should all be very similar. Then, in addition to agreeing or disagreeing, I encouraged class members to explain why they felt as they did.

Now, as you just read that statement, my guess is that it didn’t take very long for you to come up with your response. (Further, if you were to tell me your political persuasion, my guess is that I could tell you what your response was, within a very small margin of error.)

If one follows politics at all, he or she most likely knows what the liberal or conservative positions are on most issues, but the questions I was trying to get my class to consider were these: Is there a Christianposition, that is, a Biblicalposition for those same issues?

If so, do all the issues have a biblical position or just some of them? And, if only some of them do, which ones? If you don’t believe there is a “biblical position” on all the issues, then are there any issues that should take precedence and trump all the others?

After some discussion, our class (rightly, I believe) came to the conclusion that, yes, the Bible does speak directly to the vast majority of social and/or political issues and at least indirectly to the rest. Therefore, that meant that as Christians (that is, as followers of Jesus and his written word, the Bible) our positions on the issues should be very similar.

That led me to a follow-up question: If Christians should have very similar positions on the issues, why was the so-called “Christian vote” largely split in the 2008 election?

I think there are at least three reasons for this seeming contradiction: compartmentalization, confusion and non-commitment. We’ll look at the first of these today and the other two in my next column.

Why do many self-described Christians disagree on the issues? The first reason is what I call compartmentalization. I believe that some well-meaning Christians simply believe that their politics and their religions shouldn’t mix.

However, the reality is that biblical Christianity is an all-encompassing worldview. If we call Jesus our Lord, then he wants, deserves and, in fact, demands to be the Lord over every part of our life.

Back before the last presidential election, I heard Dave Stone, minister at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, explain it like this: Many people, even Christian people, compartmentalize their lives like a chest of drawersthat makes up who we are.

Our job is in one drawer, our family in another and our religion, our recreation and our politics all in drawers of their own. Faith simply goes into a small drawer in the larger chest of drawers that makes up who we are. However, if we are Christians, that means we have made Christ the Lord over all areas of our lives – the whole chest of drawers – including our politics.

A Biblical worldview means that we base all of our thinking on the Bible – not on our opinions. This means we actually need to know what the Bible says about issues before we determine our positions.

So in the drawer of “marriage” our first question should be, “What does Bible say?”

In the drawers of work, entertainment and. yes, even our politics we should start with the same question – what does Bible say?

In reality, our Christian worldview shouldn’t just be a drawer – it is to be the whole chest. As Abraham Kuyper, theologian and former prime minister of Holland said, “There is not one square inch of the whole domain of human existence as to which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry out ‘mine!’ And as he cries out ‘mine!,’ the church cries out ‘his!’”

Though I am sure I will be accused otherwise, I am not necessarily saying here that one can’t be a Christian and be a Democrat or a Republican. What I am saying is that you can’t be a Christ-follower without trying to align your life (and your political opinions) around the Bible.

It is logically and spiritually impossible to say you want to be a Christian, but not a follower of what Jesus taught in the Bible.

Whenever I teach about political issues, my intention is not to swell the ranks of a particular political party. Rather, I teach about political, social and moral issues (usually they are all one and the same) because God has spoken to them in the Bible, and I believe that God’s way is always the best way. That it to say that your life and my life will be better if we align ourselves with God’s truth as described in the Bible.

I believe this to be true both for individuals and for our country as a whole, because doing things God’s way works best whether you believe in him or not.

 

Chuck Souder is on staff at Shelby Christian Church. He can be reached at csouder@shelbychristian.org. Find other columns by Souder at www.SentinelNews.com/columns.