A lot of Christians have been taught to believe that it is "more spiritual" to avoid engaging in political issues altogether. On a very basic level, however, this opinion runs contrary to what scripture teaches. Christians are specifically called to be salt and light in an increasingly corrupt and dark world (Matthew 5.13-16), and the implication is that we are to have a positive influence on the society around us. Jesus, as I'll show, was highly involved in political issues in his day. And we have a lot to learn by his examples.
Many people don't even notice Christians today because we tend to blend right in with the scenery, not making a peep regarding extreme corruption, torture, indefinite imprisonment without a trial, the remote control bombing of non-combatant civilians, and so on. This is perhaps one of the main reasons that the Church is often seen as fairly irrelevant today in society. Don't get me wrong, I understand the main reason Christ came was to bring salvation to the lost. However, if you look at the effects of Jesus' life on society, you'll note that women became more respected, marriage was elevated and became more honored, the poor and the sick became viewed as valuable human beings, and so on. All of these changes came to pass because Jesus was not afraid to question social norms and status-quo political activities. And when I refer to political activity, I don't mean mindlessly cheering for the Democrat Party or Republican Party. I am simply using the word activism in a broad sense, in simply acknowledging that Christians are to be involved in society and have active compassion for others in society and the betterment of society, not just people in their local church.
Many pastors teach that we are to submit to the government without question, because of Romans 13, so long as we are not personally called to break any biblical laws. This is a very self-centered view of society in which corruption must be at your doorstep and in your face before you will consider taking a stand for truth and justice. This is not the example Jesus offered in scripture, who went out into society and became a positive influence wherever he was engaged.
Both Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., two incredibly influential activists, attributed their effectiveness as activists to the teachings of Christ. Were they off? Or were they operating in according with the actual teachings of Christ? I would offer that their activism was in keeping with both the letter and the tone of Jesus' teachings. Jesus often took a stand in the name of truth and justice, despite the fact that this put him on the blacklist of the governing body.
The church today is often encumbered by preconceptions about political issues, such as "the separation of church and state" and the desire to maintain tax exempt status. In this respect, we are following government rule more than Christ's rule, even though our collective conscience may be telling us that things such as censored freedom of speech, political torture and pre-flight molestations at TSA screenings are not quite right. You may attend church regularly, but how does your affiliation with church really effect your ability to be salt and light in the world? Are you being conditioned to stand up for light and truth as you are being taught in your church? Or is the opposite? Are you being more strongly conditioned to follow the government and its standards without asking any questions? I see more of the latter today, by far.
The Apostle Paul stood up for truth in a political context.
Paul stated, "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." (1 Corinthians 11:1) And Acts 16.37 describes an incident when Paul was illegally imprisoned and the officials wanted to pass it off quietly and forget about it. And what was Paul's response?
"But Paul said to the officers: 'They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.'" (NIV)
Paul was not afraid to engage in matters of political justice. Because Romans 13 is so often used as an excuse, let's consider what it says. Romans 13. 1 states, "Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established." A lot of Christians believe that, because of this verse, they can pass the buck, so to speak, and abrogate their own personal moral responsibility simply because we are to be "subject to" governmental authorities. But, obviously, Paul was not just following along with whatever he was told by the government. Paul was guided by his conscience and the Spirit to be salt and light in that situation. The key is to differentiate between the position of authority and the laws and commands representative of that position. It is possible to respect a person while at the same time disagreeing with him or her. So often, however, pastors and Christians in general do not make this differentiation, but simply use Romans 13 as a cop out.
It's possible to respect the position while apposing the principle.
This principle was demonstrated by Christ, who was the prophesied King of Israel. When he was questioned by the chief priest at his trial, Jesus spoke with respect to the priest. But Jesus' accusers were offended because they had no valid reply. The officer unjustly slapped Jesus at this point: "When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby slapped him in the face. 'Is this the way you answer the high priest?' he demanded." (John 18.22 NIV)
People can get very frustrated and angry when they don't have a valid reply. If you don't believe me, check some of the secular atheist responses to my questions, such as is the case with P.Z. Meyers and Stephen Law. When a person starts getting upset and name calling in response to a simple question, that's a sign of frustration.
Another example that Christians often use as an excuse for not talking about political issues is Matthew 22, the time when Jesus was questioned regarding paying taxes to Rome, specifically Caesar: "So tell us what you think. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar? Yes or no?" This little episode is described in Matthew 22:17-22 (ERV).
Jesus offered the famous reply, "Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar's. And give to God the things that are God's." In this case, Jesus did not offer any protest or resentment regarding paying taxes, even though he had opportunity to bring it up any possible reasons. Based on this verse, many Christians will state things like, "Jesus always avoided politics, Jesus never opposed Rome, Jesus followed the separation of church and state..." and so on.
However, when you consider the sum of Jesus' life, Jesus' engagements with the government of Rome were very brief in comparison with his engagements with the governing authorities of Israel. Though subservient to Rome, and though also religiously affiliated, the Jews had retained their own functioning political system. During his trial, Jesus was passive and accepted his destiny to be crucified. During his teaching ministry, however, Jesus was frequently engaged in a confrontation with the immediate political leaders of his community, the Sanhedrin.
When Jesus turned the tables, he was confronting political and spiritual leaders.
Most Christians are familiar with the account of Jesus turning the tables in the Temple. Obviously, this was not a legally sanctioned act. It was quite illegal and extremely offensive to the Sanhedrin, who received a cut of the profits from the money changers and sometimes held their meetings in the Royal Stoa close by. The Encyclopedia Urantia website describes the occasional Sanhedrin meeting near the money changers:
"At this time the Sanhedrin itself held its regular meetings in a chamber surrounded by all this babble and confusion of trade and barter."
Jesus stood up for truth and justice, which got him in trouble with corrupt officials.
Jesus did not call for an armed insurrection against Rome, something that the Jews had hoped their "real" messiah would do. No, Jesus operated on a day to day basis in the community standing for truth and justice wherever he went. Nonetheless, Jesus was in some ways a serious threat to the political establishment of Rome because he refused to bow to and worship the system and the Caesar that led it (something that would get countless Christians martyred). And Jesus also upended the social order by honoring the poor with equal respect, honoring women, marriage, and so on.
Sam Schnake's blog offers an example of the kind of social activism Jesus promoted: "When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:12-14).
That was a very radical message at that time. The Jews then believed lepers and sick people were cursed of God due to a problem of sin somewhere in the family line. Unlike Jesus, today, the Church tends to follow along with the status quo patterns of society.
Sadly, cable TV is the main social influence in many Christian's lives. And many of the ideas in the news and in programs are not questioned. I've met Christian leaders, for example, who believe that waterboarding is perfectly acceptable if the government decides it is necessary. When pushed for justification, the Christian leader brought up Romans 13 as a justification for this opinion. I've already addressed that problem. Jesus did not take anything or anyone for granted, but compared all things to the eternal principles established and presented in scripture.
Jesus constantly upset the status quo. He did not just accept ideas because political leaders or religious leaders made claims. He did not follow status-quo patterns. He was willing to challenge his local political leaders if and when they became unethical and Jesus associated with lepers, prostitutes and other people that the system had rejected.
Jesus eschewed the typical opinions and patterns of the status quo system.
Tired of having their corruption pointed out and their profits decreased, the political leaders of Israel had it in for Jesus. Jesus was officially sentenced to a criminal's death by Jewish religious-political leaders prior to the official sentence of death administered by the Romans. The Sanhedrin ruled over both spiritual and political decisions. In handing Jesus over to Pontius Pilat, the Sanhedrin stated the following:
"'If he were not a criminal, 'they replied, 'we would not have handed him over to you.' Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.'" (John 18.30-31 NIV). This verse underscores that the Sanhedrin were not just religious leader, but also political leaders. Since Jesus did in fact oppose their opinions and decisions on many occasions, this renders the typical Christian interpretation of Romans 13 as inadequate. Notice that the Sanhedrin had their own "court" and "officers" - referencing a legal and political system: "But Peter followed him afar off, unto the court of the high priest, and entered in, and sat with the officers, to see the end." (Matthew 26.58 KJV)
Wikipedia outlines the dual spiritual and political nature of the Sanhedrin: "By the end of the Second Temple period, the Sanhedrin reached its pinnacle of importance, legislating all aspects of Jewish religious and political life within the parameters laid down by Biblical and Rabbinic tradition." Wikipedia also notes the presence of the Sanhedrin at the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7. This chapter is usually entitled, "Stephen’s Speech to the Sanhedrin"
At the final stage of his earthly life Jesus did not talk back to or resist the authorities because he knew that all things must be fulfilled in his unjust trial and crucifixion. However, prior to this time, there are many instances where Jesus did not just follow along with whatever the authorities wanted, as would have been the case if the popular interpretation of Romans 13 is true.
A recent email update from Chuck Missler included the following statement by Thomas DeMont:
"The truth is that the leadership of the church must take a stand and change first. Where were all the pastors in Germany during the systematic gathering and slaughtering of Jews? Where do our pastors stand today? My prayer is that many voices will cry out of the wilderness and not worry about offending others or being politically correct."
As the church, we embrace timeless principles of justice and morality. This is not something to be embarrassed about, but something to embrace with confidence. Truth can be disseminated in a spirit of love and compassion to a world so in need of a moral wake up call. The fact is, the secular atheists who promote moral relativism do not have logical arguments to support their moral positions. But we o have strong logical arguments in favor of Christian ethics.
Today, Christians are dominating in global debates on philosophical questions of ethics and justice. So why does the Church seem afraid to speak up and take a stand on the issues?
Peter Singer, the leading ethicist at Princeton, employs flawed logic in attempting to prop up his extremist secular moral views. The work of Sam Harris, another leader in the realm of secular ethics, has been ripped apart by both Christians and secularists. The Christian apologist William Lane Craig, however, does quite well in defending objective Christian ethics against secularists, to the point where top academic secularists shun the thought of debating him publicly and being exposed for embracing illogical and untenable propositions. Instead of hiding our truth and light, we as Christians should be able to stand for it today now more than ever with the assistance of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
The first step for many may be to turn the cable TV off for a little while and take a deep breath. It may come as a shock to many, but cable TV news is often highly censored and does not actually represent a lot of the important issues in society today. Because the Millennial Generation is Internet savvy, I believe they are disenchanted with pastors and churches who seem to be clueless about alternative news and seem to be living in a bubble of insulation from the nitty-gritty reality of what is going on today. The first step towards being involved in society is a sincere willingness to be aware of what is going on in society.
(Note: For an example of how Christians should probably not address political issues, read an article in which John Piper helps to encourage anarchy and violence on the day of Donald Trump's presidential inauguration: "John Piper's Hypocrisy and Destructive Trump Narrative")
Tags: Jesus as activist, why the church is not seen as relevant today, taking a stand for truth, the last days Church