‘We don’t do God,’ said Alistair Campbell, somewhat famously, cutting off a Vanity Fair interview with his then boss Tony Blair. It’s turned out to be one of his most memorable quotes from his tenure but the irony is, of course, that Prime Minister Blair was an active Christian who prayed into his decisions.
At the same time politicians from both sides of the house will mention their own faith in God. And agitators will film videos where they point at the whole system and explain what Jesus would have said about it all.
So where do we get any clarity? When people who make opposite decisions and have vastly different policies say that their faith inspires them, or claim to represent what Jesus would do, who do we believe? Or are the atheists like Campbell on the nail when they say that religion and politics should not mix?
My ‘we don’t do God’ was simply part of a view that in UK politics, it is always quite dangerous to mix religion and politics…
– Alistair Campbell’s blog
To say the two should not mix is to misunderstand the nature of faith and its impact on all areas of a person’s life, or worse to disenfranchise those of faith and bar them from office. So how do the two engage? I’m not a politician, so I can only write from the perspective of faith, but I think it’s an important question to look at and think about. How should Christians engage with politics? How would Jesus vote?
To engage or not to engage?
I grew up in a church where members were instructed not to vote, lest they unintentionally get in the way of God’s will. Politics was a no go area. If we look in the bible, however, we see that the call to faith doesn’t pull people out of the world but rather makes the believer a carrier of the truth into the world.
I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.
– John 17:15-19
God’s intent was never that we withdraw from the world or from the normal functioning of society. It is way bigger than that; God intends for us to take His truth into the world and transform it from the inside out. I would love to see more Christians in politics, not dictating that others should follow our ways but rather bringing the truth that God is reconciling all creation to Himself into that role. Making decisions based on justice, mercy, humility, kindness. Is that not the best imaginable template for a politician?
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
– Micah 6:8
We see throughout history, and in the early church, that figures from right across society came to faith; instead of ceasing to carry out their duties they carried out their duties in line with their faith. They used what skills, position, and opportunity they had to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to their sphere of influence. Should Christians be in politics? Yes, Christians should be everywhere.
The Kingdom of Heaven is about God’s justice, God’s coming to set everything right and restore and reconcile creation back to the way he intended it to be; it’s expansion is not through subjugation of people to our religious whims but through partnering with God in bringing justice to all people. We can all do something to help bring that Kingdom into a reality, whether we are politicians or poets, podiatrists or proletarians.
The king people needed, not the king people wanted
Jesus arrived on the scene in the middle of a political maelstrom that we are still feeling the effects of today. The people of Judea were oppressed by the Roman Empire, the latest in a long line of people who had trodden on them. Discontent was everywhere and, within the lifetime of Jesus’ followers, the city their world centred on would be besieged, broken and razed to the ground.
Jesus was the king people needed, not the king people wanted. As he approached Jerusalem they waved palm branches, the symbol of Judas Maccabeus who overthrew the Seleucid Empire a couple of centuries before. They expected Jesus to do the same. The most popular thing Jesus could have done would have been to find a sword and launch a revolt against Rome. Instead, when asked about paying taxes to Rome? He advocated submission. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.
Jesus didn’t comment on the politics of His day, which is why I don’t think He would spend a lot of time commenting on who you should vote for today. Instead Jesus pursued a more radical political agenda; love God and love your neighbour as yourself. Transform the way that you live your life, that you deal with the people who you come into contact with. Transform society not by overthrowing governments but by taking love and justice into your neighbourhood and workplace.
Jesus pursued a more radical political agenda; love God and love your neighbour as yourself.
Within less than three centuries of His death, Christianity had become the religion of the Roman Empire. It’s adherents all over the world had a reputation for their love and ability to look after the poor, a reputation that provoked one Roman Emperor to rage at the fact that the care given by Christians was so comprehensive and wide reaching.
For it is disgraceful when no Jew is a beggar and the impious Galileans support our poor in addition to their own.
– Julian the Apostate, Roman Emperor (361 – 363 AD)
Today over two billion people are followers of Christ. Most of what we consider the core of Western values started actually as Judeo-Christian values. Jesus changed the world without ever needing to tell His followers to act politically because His agenda is more radical than that, not less.
So, how would Jesus vote?
You often have people on opposite sides of the political spectrum trying to claim Jesus legacy as a radical, as a pioneer of human rights, and as a voice for good. So which one is telling the truth? Which one is worthy of your vote?
I really do not believe that any politician or party can stake their claim as speaking for or representing Christ. Jesus could tell you who to vote for, but if you read what He told His followers you will find that He is far more interested in how you live.
Jesus could tell you who to vote for, but if you read what He told His followers you will find that He is far more interested in how you live.
Will Jesus tell you how to vote? He could do, but I doubt it. That doesn’t mean you should not, on the contrary, I would encourage everyone to engage in democracy as it is one of the many means by which you can make a difference. So how do you decide? By prayerfully considering which of the options will best line up with the heart of loving your God and your neighbour.
Some decisions are obvious – some politicians market themselves by hating your neighbour – but often? Often it comes down to you making an honest choice on what you believe will be best, on whose policies you believe will help to establish more justice. Whose policies come in line the most with the aims of the kingdom? Who comes the closest to representing the cause of justice, mercy, and kindness?
And always remember, How you live is far more important than how you vote.