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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

God and Government Pt. 4: Why Politics Engages Some Christians, Repels The Others and Disappoints Just About Everyone By Chris White

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington with his idealism



When we speak of politics we are speaking of organizing, governing, and leading people.  Our English word is an import from the Greek Politikos which in the ancient world carried the idea “relating to the citizens.” This is not a Bible word but is found in the philosophical writings of Plato and Cicero.  There is a difference between religion and politics that needs to be very clear.  Religion, in the broadest sense of the term, means giving God what is due.  This is applicable to all creeds and is especially clear in Christianity where faith and allegiance is due Christ who is the source of salvation.  Religion deals with absolutes such as dogmatic truth and ethics as well as ultimate possibilities such as the full potential of man and the universe.  While politics would love the status of dealing with absolutes it cannot in a liberal democracy (where free citizens elect their leader) because not all share the same religious commitment or worldview.  However, in politics, ultimate possibilities are the coin of every campaign. 

 Here is the overlay with religion which attracts many Christians.  A candidate or party presents a vision of what they will do when elected that resonates with the ethics and worldview of the Christian.  As Christians are charged by God to love their neighbor as themselves, supporting a platform or legislative measure that would point society in a more Christian direction is seen as progress or at least a return to our once firm but crumbling foundation.  Here’s the rub though.  While campaigns present ultimate possibilities to the voter, political power cannot be achieved without bringing together coalitions of people who have differing values.  In practicality this means every voter will likely have to compromise their highest values in differing ways depending on the good that might be achieved if their person is elected.  For some Christians political compromise is tantamount to ethical compromise on their part and thus the climate of politics becomes quite repulsive. 

When your mental furniture is at home with the teachings of Scripture which are absolute, it’s hard to think of compromise as being worthwhile in any setting.  Part of the problem on both sides of this equation is that political campaigns do not encourage circumspect thinking.  The issues and candidates are always presented in stark contrast because in marketing anything, your product must stand out from the others.  Nothing stands out like black and white, right and wrong, good and evil.  Hence we never really get to know the issues or the candidates, just their caricatures.  

But why is it after an election most Christians find themselves disappointed so quickly even if their cause or candidate won?  Well, there’s always the sin thing (which is certainly a big part of it) but that misses a key point: there is a huge gap between campaigning and governing.  Campaigns focus on our ideals and aspirations, governance deals with the reality of what actually can be done in a particular political climate and set of circumstances.  There is an old saying that goes like this: “the two things people should never watch are how sausages are made and how laws are passed.” Rarely are things gained without giving something in compromise and this absolute of politics virtually ensures the disappointment of everyone.

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