Politics & ReligionBy Nathan Mates
Some would say that politics and religion are two subjects to be avoided during formal dinner conversation-- they generate too much controversy, ill will, and divisive feelings. However, having written a fair amount so far on religion, and this being election season, I think it's somewhat appropriate to investigate the mix between politics and religion. In the interests of full disclosure, I'll be upfront about my views: I'm fairly conservative (aka right wing) on social & moral issues, and conservative/libertarian (pro-free enterprise, anti-high taxes, etc) on economic issues.
Looking at the Bible, we see that Israel was to be a Holy nation, set apart as God's people. From the beginning of their existence as a nation, there was always to be a high priest, ministering for the people to God-- see Leviticus 8 for the ordination of Aaron. However, there was also the concept of a leader for the people in non-religious duties, which Moses filled. Moses was the one who'd told Pharaoh to let the people go, it was Moses who received the ten commandments, it was also Moses who was in charge of waging war: "The LORD said to Moses, "Do not be afraid of him, for I have handed him over to you, with his whole army and his land. Do to him what you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon." So they struck him down, together with his sons and his whole army, leaving them no survivors. And they took possession of his land." [Numbers 22:34-35]
After Moses, Joshua led the people in their conquest of their promised land, while the high priestly line continued under Eleazar, Aaron's son. [Numbers 20:25-28] Joshua continued the management of some civil cases, as Moses had started [Exodus 18:13-26], which led to the tradition of judges in charge of Israel. Samuel, one of the later judges of Israel, has this said about his pattern of doing so: "Samuel continued as judge over Israel all the days of his life. From year to year he went on a circuit from Bethel to Gilgal to Mizpah, judging Israel in all those places." [1 Samuel 7:15-16]
The book of Judges explains why there had been a long series of judges: "Whenever the LORD raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the LORD had compassion on them as they groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them. But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their fathers, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways." [Judges 2:18-19]
However, as Samuel aged, a request was made: the Israelites wanted a king. [1 Samuel 8:4] This request was not unforeseen; in fact God had told the Israelites through Moses that they would eventually seek a King, and laid down rules for his behavior: "When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, "Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us," be sure to appoint over you the king the LORD your God chooses. He must be from among your own brothers. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not a brother Israelite." [Deuteronomy 17:14-15, section continues through verse 20]
Even though God knew of the Israelites eventual demand for a king, and approved of the concept of kingship long in advance, there was a problem with the request made to Samuel: it was for the wrong reasons. Samuel would soon die, and the Philistines were starting to harass them once again. While Samuel was praying, "And the LORD told him: "Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king." [1 Samuel 8:7]
Instead of the Israelites' continuing with more judges, Samuel says this to the Israelites: "But you have now rejected your God, who saves you out of all your calamities and distresses. And you have said, 'No, set a king over us.'" [1 Samuel 10:19] and "But when you saw that Nahash king of the Ammonites was moving against you, you said to me, 'No, we want a king to rule over us'--even though the LORD your God was your king." [1 Samuel 12:12]
In return, the Israelites got someone as their King: Saul. His characteristics were what the Israelites wanted to rescue them from their current mess: kinda big, kinda strong, [1 Samuel 9:2], a good warrior. If I were casting a movie on this, Arnold Schwartzenegger would be my first choice to play Saul. Unfortunately, Saul was also kinda dumb-- and this hurt both him and the nation. Saul's refusal to let Samuel, a priest, offer sacrifices [1 Samuel 13:7-13], Saul's foolish military decisions [1 Samuel 14:28-30], and Saul's refusal to obey God [1 Samuel 15:17-23] were all huge mistakes.
With God, motives are as important as what's asked for this is commented on later in the New Testament: "When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures." [James 4:3] The Israelites got what they wanted: someone to fight the Philistines, but forgot to ask instead for a Godly ruler. Their motives were in rejecting God, so their king did the same, rejecting God.
Fast forward to the year 2000 A.D. Instead of a King picked without the say of the people, many countries are democracies where the people have the chance to vote, influencing the process. What leaders we (as a nation) choose do affect us, for better or for worse. It is our right to speak out what our personal priorities are in selecting leaders, yet many don't. From those who have the tempermant to run for office (and some who don't), some choose to run for office.
Some Christians are also involved in politics beyond simply voting, but in trying to organize voters to vote as a block, or fielding candidates. That can be a good thing in and of itself-- I believe there are and have been a number of leaders whose policies have hurt this nation. However, just as with Saul, motives count just as much as the desired results. If a Christian merely wants to "stick it to God's enemies in politics," they're likely to end up with someone vindictive, someone ill-tempered, and who gives Christians a bad name.
So, our motives for being involved in politics shouldn't be motivated by getting back at perceived enemies. It shouldn't be to impose our will on others. It should be to glorify God. Our participation, our words, our deeds in all areas-- in politics, at work, at home, everywhere-- should be motivated by a love for God and a desire to serve his will. As we head into this election year, I hope you will take the time to let God search your heart [Psalm 139:23-24], and reveal any desires-- for politics, for work, for home, for everywhere-- that you have that may be motivated by the flesh, and that those desires will be turned solely towards God.