NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–What are the two things that people say you should never talk about in polite company? Religion and politics. Why is that?
I believe it is because both religion and politics are about controversial positions. One person takes the position that Jesus is Lord, and the only way to salvation. Another person might take the position that Jesus never even existed. It is hard for those two people to have a polite conversion about religion because their positions are so opposite.
Politics is also a controversial thing. Some people are dyed-in-the-wool Republicans; others are lifelong Democrats. These two will have a very hard time politely discussing politics. What’s even more uncomfortable for many people is to discuss politics within the framework of religion. There is perhaps nothing more unpleasant than for a Sunday School class discussion to turn into a political argument over the president and his policies. I would say that most pastors want nothing to do with politics and almost never mention political issues (especially the really controversial ones like abortion, “gay marriage,” evolution in schools, etc.) at all in their sermons.
Now, we Southern Baptists have always prided ourselves on being “people of the Book.” That is, we believe in the inerrant Word of God, the Bible, and take the Bible as our cue for doctrine and methodology. So what does the Bible say about politics? Guess what? The English word, “politics,” is not even found in the Bible (it comes from a Greek word, “polis,” meaning “city-state”). In fact, the Bible doesn’t use the words “ballot box,” “voting,” “primaries,” “political parties,” “candidates,” “president,” “legislature” or “Congress,” either. So, does that mean that God doesn’t care about political things? Quite to the contrary.
You see, all those terms that I’ve just mentioned are not in the English Bible because those things really didn’t exist when the Bible was written. In fact, during biblical times, there were no elected officials or constitutional amendments. There were only kings and subjects, and the law of the land was whatever the king decreed. By the way, God cared a lot about what the kings did. If you don’t believe me, read the Old Testament prophets and look at what happened to John the Baptist. The prophets spent nearly all of their time lobbying the kings, by the direct command of God. So the iconic words that we use today to describe our form of government are not in the Bible, but the concepts are there. Consider:
The Bible tells us that God created three institutions: the home, the church and the government.
1. The family was created in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2).
2. The church was created by the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2).
3. The government was created with the first King of Israel, Saul (1 Samuel 10-12).
In Tennessee for example, the state capitol has lobbyists and governmental relations representatives from every philosophical position under the sun, except from the churches. There are lobbyists at the state capitol that represent porn shops and strip clubs, lobbyists who represent the ACLU, the homosexual agenda, liberal feminism, comprehensive sex-ed and the distribution of condoms in schools, abortion on demand (and paid for by taxpayers), atheism and pushing God and religion out of the public schools. But with all the thousands of churches in Tennessee, there is not one paid lobbyist that officially represents a church or Protestant denomination on the Hill. I would expect that this is true in many other states, as well. But, why is that?
One would think that if God gave mankind three institutions, his children would place importance on all three. Churches and denominations spend lots of money and time, and lots of sermons are preached and books are written, on “doing church.” We spend lots of money and time, and lots of sermons are preached and books are written, on the family. We have Bible study classes and conferences all the time designed to strengthen and shape the church and the family: marriage enrichment, parenting, church planting, missions. But what are our churches and denominations doing to strengthen and shape the government?
If you are still not convinced that God cares about politics, consider how many times His word addresses the subject. In the NIV Bible, there are 642 verses that refer to law, laws and lawlessness. There are 211 verses that refer to judgment, judges, and judging, and 561 verses that speak about justice. There are 195 verses that talk about courts, 301 verses that talk about ruling and rulers, and 100 verses that speak of governing and government. And, finally, in case you still think that God doesn’t care about politics, law and government, remember what the Old Testament prophet Isaiah said about the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders” (Isaiah 9:6).
I think we can surmise that Jesus cares about government since it all sits on his shoulders. All in all, there are 2,010 Bible verses about the God-given institution of government.
God does care — very much — about politics. In this mid-term election season, it is imperative that Christians be the “salt of the earth” and “light of the world” in the electoral process. Learning where your candidates stand, and voting based on biblical values, is simply part of being good stewards of the blessings of being an American citizen. Remember, that most of our brothers and sisters in Christ, across the world and throughout time, have lived under autocratic rule where they had no say in public policy. God has given Americans a rare blessing to be able to elect those who rule over us, so let’s be good stewards of that blessing.
David Shelley is pastor of Smith Springs Baptist Church in Nashville and author of “Church and State: Being Salt and Light in the Public Square” He also is vice president or church and community relations for the Family Action Council of Tennessee (Factn.org).