Chuck Colson always reminded us that politics is downstream from culture. But does that mean that Christians should focus all our attention on culture while ignoring the political realm altogether? Hardly. During this week's interview, you'll hear a discussion with Dr. Wayne Grudem and Matt Anderson, two top thinkers and writers on the subject of Christians and politics.
Dr. Wayne Grudem
Say the word "politics," and some people may accuse you of saying a dirty word. But the political realm is, indeed, a reflection of society. And if we're to represent the Lord's ways, we must engage in the process.
Beginning with Dr. Wayne Grudem, professor of theology and biblical studies at Phoenix University in Arizona, and author of "Politics - According to the Bible," John Stonestreet asks his guests to paint a picture of what Christian engagement in the political process looks like. What is the place of politics? How do political and social activism fit together? Which issues are the most important? Why do some Christians obsess over politics while others see it as a lost cause? What should out stance be?
Dr. Grudem offers answers to all of the these questions, outlining a vision of Christian involvement rooted in our duty to live in the city of man as citizens of the City of God. And both history and Scripture, he contends, speak with stark clarity to the importance of our involvement in government.
"When I began to check through history," explains Grudem, "I found out that, throughout history Christians have had a positive influence on laws and governments: Way back in the Roman Empire, outlawing infanticide and child abandonment and abortion in 374 A.D., or in various nations working for the granting of property rights and voting rights and other protections to women, or some very shocking things—Christians led to the law outlawing the burning of widows alive with their dead husbands in India (that was 1829), or the outlawing of binding young women's feet in China... (in 1912). Christians throughout various countries, throughout history have been the leadership in abolishing slavery."
To the charge that politics is external, and thus unrelated to the Christian's primary duty of preaching the Gospel to bring about internal change, Dr. Grudem points to the actions of Jesus and the Apostles themselves, who brought about inward and outward change—transforming hearts and the culture around them. In fact, he says, loving one's neighbor as one's self demands that we strive for just and godly laws as citizens under a democratically-elected government.
And Scripture itself, Dr. Grudem points out, is packed with examples of righteous men and women who worked through the political channels of their societies to bring about just laws and practices, and abolish injustices.
"Joseph, in Genesis 41:40 was the second-in-command over the whole kingdom of Egypt--that's a secular government. Daniel of a high adviser to Nebuchadnezzar, Mordecai was second-in-rank to King Ahasuerus of Persia in Esther 10:3. The prophets prophesied one after another to the kings of Israel, and Paul was on trial before Felix, the Roman governor, and reasoned with him about righteousness and self- control in the coming judgement. That's again counseling a...secular government about God's moral standards. John the Baptist testified to Herod, the Roman ruler about all the evil things he had done.
These are all examples where God's people were involved in influencing secular governments for good. They said, 'There's a call from God on my life. I need to speak God's Truth, God's moral standards, God's righteousness, God's Word into these situations which have to do with the secular governments...to try to bring God's influence and moral standards for good to those governments. I think Christians should imitate that today."
Matthew Lee Anderson
In the second half of this week's program, John turns our attention to questions and objections often raised by today's young Evangelicals and Catholics about Christian political involvement. To answer these questions, he opens the mic to his friend, Matthew Lee Anderson, who is founder of MereOrthodoxy.com and author of "Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter To Our Faith," a book which deals with another area of life deeply neglected by Christian teaching today.
"One of the things that I often hear from younger Evangelicals," says John, "is this idea that, '[politics] just doesn't really change anything.' We've got this polarized society, no one's going to move, and my vote won't make a difference. Is that pretty common of what you hear coming out of many Evangelical circles?"
"A lot of young Evangelicals who are moving toward the center or maybe even toward the Left will say, 'ah, politics doesn't change anything,'" agrees Anderson. Citing social rallying points like abortion, he notes that many Christian students have become disillusioned and jaded toward political efforts toward reform. Because abortion still exists, many conclude that the decades of pro-life political activism have gone nowhere.
But history, he reminds us, teaches a very important lesson. "We haven't ended racism because of our Civil Rights legislation in the 1960s. It still exists. But have things changes because of those laws? Absolutely!"
Ironically, says Anderson, one of the most important ways Christians can be involved in politics is not by voting, running for office, or lobbying Congress for reforms, but by investing our strengths, our resources and our hopes in the Church.
"Christians," he says, "should spend twice as long thinking about what the Church is and what the Church should be doing and trying to act within the Church for the good of society as they do thinking about politics. The Church has a political dimension to it: A strong, robust Church means that we don't need a massively expanding state to provide social services and the like. The more healthy the Church is, the less we have to depend on the government."
In the past, the Church led all other institutions in almost all countries in providing food and housing, medical care and education to the poor and disabled. Only recently in the West, has the welfare state eclipsed the Church as society's primary instrument of charity. This, contends Anderson, is one one of the greatest problems Christians face in politics.
John goes on to ask Anderson about the various issues most popular in our day, and whether there is a hierarchy of concern between causes like abortion and marriage vs. environmentalism and economics.
Perhaps most relevantly, Anderson closes with a reassertion of what Christians ought to consider our most important political cause: our own religious freedom. Without this, he argues, the political involvement to which God calls us will become more and more difficult:
"As the church fades from the public, what's we're seeing is a government that not only feels the need to step in and fill more of those social services, but actually a state which is becoming increasingly hostile to religiously-based social services. To pick on current political issues, the religious freedom questions throughout things like delivery of contraption services and delivery of adoption services—more and more those rules seem to be set up not to allow religious institutions to play nicely in the public square. It's not just that as the Church recedes, the state grows. It's that, as the Church recedes, the state grows more hostile toward the Church."
With both the Republican and Democratic conventions behind us and a national election approaching in which so many of these issues loom large, thinking about the relationship between our faith and our duties as citizens of a secular government is vital—perhaps more than at any time in recent memory. We're hope you're challenged by today's program, and share it with those in your life, both young and old in their faith, who need answers about the "P-word."