Christians and Politics: Engaging A Wider Community [1]

In the Evangelical spectrum of Christianity, engagement most commonly occurs with the right wing of the political spectrum. We shall attempt here to discuss why this is so, and how this could contradict with other Christian viewpoints of society. As evangelicals, we are well aware that a lot of political engagement in our part of the wider Christian / Church community tends to be at the conservative end of the spectrum. Groups like Family First and the Conservative / New Conservative parties in NZ, Australian Christian Lobby, Christian Concern (UK) and the “Christian Coalition” type groups in the US, have been among the most prominent politically focused voices in evangelical circles worldwide. The common theme for all of these groups is that society and its core units such as the family are under threat from secular / liberal / left-wing political policies and that politics should be more reflective of Christian viewpoints.

We understand that there is a strong desire among these groups to have a society that is more focused on the key dogmas, doctrines and beliefs of traditional Christianity. However, the main objective of such groups operating in the US, and we think probably also elsewhere, has been to champion Dominionism or a form of theocracy as the ideal type of government that would ideally operate in a country or countries. This is just the beginning of controversy because we do not know if this is really compatible with the New Testament model of the world. We only have the narrative of the Book of Revelation (often widely misinterpreted by dispensationalists and other kinds of eschatologists) to suggest that God’s model for a society should be somewhat analogous to the Old Testament view of the world, with the Nation of God (Israel) operating independently of other nations. Even if that is the case, does that mean that humans in a secular society should advocate for a form of civil governance that approximates the theocratic governance when Jesus Himself returns to rule the earth?

The key question for Christians who are in a secular society is whether they should campaign for and attempt to have introduced a theocratic form of government. The New Testament does not really concern itself at all with the form of governance for Christians who are living within secular societies. That was the way God’s people lived at the time; it was particularly relevant to the Jews, who were still largely residing within their homeland, but under foreign governance. However, the time in which Jesus carried out his earthly ministry preceded the sacking of the Jewish temple and consequent expulsion of the Jews from the Holy Land by only a few decades. The majority of the New Testament Church era to date has existed within a period of history in which both Jews and Christians have lived in societies all over the world, except for the current resurgence of the State of Israel since 1948, which continues parallel to secular nations in which the majority of Christians continue to reside. But Israel in the modern era is democratically governed, just as are most countries worldwide, and the modern Jewish state is quite different from its Old Testament heritage. The biggest question to be answered is therefore whether we should conflate the present day Israel with its theocratic roots, and therefore whether we should likewise champion theocratic political principles in Christian influenced countries worldwide.

The key problem for any Christians engaging with a secular political system is that there are differing views of how to apply Christian beliefs into a modern society. On the conservative end of the political spectrum, key beliefs are associated with smaller government and lower taxation. This tends to be the viewpoint espoused by the Christian Coalition type groups in the US, who have particularly aligned themselves to the Republican Party, and are often seen to be supporting key fiscal policies of that party. However, the bigger concern is the underlying belief that is being expressed, which boils down to an assumption that Christians are a privileged class of people, that God will always look after them, and that non Christians should be marginalised in society. This explains a great deal about the huge financial inequality in the United States. CC supporters claim that churches are capable of meeting all social needs and can do a better job than government. However, this is only true if churches are financially resourced to the same level as the government. This is obviously where the obvious progression is towards churches becoming the government, which would supposedly resolve those questions in one fell swoop. The real problem with this argument is the expectation of a separation of church and state. Church is one thing, and state is another. The role of government is very different from the role of church, since church only caters for one particular part of society. It would be impossible to theocratise the government in any society where Christians are in a minority, because this would be opposed or overthrown by the majority. However, in the minds of theocratists or dominionists, they are actually helping to usher in the Second Coming of Christ and the millenium referred to in the Book of Revelation.

In Part 2 we will take a more indepth look into the problems and conflicts resulting from evangelical Christian supporting of secular conservative politics.