Some church traditions try to separate any aspects of faith from political discourse. Others seem beholden to specific political agendas or parties.
There’s no straightforward answer or magic formula of verses that produce a singular biblical view of politics—least of all modern American politics. If there were, we wouldn’t have such widely distributed affiliations of Christians: Pew Research reports that 43 percent of Americans identify themselves as Republicans while 40 percent identify as Democrats.1
What is the gospel? What is politics?
The gospel is the good news of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ongoing work to redeem the world (succinctly expressed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3–4). The suffering and destruction of humanity are turned on their head and, through Jesus, human flourishing is born out of the impossible.
“Politics” comes from the Greek words polis, meaning city or community. One of Aristotle’s philosophical works is titled Politika, which refers to the “affairs of the people” or “things concerning the state.”
This isn’t a simplistic conservative or liberal matter. At their core, politics are the regular concerns of everyday people. Who do you appeal to when you and your neighbor dispute the property boundary? Does your family have enough to eat today, and what happens if they don’t? How does your community guard against harsh weather or enemy forces? Who makes all these decisions?
One recurring theme in the Bible involves people interacting with government leaders and societal structures that had neglected or forcefully oppressed them or their people. Examples include Moses, Joseph, David, Nehemiah, Esther, Vashti, the daughters of Zelophehad, Daniel, Ruth, and Paul. They addressed earthly leaders with respect, bold calls for justice, and willingness to work within the established system to achieve a more equitable society, while recognizing that ultimate justice and highest honor belong to God.
What did God want the Israelites to do about the enemy superpower, Babylon, which had violently taken Jewish captives to enslave in their empire? Did God call for a public policy of defense and retaliation? No: “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jer 29:7).
When Paul wrote that everyone would confess “Jesus is Lord” in an empire where the dominant message was “Caesar is lord,” he called into question the governing authority and the emperor’s dictates for society.
Jesus’ actions concerned both spiritual and public matters of society, as reflected in his quotation of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free” (Luke 4:18).
Jesus prayed to the Father: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10). The good news Jesus brings is not a distant hope, but an imminent and dynamic force changing the world.
What’s our role?
So is the gospel political? More precisely, do we believe this good news of Jesus has practical implications in the here and now, in both personal and public spheres?
Our task is to tease out those implications while loving God and our neighbors. How will we embody a consistent pro-life ethic that protects the unborn and foster children as well as single parents, the elderly, and victims of war?
How will we care for God’s creation, which he instructed us to steward responsibly?
How will we stand in solidarity with our neighbors pleading for religious freedom, criminal justice reform, and health care that doesn’t spiral them into debt?
How will we, as God commanded the people of Israel, welcome immigrants and refugees into our midst to find holy belonging and family ties deeper than language or tribe?
May God’s kingdom come and his will be done in our cities, states, and nations.
Scripture quotations are from the New International Version.
1 “Religious Landscape Study: Christians,” www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/christians/christian/.