Welcome to the season of hot political rhetoric. Not that this is new. History shows that political arguments have always been warm to hot in American life. And the Bible has always played a role in American politics. Sometimes the Bible has had a positive influence because of its emphasis on justice and truth. At other times the Bible is kicked around like a soccer ball without interpretive integrity. Despite Jefferson’s desire to see a “wall of separation” between the state and religions, it is a low wall at best. As we enter this election season here are a few thoughts about the Bible and politics.
1. Christianity is not dependent on the winds of political change for its existence, power or future. The faith of Jesus Christ has grown and endured all manner of political vicissitudes throughout its history. It started in a totalitarian Roman context and today it is thriving in many diverse circumstances in the world. In fact the majority of Christians today live in South America, Africa and Asia.
2. Christians in free countries should vote, and participate in the discussions of issues in the public square. Freedom is a gift from God to be cherished and responsibly used.
3. With freedom comes responsibility. Christians should rise above the rhetoric of lies and distortions common to political campaigns. In this age of Internet and email, Christians should seek to promote the truth. This means, for example, fact checking politically charged emails before forwarding them!
4. Biblically based religion itself may aggravate people as Christians take a stand for moral principles. But so much as it is possible Christians should seek to promote peace, but not by sacrificing truth, justice and moral principles.
5. In American history the Bible, when represented with integrity, has often served as a conscience to the nation. The call of the Churches is to speak prophetically to power, that is to witness to the nations that God is God, and his will is to be followed. Such a witness does not come with a guarantee of immediate success. Nevertheless, the Kingdom of God will be established at last.
For a good resource about religion and politics in American history see: The Founding Fathers and the Debate Over Religion in Revolutionary America. Edited by Matthew Harris and Thomas Kidd, Oxford University Press, 2012. (ISBN 9780195326505).
“God is portrayed as a mass of vagueness behind a veil of enigmas, and His voice has become alien to our minds, to our hearts, to our souls. We have learned to listen to every ego except the ‘I’ of God.” (Abraham Joshua Heschel, Moral Grandeur 186)
Rebbe Heschel well summarized the sickness that is overtaking the Western world. It has become commonplace to think that ideas about God are non-factual, and thus purely subjective. The biblical record is no longer viewed as history, and therefore its lessons can only have personal implications but cannot command even a minimal assent. So biblical religion is no longer a matter of knowledge. This type of view negates the entire biblical pattern of thought.
According to the Bible knowledge matters. God is a self-aware knowing and knowable Person, not an impersonal force. The rejection of the knowledge of God is one of the chief reasons for the mess humankind is in. As the Apostle Paul put it: “since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done” (Romans 1:28). A depraved mind leads to depraved behavior.
The scriptures repeatedly call us to knowledge: In Romans 10:2 Paul refers to those who are zealous for God but ‘their zeal is not based on knowledge.” In Ephesians 4 we learn that the body of Christ is growing toward unity ”in the faith and knowledge of the Son of God.’ First Corinthians 13 tells us that our present knowledge is imperfect, we see “through a glass darkly.”
The Christian churches are called to bear witness to the knowledge of God. This is the view that prevailed in American Christianity up until the present time. To do this there needs to be a fresh call to study and learn the biblical content, and see again that intellect and faith are not enemies but friends when informed by biblical patterns of thought.
The faith of the Bible does not begin with “accept Jesus as your Savior.” It begins rather with, “In the Beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1) The message of the Bible is a comprehensive world-view message that includes all things. It is a message that is intended to shape everything about human life. It weakens Christianity when this point is missed. The Christian faith reaffirms creation with the emphasis that Jesus the Christ is Lord of all things, for “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. . . And the Word became flesh . . .” (John 1:1, 14). Only with this background can we understand why the biblical record ends with the declaration that Jesus is “King of kings, and Lord of lords.” (Revelation 19:16) Christians in the West need to get hold of this if they are to be adequately prepared for the coming days when powerful forces will use every means to silence the message of Jesus. A shallow, superficial and short-sighted faith will not endure well. The mighty Roman Empire tried to silence the Christians and ended up conquered by them. This was possible because of a faith that was willing to die, and unwilling to compromise basic principles. For them there could be only one Lord of life and death; the one who is before all things, an in whom all things hold together (Colossians 1:17).