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).