How to Mix Politics and Religion

By: Dr. Steven C. Riser; ©2004
Pastor Steve Riser gives guidelines for Christian voters as they prepare to go to the polls in November. What should you look for in a candidate? What should we expect from our Government? From ourselves?

Psalm 146:3 “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save.”

Introduction

We’ve heard the expression, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”

I wonder if it’s true that preachers rush in where fools fear to tread? It has been said that there are two things you don’t talk about in polite conversation: 1) politics and 2) religion. Why? Because these are two areas which many feel very strongly about. Why? Because these two issues are based on, and reflect, our core values.

Who said we shouldn’t talk about politics and religion? What could be further from the truth? If there is anything we should talk about, it is how our Christian faith informs our politics.

What could be more important or worthwhile? For, whether we know it or not, our faith and politics both powerfully impact all our lives!

In this article, we are going to consider religion and politics and we are going to see how they relate to one another especially in light of the up-coming election. Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you who to vote for, but I am going to share with you some biblical principles that you need to keep in mind when you enter the voting booth on Election Day. I trust that everyone of voting age is informed on the issues, is registered and is planning to vote!

Is there a danger of mixing politics and religion? You bet there is if the church is tied too closely behind an elephant much less a jackass.

Can the church be too closely aligned to a political party? Yes, if our highest allegiance is to a political party. If our highest allegiance is to God, we won’t yoke ourselves to a cause or party that does not reflect biblical values. It is one thing to separate the institution of the church from the institution of government, which is biblical; it’s entirely another to try and separate God from either. The systematic removal of God from public life is a form of censorship—loony at best, diabolical at worst.

How can we discuss politics in a non-partisan fashion? Two things:

  1. By elevating God’s Word above both political parties and…
  2. By looking at today’s critical issues in light of God’s Word.

Explanation

In Puritan New England, the preachers gave an Election Day sermon. They didn’t shy away from the issues of the day and neither should we. When I visited Williamstown, Virginia I heard a sermon which was preached during the time of the Revolutionary War, and I was struck at how political the sermon was.

Americans are restless people living in a complex world who are abused, confused and deceived.

  1. We are abused by messages that seriously distort the truth and…
  2. We are morally confused as well as spiritually deceived (2 Cor. 4:4).

Some Americans have their minds made up to the point that they don’t want to be persuaded by the truth or convinced by the facts. Such individuals are simply not intellectually honest. “A person persuaded against his will is of the same opinion still.” It’s pointless to speak the truth to those not receptive to it. Forget about what the candidates say, don’t listen to their empty prom­ises. Evaluate them on their record, and think about the clear teaching of the Word of God.

Remember, God is not a Republican or a Democrat and the issue is not “is God on our side,” but rather “are we on God’s side?” No political party has God in their hip pocket. Both political parties must be judged by the clear teaching of the Word of God. While I can’t tell you how to vote, I can help you to clearly identify biblical values by which to evaluate the candidates and the issues. But, we must blast before we can build. We must dispel the false criteria for evaluat­ing candidates before we can identify valid biblical criteria.

What Criteria Shouldn’t We Use In Candidate Evaluation?

Consider the following reasons that shouldn’t determine how we vote:

  1. Human appearance—sad to say but some people (especially women—because the candidates are men) will base their vote on how a particular candidate looks. The Bible says, “Man looks on the outward appearance but God looks on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). We’re ex­tremely superficial if we can’t get beyond a candidate’s physical appearance. Lincoln wasn’t much to look at, but he was a great man—a man of strong Christian character and integrity.
  2. Human tradition (how we were brought up), what our parents taught us. Jesus was very critical of those in His day who set aside the authority of the Word of God in favor of human tradition. Our allegiance to our parents or a particular political party should not take precedence over Jesus and the clear teaching of Holy Scripture.
  3. Personal Economic benefit—historically it’s a fact that most people vote their pocket­books. A “what’s in it for me” attitude is a selfish basis on which to make such an important decision. This is clearly wrong for two reasons: 1) we must consider the welfare of others (not just ourselves) and 2) we must recognize that money is not the bottom line (the most important thing); biblical values are. One of the most amazing things in our day is that any one in their right mind would want to be President of the U.S. No matter who you are or what you do, it’s got to be one of the most difficult jobs in the world. Since the country is fairly evenly divided, no matter what the new President does, a significant portion of the population is not likely to be supportive of his policies. Why are we so divided as a nation? Because, we live in a pluralistic society with a variety of worldviews and a corresponding variety or diversity of values.

What Criteria Should We Use In Candidate Evaluation?

There have been a lot of details, facts and figures that have come out of the mouth of both Presidential candidates, enough to confuse just about anybody. Permit me to share with you some important biblical considerations:

1. What is the candidate’s personal religious faith?

  • Is there any evidence that they are a born again Christian?
  • Do they have a Christian testimony and are they willing to share it? (i.e.—Publicly identify with Christ.)
  • Do they believe that the Bible is God’s Word—the final authority of faith and practice?
  • Both men profess to be Christians, but how do their actions square with their profession?
  • How has their professed faith in Christ influenced the content of their personal worldview? (Only 10% of evangelical Christians and only 1% of Roman Catholics have a biblical worldview.)
  • Would you say that a Christian’s most important value is Christ?

2. What vision does the candidate have for our nation?

  • What better tomorrow do these candidates envision that’s consistent with God’s Word?
  • Is this vision concerned with the welfare of all the people or is this vision concerned with only a segment of society or with special interest groups?
  • Does this vision appeal to envy, covetousness and class warfare or does this vision appeal to some of our higher values and motives?
  • Does the candidate appeal to our hopes and dreams or to our fears and prejudices?

3. Has this candidate proven to be an effective leader?

  • Is he a man of principle or a man of political expediency?
  • Does he have a consistent track record or a mixed voting pattern?
  • Does he know where he’s going, how to get there; does he have the ability to convince others to want to follow?
  • Does he attempt to get along with both parties in Congress?
  • Is he a reconciler or a divider?
  • Does he speak the truth and keep his promises? Or does he speak with a forked tongue?

4. Finally, is he a man of character?

Character is determined by 3 things: whether we 1) know, 2) accept and 3) live by the proper moral values contained in God’s Word.

The bottom line is this: We can’t make right decisions with wrong values. Let’s take a look at some of the values we need to consider in deciding our vote:

What Biblical Values Should Influence Our Vote?

1. In the Garden of Gethsemane, what did Jesus say was the most important issue? GOD’S WILL. He prayed, “Not my will but Thy will be done.” What do we ask God every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer? “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” As Chris­tians, we want to see God’s will realized in our lives and in our relationships.

What is it that will help to realize God’s rule here on earth? The answer is fairly simple, the more we operate by God’s values and priorities the more influence that God has in our lives and relationships. How can we expect to see God’s Kingdom advance if we do not elect those who have the advancement of His kingdom as their primary concern? While we don’t expect politi­cians to do the work of the church, neither should they interfere with the work of the church.

One may ask the question, which candidate is more closely operating by God’s values and priorities? Any healthy relationship is based upon trust and trust is determined in large measure by the truth. Simply put, you can’t trust people who don’t tell the truth. Those of you that are cynical might say, but “all politicians lie or at least exaggerate.” Perhaps, but some lie more than others. A misstatement is different than a lie. A lie involved the intent to deceive. Who can best be trusted to keep their word and act in the best interests of all Americans? You decide!

2. Another value is LOVE. How can you apply the love test to our Presidential candi­dates? It’s rather simple, love seeks to give people what they need, not what they want. Are either of the candidates promising things that some of us want but can’t afford or don’t need? You decide! Jesus was clear that we show our love for Him by obeying His com­mandments (John 14: 21). Is either candidate seeking to know and obey the clear com­mands of Christ? If not, why not?

3. Another value is LIFE. Specifically, the Bible teaches that human life is sacred. We must not only respect life, but we must protect life. None of us have the moral right to deprive an innocent person of their life. Women have not only the right but also the responsibility to deter­mine whether or not they are going to get pregnant, but once they are pregnant they don’t have the moral right to take the life of an innocent little baby. They may have the legal right to an abortion but they do not have the moral right. Why the discrepancy? Because the law of the land, established by the Supreme Court, is not in keeping with God’s law to respect and protect the sanctity of life. Which view best corresponds to Scripture? Even our Constitution says that “we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights and among them are life…” Should not the right to “life” take precedence over the right of “privacy”? If life begins at conception, how can anyone defend being pro-abortion?

4. Another value is the concept of PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY. Paul said that each man should bear his own load. In fact, Paul went so far as to say, “If a man does not work, let him not eat.” This verse assumes, of course, that the person is able to work. Which candidate has a more biblical view of human nature and which candidate holds the average person more re­sponsible for their actions? We must never be misled into thinking that secular education is ever an acceptable substitute for personal repentance and spiritual regeneration.

5. Another issue is: Who makes and WHO INTERPRETS THE LAWS? Specifically, who is going to be appointed to the Supreme Court? Our Founding Fathers established what is known as a division of powers to keep power from becoming too concentrated in the hands of a few. In the Constitution, the Legislature should enact or establish laws and the Supreme Court should interpret laws. What happens when the Court starts legislating as well as interpreting laws? Big problems—the kind we have in our nation today! Which candidate believes that the Constitution should be elastic and flexible and which believes that it should be interpreted according to the intent of the Founding Fathers? Do you want activist judges making laws or do you want judges strictly interpreting the Constitution? You decide!

6. Another biblical principle that relates to economics is the principle of ECONOMIC JUS­TICE. Simply stated, those who work hard and earn income as a result of their efforts have the right to the fruit of their labor. Those who don’t work hard or those who are downright lazy have the right to experience the natural consequences of their actions. Economic justice basically applies the principle that “you reap what you sow” to the economic realm. This is not to say that those whom God has blessed materially should not be charitable, they should. The more people that we can give a hand up instead of a hand out, the more resources are available to help those who can’t help themselves. Christian charity is voluntary; socialism, on the other hand, denies people the biblical right to some of their private property. Which candidate best advo­cates the biblical principle of economic justice and which candidate advocates the secular principle of socialism? You decide!

7. A final issue has to do with THE SANCTITY OF MARRIAGE. The health of any society depends on the health of the marriages and families in that society. Many, if not most, of the social problems we have in our culture can be traced to a breakdown of our marriages and families. It is sad to say, but the only way to protect the institution of marriage is with an amend­ment to the U. S. Constitution. It makes absolutely no sense to say we support the institution of marriage if we’re not willing to protect it with a Constitutional amendment.

Can Government Offer Lasting Solutions to Our Problems?

Regardless of what candidate you are for, please understand that the answer to the funda­mental problems in our society is not found in a human being. One of our problems as a nation is that we are looking to people rather than to God for lasting solutions to our problems. Two of the most important things that we need are trust in God and a proper set of values and priori­ties; and the government can give us neither.

The fact is that we set our leaders up for failure because we expect too much of them and not enough of ourselves. We must never expect the government to do what God expects us to do. In many ways the nation of Israel had the same problem in the Old Testament. God wanted them to trust Him and they wanted to place their faith in an earthly king. The middle verse in the Bible says, “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man” (Psalm 118:8).

It’s not entirely our fault that politicians fail; they set themselves up for failure when they make too many promises that they cannot keep in an effort to get votes. About this time every four years, the gullibility of the American people never creases to amaze me. Part of our fallen na­ture—our still trying to be like God—is that the expectations that we have of ourselves and others don’t square with reality. We are reticent to come to grips with our true limitations. Too many Americans are looking for a savior that is spelled with a small “s” rather than a capital “S.” The truth of the matter is that the problems we have in our country are greater than any politi­cian can solve. At best, more money and education are incomplete solutions to our problems. Is a rich or educated rebel any less a rebel?

Beware of any politician that suggests that the panacea of our problems is found solely in more government, more money or more education. They are not adequate substitutes for proper character, Christian values, personal responsibility, or trust in God. Our trust and faith should be in God, not in a politician. Martin Luther said, “Did we in our own strength confide our battle would be losing….”

Despite our human weakness, God does work through human leadership; so, it is important whom we choose for our leaders. It requires prayer, fasting, soul searching and searching God’s Word for answers. Let me encourage you to choose gifted, honest, humble and God-fearing individuals who know their limitations. People of character and integrity who don’t make prom­ises they can’t keep, who keep the promises they make, and who don’t make claims that are not true. We are to be honest, gracious and realistic in our selection and support of our political leaders. Look for a person who is a servant leader who acts in the best interests of the whole rather than some narrow interest group or segment of society. Christian principles should con­tribute to the well-being of the entire society and not just a segment of it.

Let me ask you a question: Should the politician that makes the most promises or the one with the most integrity become the next President of the United States? You decide!

How does your Christian worldview help you in selecting a President?

What promotes the secular humanistic worldview is politically correct. What promotes the Christian worldview is politically incorrect.

Therefore, the candidate who is most politically incorrect will have a more Christian worldview than the other. Another way to put it is this: If the media are openly hostile to Christianity—and they clearly are—the one whom the media disfavor the most will in all likelihood have a more Christian worldview.

One final question: What is the most important issue facing us as a nation and which candi­date can do a superior job in helping us deal with that issue? The fact of the matter is that since 9/11 we are at war with radical Muslim fundamentalism and western civilization, as we know it, is at stake. Which candidate can do a better job in confronting and defeating international terror­ism of Islamic fundamentalists? Would you rather have the U.N. or the U.S. determine our foreign policy? You decide!

Conclusion

Let God be God and let us be His humble servants serving His purposes. God’s not a Repub­lican, God’s not a Democrat, and God’s not an Independent. God is God! The real question is not whether God is on our side, but rather are we on His side? Vote realizing that we live in a fallen world and therefore we must put our trust in God and not in men. I would challenge all of you who are able to spend between now and the election in prayer and fasting, not only asking God for wisdom in casting your vote but also for the spiritual welfare of the nation!

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