Is there wisdom in the call to keep our religion and politics separate? Or not? There are some voices saying very loudly that if you’re a true Christian, you will always vote Republican. Others get more specific and say that those who don’t vote for Donald Trump in this election are not true Christians. Both of these statements are wrong at best and idolatrous at worst. Does that then mean that we must keep these two spheres separate? That our religious beliefs have no bearing on our political involvement? I don’t think that’s the right approach either.

In truth, our politics and our religion shape each other. But not in the way the Christian voter guides seem to believe. It’s not about telling you which measures and candidates fit a Christian worldview. It’s more a matter of being formed by Christian worship and letting our constantly formed selves engage in the political process. I’ll follow some of James K.A. Smith’s thoughts on how this plays out.

As the Church, we gather regularly to be reminded of the deepest realities: that we have been created in the image of God, that though we are broken and unable to heal ourselves, Jesus has sacrificed himself on our behalf and offers us healing and forgiveness through his death and resurrection, that he is the ultimate King and Judge who will someday right every wrong and establish a perfect society. So when we engage in these deep realities as the Church, we are renewing our minds (as Paul says in Rom. 12:2) and reshaping the core of our being, so that when we step into political engagement of various types, we step in as people shaped by the Gospel and the community of Christ. Again, this is so much deeper than being told which candidate is supposedly the “Christian choice.”

“We’re told that true Christians vote Republican. Can this really be a Christian approach to politics? Politics and religion shape each other, but not like that. We are shaped by worship, which then forms our engagement.”

Picture yourself in a Church gathering. When we read, preach, and meditate on Scripture, we are reminding ourselves that there is a true King infinitely higher than any public official, that there is a higher allegiance that trumps all others, that the Good News is a proclamation of a specific King and Kingdom that we can never equate with any person or proposition on a ballot. We remind each other that “pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27). We once again fill our imaginations with narratives of God leading the weak to victory and of Jesus forgiving those who attacked him. We are reminded of vital truths like sin and forgiveness, holiness and justice, humility and love, peace and patience, and so many others.

This continual reading and rereading of Scriptures refines and shapes us on an ongoing basis, and this process fits us for political involvement in a way that reading the denominational voting guides never could.

When we take the Lord’s Supper together, we are invited to a meal (of sorts) to which everyone is invited. We are formed by the sacrificial act that this meal commemorates. Jesus’ self-emptying sacrifice plots a path forward for the manner of our own political engagement (along with every other aspect of our lives). As those who regularly take Communion, we don’t battle for dominance, we find ways to serve, to consider other people more important than ourselves. We are reminded that though we must roll up our sleeves and get to work in every area of society, what ails us most deeply is ultimately healed by the blood of one who died and rose again.

When we gather for worship, we form an assembly that gives a picture to our own selves and the world around us that we are citizens of a different kingdom. In that kingdom, the weak are the strong, the greatest treasures are hidden in frail earthen vessels, and the last are first. In this kingdom, we are taught to wait on the Lord, not to accomplish our own ends in our own timeframe at any cost. Christian theology has always carried the tension between the already and the not yet. Already we have been united to and transformed by Christ. But we are not yet experiencing that reality as we one day will. Christ’s kingdom is already here, but its fullness has not yet arrived.

Worship keeps us from following the tactics of others around us, who work themselves to the bone in desperation, who labor in fear, who have no outside help to lean on in seeing their ends made real, who make use of negativity and fear and manipulation to accomplish their goals.

And when we leave our gatherings, we are sending one another back into the world with a reminder of the mission that has always been ours.

Above all, Christian worship reminds us that our allegiance lies in only one place. We place of faith in Jesus. Ultimately, faith is not a what word; it’s a who word. It’s about pledging our allegiance to Jesus. That does not preclude political involvement in the kingdoms of this world, but it should make us think twice about what it means to pledge our allegiance elsewhere.

Notice that in this post, I’m not calling us to do something extra. I’m calling all of us to lean further into the things that are already there. If we let these things shape us more deeply, if we allow the impact of our Christian worship to extend to every aspect of our lives, not just our Sunday morning selves, then every element of our political engagement will be deeply formed by Jesus—whether others consider it “Christian” or not.

Mark has been serving in pastoral roles for over 15 years. After a decade in various teaching and administrative roles at Eternity Bible College, Mark now works with Ryan as an associate pastor in Sacramento, California. His books include Resonate: Enjoying God’s Gift of Music and the New York Times bestseller Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples, which he co-authored with Francis Chan. This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. There are costs associated with running the blog. These links help to cover overhead.

7 COMMENTS

  1. At the heart of it all to me is an apparent cultural trajectory within the Evangelical church created by what it is we hope to ultimately get out of our political engagement. If we think we are going to take America back for God at the ballot box…we are kidding ourselves and worse falling into a seduction. I’m not sure that narrative was even created in the church as much as RNC headquarters utilizing Christian culture champions as their consultants. Christians are a voting block. But so is Wall Street and so is Gun rights advocates and Zionism advocates. And in classic form the way to coalesce every voting block is by engineering an existential threat or great hill to conquer. “By the way did you hear the liberals want to use CoVid to shut our churches down for good? Protect religious freedom and Vote Republican in November!“

    Somewhere along the way the Evangelical movement became seduced by political promise. We can advance God’s kingdom by getting our people elected. We can roll back the devils agenda by filling high offices with our people. We can legislate and adjudicate morality in this nation if only we can push those $%&#@ liberals and gays and muslims out. Then God will bless America again. It never gets said this way but it appears at times that the church in America thinks it’s going to take over America and have it ready to give it to King Jesus when he returns. But do we realize that the path to such victories is filled with unconstitutional measures and civil rights violations of all kinds. Don’t look now but our Christian founding fathers gave us a system where many unbiblical things could become freedom.

    Slowly we have forgotten both scripture and history. Jesus told us the kingdom we fight for is not of this world thus we do not fight in worldly ways. Yet I see Christians and even churches that seem to be raring for civil war. We think we are ready for battle when actually our willingness to trust carnal weapons means we are already utterly defeated.

    It would have been fascinating to study how the church cozied up to Constantine 300 years into the New Covenant. I wonder how many parallels we might find in their justifications with ours today. John the Revelator in describing the whore riding the beast was considered by Luther to be a prophecy of the church leaving Christ and riding Rome. However I wonder sometimes if the apocalypse contains within it prophetic predictions of a certain time or if it’s more so a template of how every age might come to an end with spiritual corruption arising through political seduction.

    So what is the role of the Christian? I say vote your conscience but don’t buy into the illusion of total conquest. Don’t invest your own credibility and witness in a politician. You have no idea how they really live or what they really. And for goodness sake let’s stop trying to anoint politicians with holy oil. All we end up doing is slipping in it and falling on our jackasses.

  2. The hardest thing for me to get my head and heart around is when I see “the tactics of others” (who work themselves to the bone in desperation, who labor in fear, who make use of negativity and fear and manipulation to accomplish their goals.) more often in people who identify as Christian than those who don’t.

  3. I am a conservative who used to work in politics. Since leaving that world, I can look back and see how it became such an idol for me, a convenient substitute for truly following God’s heart. I have felt deep conviction about how my call as a Christ follower doesn’t fit a party platform. This morning I was get tangled again in my thoughts about what should happen with the latest political crisis. I have strong opinions, but they are based on my political instincts, not the Holy Spirit. I was again convicted about my call as a Christ follower and had to step back. It would be so much easier to “own the libs” than love them. It’s only through the surrender to the Holy Spirit’s conviction and influence that it’s possible. He always does His part. Thank you Lord.

    Thank you for this article. I have to keep leaning further into what’s already there.

  4. Thank you, Mark, for all these thoughtful articles on politics. It’s such a breath of fresh air in a very divisive, angry time and I couldn’t agree more with your call for Christians to get back to the heart of what matters — Jesus. A couple weekends ago I was reminded of Revelation 5 as an unveiling of who truly sits on the throne and who truly deserves honor, power, and glory. I think you’re right that Christians don’t necessarily need to disengage from politics but I think we could do a better job of approaching it with humility, thoughtfulness, and a heart soft towards God. For me I feel like that means sometimes I align with more conservative platforms and other times more liberal and sometimes neither. But my prayer is that I try to view things through God’s eyes with the ultimate focus on his mission in the world. I know I do that imperfectly and it’s definitely a struggle in a world that’s very polarized.

  5. Thank you for this article Mark. Jesus should be our focus in whatever political environment we find ourselves in. How many Christians around the world continue to share the love of Jesus in their differing political environments. I should do the same in this environment or whatever environment comes.

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