There is a growing tendency within the church to call any issue a “political issue.” Examples include how we treat refugees and immigrants, racial reconciliation, climate change and creation care, gun control, care for the poor, sexuality, gender, and marriage issues. My problem isn’t connecting faith and politics (which should be done), but that this often is a way of stiff-arming contemporary issues from the Bible. Rather than approaching a topic from our faith, everything is viewed through its political angle, party disputes, and social divides.
My thesis or main point is while everything might have political consequences, that’s different from claiming something is a “political issue.”
Everything is a theological issue, meaning it connects to God and His Word, and many of our biblical conclusions should be applied to government policies and cultural institutions, but these are first theological/biblical issues. Don’t ignore issues by saying something is political rather than spiritual, and don’t root your conclusions on these issues in your opinions rather than God’s objective Word.
Here are a couple primary concerns with labeling things as “political issues.”
- It’s a way to avoid bringing our faith (the Bible) to bear on every issue. It limits the Bible’s sufficiency and authority to only “directly” spiritual or personal matters.
By labeling things as political, many Christians separate theology or biblical teaching on significant matters from social, economic, cultural, governmental, or moral issues. In reality, many of the things being labeled “political” are “biblical issues,” meaning the Bible weighs in on them or provides wisdom for responding to them (in varying degrees). Stating something is “political” is often intended to keep Christians from bringing their faith to bear on broader discussions when the Bible should inform and direct our views and conversations.
- When we view something as a political issue, our starting point, or the authority informing and direct our thoughts on the matter, will be something other than the Bible. A political party, the news, social media, personal opinions, or the views of those around me will carry the greatest weight in how we think about these issues and then how we respond in our own life.
We often approach subjects from the wrong angle or reference point. While some call an issue a “political issue” and don’t want it brought up within the church—either publicly or in group settings—they often have strong stances on these issues, and it is often primarily from a “political” starting point. Because political parties are so heated and people entrench themselves in a camp they vehemently defend, too many Christians approach a subject first from its political implications—rather than starting with biblical teaching. This might be out of commitment to a party, fear of where others might take a view or conclusions, past experiences, political or American priorities we elevate to a demand or idolatrous desire (comfort, safety, affluence), or because we make our Christianity a private matter.
However, and this is my key point, Christians must first begin with Scripture and its teaching and move from there by applying it to other realms, such as politics, finances, social justice issues, discipleship issues, or anything else. The Bible must inform our convictions and views. Included in that, the Bible must inform our political views, not vice versa. But many adopt views or make statements suggesting conservatism or progressivism eclipses their biblical convictions. It’s not that they’ve gotten behind an issue (or more), but that what’s leading them in their thoughts, words, and behaviors isn’t first and foremost Scripture.
The proper starting point is asking, “What does the Bible have to say on this matter?” We begin with biblical theology, and from that starting place and in wisdom we try to apply Scripture to a broad range of issues. Christians will disagree on how things are best applied, but we must try to begin with and apply the Bible. My hope isn’t necessarily that we would all agree on the right policies and community practices as we apply Scripture. My hope is we’re at least beginning with and intentionally seeking to apply correctly the Bible. Our dialogue must remain charitable, and the less clear Scripture is on something the greater humility and openness we should have. But if we’re all beginning with Scripture rather than our opinions or what we’ve been told by the news outlets we watch, then the Bible gives us a place to enter into these conversations (at least among fellow believers). We both are trying to explain how what we’re saying is rooted in a study of God’s Word (not simply ripping a verse or two out of context and not by dismissing Scripture if we don’t like it).
This is where things have political consequence, but are not necessarily political issues.
“The Bible is the book by which all our political activity will be judged…the Bible does not tell us what to do on trade policy, carbon dioxide emissions, and public education. But it does tell us that whatever we do in these domains will be measured by the principles of righteousness and justice explicitly established in the Bible.” (Jonathan Leeman, How the Nations Rage, 80, 81)
As Christians, we want to participate in healthy, Christ-honoring conversations where truth is presented and grace is displayed. Both what we say and how we say it matter. The world does not know how to communicate well where genuine listening and sharing of ideas takes place. If someone disagrees, the normal path is defensiveness and attack. Conversation breaks down and it’s a “me versus you” mentality. People no longer know how to disagree with civility. The church can be salt-and-light, willing to engage in hard conversations thoughtfully but also lovingly.
As Christians we must begin all conversations and engage any viewpoint, policy, or practice from the starting point of the Bible. And not by blindly believing something is biblical or ripping a verse out of context, but by really understanding and applying Scripture. We need to be careful nothing overrides or outweighs the Bible, and that nothing shades our interpretation of it. We seek to understand God’s Word, but then we don’t stop there. Convictions lead us to in wisdom seek to apply biblical truth to all areas of life, including how we treat others, our politics, how we spend our money, what we’re concerned about, and how we best love our neighbors.
To learn more about practical ways to pursue hard but healthy conversations with people we disagree with, join us this Sunday night at our College Park Fishers Forum.