Archive for September, 2012

Religion and Politics Don’t Mix

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”     James 1:27 (NIV)

There has been much discussion about religion during the current presidential election campaign.  At one time or another, candidates from all of the parties have invoked the name of God to support their respective causes (the lone exception perhaps being the National Atheist Party).

With all of the problems in our national politics, it makes one wonder whether God could possibly support any party’s platform.  I recently heard an evangelist state unequivocally that, “neither the Democratic nor the Republican party supports the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”  During the sermon he referenced a publication called “Christ and the Needy,” a piece penned by Abraham Kuyper in 1895.

I’d never heard of Kuyper (also spelled Kuijper), so I decided to Google him.  It turns out he was a Dutch politician and theologian. Based upon my subsequent reading of “Christ and the Needy,” which I found online, he appears to have been theologian first and politician second.

Kuyper, who was a Calvanist, noted that while some politicians might support reforms closely paralleling Jesus’ teachings on social justice, there is one profound difference.  The ultimate aim of a politician’s rhetoric is to get elected and consolidate political power for his/her party; the aim of Jesus Christ’s preaching was to lead lost souls to the Kingdom of Heaven.  For this reason, religion and politics can never successfully mix.

Following Kuyper’s logic, while it’s important for Christians to be informed on key political issues and to vote accordingly, it is unwise to tie one’s Christian beliefs too closely to one political party or another.  Therefore, after careful self-examination, Christians should vote for the candidates whose positions most closely align with their own religious convictions.  This approach does not lend itself to so called “straight ticket” voting.  Each candidate should be judged on his or her own merits.

Reading “Christ and the Needy” got me thinking about a recent trip my wife and I took to Harlan County, Kentucky, my birthplace. Harlan is situated in the extreme southeastern corner of the state, in the heart of Appalachia. Its entire economy is built around coal and little else.

Many if not most of Harlan County’s citizens are in economic dire straits to say the least.  The ramshackle homes of those living in abject poverty are a poignant contradiction to the scenic beauty of the area’s mountains.  Sadly, we don’t hear our presidential candidates talking much about Harlan’s poor or the poor elsewhere in the nation.  Could this be because a large portion of them don’t vote?  James 1:27 states, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”(NIV)

Television comedian and entertainer Stephen Colbert, a Roman Catholic, is quick to comment on politics from a religious perspective.  He recently said of the United States, “If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”

It is fitting and proper for governments to help the poor and needy, but the actions of government are by their very nature “polluted” by the world of politics. Jesus calls upon all Christians to care for those who cannot care for themselves.  He doesn’t tell governments to do this.  Unfortunately, as Colbert so clearly points out, far too many Christians and Christian churches have failed to answer this call.  For the individual Christians and churches that have chosen to lift up the banner of this or that political cause, perhaps your time could be better spent lifting up the cross of Jesus and following Him.