Where I Stand Politically
In this incredibly partisan and politically divisive time, it seems that any time I communicate thoughts about topics that I regard as biblical—topics such as immigration, abortion or civility in public discourse—I receive a flood of emails and Facebook messages telling me that I’m becoming “too political”. So, I thought I might offer a few of my thoughts regarding one pastor’s perspective on politics.
God is neither a Republican nor a Democrat. God is not a Socialist, a Capitalist, a Communist or a Nationalist. All of these labels are modern political categories that are utterly foreign to the forms of government found in the Old Testament (a theocracy) or the New Testament (an empire). Christians have both thrived and struggled under all forms of government. No modern political party supports all of the priorities that a thoughtful biblical Christian should hold. All political parties are appropriately subjected to critique by thoughtful biblical Christians.
Christianity is ALWAYS injured when it allies itself too closely with any political party or government.
Most observers believe that the cause of Christ was severely injured by the alliance of Christianity with the Roman government after the Emperor Constantine’s conversion in the early fourth century. Indeed, many historians have called the alliance between the church and the Roman government “the Constantinian captivity” of the church. As a result of this alliance, the church embraced an increasingly Roman form of government for the internal organization of the church. The church supported the forced conversion of pagans to Christianity and the persecution of people who were not Christian. Political power has always been a source of great temptation for the church in every age.
In recent years, various streams of the church have allied themselves with one or the other of the political parties in America. In the 1960’s, mainline churches allied themselves with the Democratic Party and lost many conservative church members as a result. In the 1980’s and in an increasing way in the 21st century, white evangelicals have allied themselves with the Republican Party. This is one of the reasons that Millennials have rejected the evangelical church and have turned from the faith of their parents and grandparents.
Christians should never buy the WHOLE PACKAGE of any political party’s platform
. Christians should, in my opinion, be issues voters not party voters. Sometimes a Christian may agree with certain principles promoted by the Republican Party. Sometimes a Christian may agree with certain principles promoted by the Democratic Party. Often a Christian will disagree with both parties and say that “no political party represents my own biblical perspectives”. And with political parties switching their own positions at head-spinning speed, even the parties themselves don’t buy the whole package that they said they believed just a few years ago.
Let me share with you a few of my own personal political perspectives. Some of my perspectives may surprise you. Others may encourage you. Some may upset you. I offer these, not to persuade you, but rather to communicate to you how one person who is attempting to be a thoughtful Christian citizen approaches the world of politics.
1. First of all, I read widely
. I regularly read the New York Times (a generally liberal newspaper with several conservative editorial writers). My go-to political website is the Ethics in Public Policy Center (eppc.org) which contains some of the best thinkers, in my opinion, writing from a conservative perspective. I flip through the Fox News site and the CNN site a couple of times a week and I regularly read the Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, Slate and First Things. In other words, I intentionally expose myself to thinking from both sides of the political spectrum.
2. I value civility
. Indeed, one of the most tragic occurrences in recent years is the loss of public civility. It is very difficult to carry on a thoughtful, gracious conversation on social media without being trolled or having someone level a personal attack either at the writer of the post or someone who supports or critiques the writer. Civility entails showing tact, moderation and good manners toward people who are different than us, and toward viewpoints that are different than our own. For me, part of learning to function maturely as Christians in this world is learning how to communicate politely. Families used to train children to be civil. No longer. Rarely has there been a better opportunity for Christians to shine as lights in a dark world than now.
3. I believe in a balanced federal budget
(which historically was considered a conservative perspective). In my opinion, running up the national debt that must be paid by future generations is every bit as immoral as Marlene and me running up our credit card and then expecting my children or grandchildren to pay our debts. The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:14, “After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children.” Debt in the Bible is generally seen as a bad thing. Thus, I am generally opposed to increasing the national debt, just as I am generally opposed to increasing my own family’s personal debt.
4. I believe in national budgets that prefer the poor over the wealthy
(this would generally be considered a more liberal position). In choosing where we ought to spend money, I believe the government’s first priority ought to be on the poor and the needy. Psalm 72 communicates the attributes of a righteous king.
It says in Psalm 72: 4, 12-14 (NIV):
4 May he defend the afflicted among the people
and save the children of the needy;
may he crush the oppressor.
12 For he will deliver the needy who cry out,
the afflicted who have no one to help.
13 He will take pity on the weak and the needy
and save the needy from death.
14 He will rescue them from oppression and violence,
for precious is their blood in his sight.
5. I am pro-life
(which is generally considered to be a conservative position). But I’m not only anti-abortion, I’m also anti-euthanasia (also a conservative opinion) and anti-capital punishment (a liberal position). For 40 years, I have been unwaveringly anti-abortion and anti-euthanasia. I’ve spoken before the Ohio Legislature in support of restrictions on abortion. I’ve written numerous congregational newsletters regarding my pro-life position and have preached on the subject of abortion on more than 10 occasions. The reason that I’m pro-life is because I believe that God is the author and owner of our lives. As Psalm 100 puts it in some translations,
“It is he who has made us, and not we ourselves. We are his people and the sheep of his pasture.”
My rejection of capital punishment is rooted in the tragic reality that the vast majority of people facing the death penalty are poor and people of color. We simply do not practice equal justice under the law, given our unequal access to quality legal representatives, etc. For more on this subject, pick up Bryan Stevenson’s powerful book, Just Mercy.
6. I believe in small government and the principle of subsidiarity
. Simply stated, subsidiarity suggests that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized authority. Political decisions ought to be handled at a local level if possible, rather than a state level and ought to be handled at the state level if possible, rather than the national level. The principle of subsidiarity opens up space for institutions, other than the government, to influence our society—such as the church, community organizations, small business owners, unions, etc. What we see in scripture is a deep concern about the aggregation of power in the hands of a national government (1 Samuel 8:10-18).
7. I believe in having a very welcoming policy for refugees fleeing from persecution and for immigrants looking for a better life
(which is generally considered a more liberal position). I absolutely do not believe in open borders. But the Bible is, from beginning to end, extremely generous to immigrants. Indeed, immigrants are always classed alongside widows and orphans as those to whom special care should be given. In Deuteronomy 24:17 it says: “Do not deprive the foreigner or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. “ (See Exod. 23:9; 22:21; Lev. 19:33; Deut. 10:19).
Thus, I support what used to be called Comprehensive Immigration Reform, which is an earned pathway for undocumented immigrants to become citizens (this was a conservative Republican and a liberal Democratic view as recently as 2012). Comprehensive Immigration Reform was supported on both sides of the aisle. Being welcoming to immigrants has, in the last two years, become a mark of being more liberal.
8. I believe in obedience to laws generally
(a conservative view), because of biblical texts like Romans 13. I also believe in civil disobedience (occasionally) which is a more liberal position when our laws violate God’s higher law (Acts 5:27-29).
I hope you can see by this very brief list that I do not in any way fit within the confines of any current political party. I pray that if you are a Christian your views do not totally fit within the confines of any political party. I do not expect many of our church members to agree with me on all points. I do expect that over the course of my 31 years of church ministry, I have persuaded most people that my deepest commitment is to bring the scriptures to bear, as best as I can, on all of life and on all of our thinking. I passionately want the members of Vineyard Columbus to be thinking, biblical Christians!