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Ryan Peter
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Christians: Stop Pushing your Ideologies Through Politics

25 February 2014, 08:42
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Luke 20

19 The scribes and the chief priests sought to lay hands on him at that very hour, for they perceived that he had told this parable against them, but they feared the people. 20 So they watched him and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor. 21 So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach rightly, and show no partiality, but truly teach the way of God. 22 Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” 23 But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, 24 “Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar's.” 25 He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” 26 And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marvelling at his answer they became silent.

Politics cannot change anyone. Therefore, why are so many Christians trying to legislate Christian morality? Why do we have such a curious mix of Church and State in America? Why, in South Africa, do we regularly see politicians play the church card and see churches swallow the card whole?

I quote this scripture above as it's often misunderstood and it's key to my topic: that Christians should stop blending their faith with politics and creating a weird hybrid that has nothing to do with God and Jesus and more to do with power and control. Jesus preached that we should be servants of others, not have power over others.

Mark 10: 42 - 45

And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

This is a far cry from what we see happening in both the American Christian Right and Christian Left. In South Africa, it's a far cry from what we see happening in churches all over the country and in organisations that are lobbying for Christian morals to be legislated in this country.

The verse in Luke above is a famous verse that's used to support the idea of separating the church and the state. I still believe that's a good idea, even if it's not very popular these days (and, let's face it, it's never really been practiced well or been very popular). Jesus talks about Caesar's 'likeness' on the coin because what He is doing is referring back to Genesis 1, where it says the God created humankind in His likeness. In other words, give to Caesar what bears his likeness, and give to God what bears His likeness – ourselves.

The question was asked in a politically charged time. Israel was occupied by the Romans, what they would consider to be a Pagan force, occupying them against God's will. If Jesus had said that they should not pay their taxes to Caesar, they could have called the Roman authorities on Him; if He said that they should, they could have called him a Roman sympathiser – an ungodly traitor of God's people. Jesus, however, raises something new – an idea that had never before surfaced in the history of the world – a separation of faith and politics. In other words, it's your heart that matters, not your political affiliation.

He lived this out himself by repeatedly refusing to side with any political cause. In fact, His team of disciples even included Simon the Zealot – who previously belonged to a group of freedom fighters who wanted to see Rome tossed out violently; and Matthew the tax collector – who was collecting taxes from the Jewish people on behalf of Rome and, therefore, seen as a traitor. Jesus invites both of these radicals onto his team, because what He was about was none of this politics stuff.

Why I believe this is important

Right now, America finds itself increasingly polarised between the Right and Left – the Christian Right, mostly, and even a Christian Left. Both of these sides, as it were, miss the point. They both try and use the Bible as some form of textbook for politics and legislation, missing the heart completely. While the Old Testament was mostly about legislation and social order, the New Testament is mostly about the individual's heart. This is why Jesus can say that while the Old Testament spoke of an “eye for an eye” he says we should rather “not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also...” (Matthew 5:38 – 48).

The “eye for an eye” law was about ensuring the justice system didn't permit people to go further than what was necessary (“You took my eye, well I'm taking both your eyes, legs and arms also!”). We typically don't apply fair justice unless someone forces us to – generally, if someone wrongs us, we seek to wrong them double for what they did to get back. The Old Testament law here prohibited that. The point that Jesus is making is that a nation's justice system should have an “eye for an eye” but in our personal capacity we should turn the other cheek and always seek to go further than the justice system in our love toward others.

Repeatedly, Jesus shows that the Kingdom of God is not a political Kingdom and therefore not legislated or advanced through political means. Christian morals are not supposed to be legislated, they're supposed to be lived out by the choice of an individual.

Which brings me to South Africa

Right now, there are some “Christian organisations” (if there is such a thing) that want to have Christian morality legislated in South Africa. I'm thinking of the Family Policy Institute in this case, which “ acts as the Christian voice in government and the media, lobbying on current issues that concern each and every Christian.” Actually, I don't feel they do this at all.

Come election time, my inbox is going to be regularly inundated with stuff from Christians saying I must vote for this or that party which stands up for “Christian” ideals. No, if the party did stand for Christian ideals, it wouldn't be a political party! It would be too busy getting busy with the things that really matter in people's lives, not busy making empty speeches, garnering votes and playing the game, as it were!

I have no problems with Christians being in politics, but I do have problems with Christian organisations lobbying to have Christian morality legislated. How is that going to change anything? It won't. In fact, it might even make things worse – as it has in the past.

The problem is this: legislation does not change people's hearts. The church was never meant to bear the sword, that's the state's job – and it is supposed to use that sword to protect its people, not harm them. Typically, it'll do the opposite when it mixes with any kind of religion. Our history is full of times when the Church did bear the sword alongside the State and the result was often disastrous. Not always disastrous – there was a high middle ages and the 'dark ages'. But you give anyone absolute political power and they will wield that sword against the people to keep the power. People who think religion is evil don't realise that it's not religion that's evil, it's politics – and that's because, actually, people are evil and will use political and religious power very nicely together. And if it's not about pushing forward a religion-state, then it can be about pushing forward a non religion state (Soviet Union as an example). Either way, it's about controlling people's personal choices and lives.

It's interesting to note that the mix between religion and state is exactly what the Bible preaches against in the book of Revelation. Ever wondered what the Beast and the False Prophet are about? State and religion.

Legislating Christian ideals (which is impossible based on the very ideals of Christianity – that being, that Christianity is not about politics) puts people's backs up against the teachings of Jesus, assuming that Jesus was all about morals and shoving morals “down people's throats” as the popular saying goes. In other words, they assume Jesus was and is all about gaining power when Jesus was all about serving. If any Christian wants to see change in this world, which we all do, then we need to stop mixing our faith and politics together – let these two function separately. Become a politician if you feel compelled that way, but don't use your positions of power to make people serve your ideologies. In fact, use the opportunity to show that politics doesn't have to be about ruling and having power, but about serving!

Last thought

No one's going to change until their heart changes. No political system will bring the peace and prosperity we all want – because politics cannot change people, it can only force people. Therefore, my request to Christians is this: stop mixing your faith and politics together. Rather, start living out your faith as Jesus intended – not through lobbying and shouting, but through serving and loving.

I've written more about this at”>my blog if anyone is interested.

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