People often say the two topics we ought to avoid at the dinner table are religion and politics. In this episode, we talk about both. How should a new Christian, or an established one, think about politics? What does the Bible say about politics, human institutions, and governance? Although religion and politics are often taboo at the dinner table, both mean a great deal to all of us. Sifting through the jargon and the modern propaganda in order to discern how the believing person should best consider politics is an important part of living well.


Talking politics and religion

Mark: So this is something that we are told that we should never, ever do in modern society, which is talk about politics or religion, but especially politics and religion. But if you’ve become a new believer and you are really transformed in Christ, it means you have a particular value set that comes from the Bible. And it’s literally impossible for that not to affect your politics, because if you look at what politics actually is, politics is how we organize in groups of people to influence other people. Religion, at its root, is defined as how we organize around a set of moral principles. So if you think about that, if you do politics without any reference to moral principles, that seems really bad. I would call that evil, actually, politics with no moral principle. So you really need guiding moral principles in politics. If you’re a person of faith, then your faith, your belief in Jesus Christ is going to be there. That’s where you’re going to get your guiding principles from. So does it affect your politics? Heck, yeah, it affects your politics. So what does that really mean? For me as a person who does politics for a living it had a tremendous effect on how I look at the world, how I see my job, and how I interact with other people in the political world. It was all affected by that. In fact, the organization that I formed was built around the concept that we were going to do politics, but we were going to do politics as Christians. We were not doing Christian politics. That’s a different thing. I want to make a distinction. Our organization wasn’t set up to pursue Christian policies. There are organizations that do that. We were doing other political stuff. But Tim, when you and I founded this, this is one of the things we talked about–politics is this mean, nasty, dirty brass knuckle business. And we were not going to do it that way. We were going to do it as Christians in the political arena. So can you talk about what that means when suddenly now you’re a faith person and you’re looking at politics?

Defining politics vs. government

Tim: You know, we actually use the word politics. We say like office politics, and family politics. What other ways do we use it?

M: Church politics.

T: Church politics. Yeah, we’ve talked about church quite a bit. And when we use that, what we usually mean is when people are organizing and interacting in a negative, self-seeking way, that’s how we usually use it.

M: I hate the politics in church or something like that.

T: Right. Now, when people are functioning in a really constructive way, we typically don’t call that politics.

M: It’s true. That’s really interesting.

T: But it is. What proper terminology would be is: self-seeking, strong exploit the weak politics, and self-governing, love your neighbor politics. That’s really the two distinctions, which happen to correspond with the path that leads to life and the path that leads to death that shows up all through the Bible. Galatians 5 says, “Use your freedom to make choices constructively. God made you to be free. God gave you these choices. He set you free from sin so you can make choices. Now, you actually are not trapped in the flesh. You have the ability to come apart from it, but you can still choose the flesh and when you do, you get biting and devouring.” Well, that’s that’s the part we usually call politics, right? And if you love your neighbor as yourself, then you get love as the outcome and choose that instead. That’s Galatians 5. That’s a New Testament book. Okay, so the other way we use the word “politics” is to mean government– electing officials and doing things in government. Now, we use it all these different ways. All negative, all negative. And then government.

M: I would say all negative when you say government, too.

Government positives 

T: Well, government has a lot of really positive things in it. God set up government. God created government for our good. And it’s very, very clear why. Without government, without human government, the Earth filled with violence and God had to flood it and start it all over again. And so government’s purpose is that God gave moral authority to humans to use violence to contain violence. So there’s certain kinds of violence that we look at and say “That violence has moral authority.” The police protecting people, for example, when they do it according to the law. And there are certain kinds of violence that is not moral–somebody threatening to kill someone if they don’t shut their business down because they’re a competitor. We’d say that’s immoral. So so government has a really great function. It’s a really important thing that humans do together. And it’s an exercise of an authority that God gave to humanity. But we tend to use the word politics, because when power happens, it tends to get abused. So what does that mean? Well, we have some choices to make as Christians. One is to say, “well, that is an arena where bad things happen. Therefore, we’re going to withdraw because we don’t like bad things”. Is there anywhere in the Bible where it says, “Please do not have a positive impact on this particular area of life”?

Be the light and salt

M: No. In particular, where there are bad things, we should go in and bring light.

T: That we’re supposed to be “a light on the hill.” It doesn’t say “be salt,” except in this area.

M: Except where it’s really dark.

T: Except when it’s really dark. I would say any place that you look, whether it’s the worst slums, like where Mother Teresa did–which I think all of us would look at and say is a stellar example of Christian charity– or the halls of power, where there’s tremendous temptation to use that for ill, and everything in between, the light of the gospel needs to go. And different people are equipped and and gifted to do different aspects of that.

M: In other words, you can’t find somewhere in Scripture where it says, “Don’t get engaged in politics if you’re a Christian.” I keep asking folks. Literally, I have people tell me, “Well, I don’t want to be involved in politics. I’m a Christian.” And I keep asking, “Well, is that in scripture somewhere?”

T: If you really believe that, then you would get out of church. Because it’s full of politics. You would withdraw from your family because it’s full of politics.

Joey: Your office.

T: You’d have to go off the grid and live in the mountains by yourself–

M: By yourself.

Separation from politics = separation from society

T:–and eat pine nuts. Because you would have to wall yourself off from all interactions. I think the important thing to understand about political parties is that they’re just addresses. I live at a certain address on the street and I live at that address, but it’s me that’s in there that matters. If I move, the address is still the same and our two political parties are just addresses and they change. They change their views over time. That’s number one.

M: So depending who lives inside the party, the ideas set changes.

T: The idea set changes. Number two, the two parties, what they have in common–is a desire to be in charge.

M: Right.

T: That’s the least common denominator that everybody in each party has. And number three, the two parties, once they get in power, the people who are in power, the elected people and the people in power of those parties actually tend to have more in common with each other than they do the rest of us. So you’ll see these parties’ posture as “We’re for this and we’re for that.” And often it’s almost like you’ve got, I would imagine, the guys who might run a wrestling event or are some other sort of stage combat. Some kind of a stage combat, “Okay, who’s going to win? Who’s going to lose? What are we going to say? Who’s going to be the villain? Who’s going to be the hero?” What they’re actually trying to do is create divisions among the people and the people that are putting out the “We’re for the children, to end abortion.” They could care less about that. They’re just trying to get people to come and elect them. So you have to have open eyes about the parties, they don’t actually stand for anything, they stand for themselves being in power. That’s number one. Number two, you have to say, “Okay, me as a voter. Me as an activist. So how can I use my voice to go around that system and actually change it where they actually will stand for things that are biblical?” So it’s very difficult. I think it’s very difficult to support things that are unbiblical. But could you still work inside of the Democratic Party? Yeah, absolutely. I work inside the Republican Party. I have tremendous enemies in the Republican Party that can’t stand me, because what I try to do is root out hypocrisy, from my perspective, the people that don’t like me would have a different perspective, obviously. But what I’m doing is saying, “Look, you should do what you say you’re going to do. If you say one thing and then do something else, that’s corrupt. And the people who want to say one thing and do another do not like that. As you would expect. And there’s lots of them. That’s a kind of corruption. I make the analogy to Jesus in the Pharisees. The Pharisees said the right thing, but they didn’t do it.

M: The Pharisees were the religious rulers of the time among the Jews.

T: They were the rigid religious rulers and had the right platform. They said the right things, but they weren’t doing them. And Jesus castigated them and went after them full bore. So, me as an activist Christian, I say, “Okay, if I want to work within the Republican Party and I take that principle, I’d say my job is to attack hypocrisy and say, ‘you people should be doing what you say you’re going to do.’” If I want to work inside the Democratic Party, I would say “What you’re saying you want to do is wrong and need to be doing something that’s right.” And then, at the end of the day, both parties come up with some candidate and you have flawed candidate A and flawed candidate B because they’re both human. And then you have to make a decision– which of these flawed candidates is going to do the least harm and most likely to do good? And we as the people, what we should be doing is not trusting in any person, no matter what party they’re in. What we should be doing as the population is making the path of least resistance for the politicians to do what is biblical, which is to create a government that supports self-governance and love your neighbor. The maximum amount of opportunity for people to make choices, to love their neighbor. So, I don’t see loyalty to a party as a biblical thing, as a Christian thing, or wearing a particular label. But on the other hand, it’s easy to get duped by either party. And you absolutely don’t want to do that. So you want to be in a position where you say, “In order to win my support, you guys have to actually do what you say and you guys need to change what you’re saying.” And I think we can have that influence and have that impact without expressing loyalty to anyone but our head, which is Christ.

J: You know, in the vein of not being duped or being wary of that, it reminds me of this little group of people that Paul went to called the Bereans. And there’s this great little verse in the New Testament which says “the Bereans, after hearing what Paul had to say, went and tested the scriptures for themselves”. So they didn’t just take any narrative or any teaching at face value, but they went into the scripture with an open heart, with an open mind, to allow it to teach them what to do.

God appoints US as authorities

T: I think, if you look at Romans 13, it says “God appoints the authorities for every society.” So “Whoever the authority is, honor that authority. He did it for good that they might dissuade evil and honor good.” So that’s the purpose of government. And that’s written by the Apostle Paul, who was persecuted by Rome and ultimately martyred by them. He had multiple instances where he did a lot of illegal things because they were against God. So this is, in context, there’s always a hierarchy of morality and ultimately we report to God. But government is below that. Unless there is a direct contradiction, we want to honor the authority of government. Who is that in America? It’s us. It’s “We, the people.” He appointed us. I’m one of 330 million people. What can I do? Answer: all you can. Do your proper role, in your proper spot. So each of us has a responsibility to do that “enough study” to play the role that we’re called to.

J: Going back to that, we get this all the time about living in New York, “How could you be in a place like that?” I would say, going back to what we said before about, there’s no place to we shouldn’t go into. I would even go a step further and say this. There’s no place where Christ isn’t. So the choice we have is to either allow him to be ignored in a particular space or to engage with Him and try to elevate the voice of Christ in a particular space.

T: And there’s going to be places where if you do that, you’re going to be kicked out. There’s countries in this world where that’s the case. There are social groups where that’s the case. And there certainly are political arenas where they don’t want anything to do with that. But, you do what you can.

M: Some people would say that if you bring your religion to your politics, you’re promoting a theocracy or that you want religious rule in America. What would you say to that?

T: Well, there’s two ways to do life. One is the “strong exploit the weak” and the other is “love your neighbor as yourself”, and the strong protect and elevate. So a theocracy is when I use my religion as an excuse to power over you.

M: Right.

Don’t be the strong man

T: So that’s just another form of strong man. Strong exploit the weak. Nothing unusual about it. If you’ll think about history, Every strong man always wants to be a god. The pharaoh became a god. The Sultan became the Caliph.

M: Right.

T: The king became the head of the church. 

J: Caesar.

T: Caesar became a god. Why is that? Because I want the moral authority. I want the source of the moral authority and the actual moral authority to come to one place. And then I can do whatever I want. I have no bounds. I have no limits. That’s just another version of that. And I think it is something that people can do and it should be resisted. But if we bring our biblical values into politics in a proper way, then we should be doing it because we want self-governance, which means more choices for other people, the most choices you can give the people and still have boundaries where you have a civil society.