I’ve been thinking about the question of Christian involvement in political activism. And I’ve made the discovery that I’m actually quite conflicted about the subject. On the one hand, it seems a duty of each and every Christian, while one the other, there are very powerful and Scriptural arguments for seeing it as a distraction from the Gospel.
In order to share my ambivalence over this topic, I’m going to describe the two views in the most sympathetic way in the hope of communicating the problem I have. Or had, as I believe I have come to some resolution of the problem using a degree of synthesis.
The first position (A) is that Christian activity in the political sphere is mandatory because the Christian message is a whole-of-life message. The Bible contains political, as well as spiritual, instruction. Therefore, obedience to God’s Word will have direct political ramifications. Moreover, upholding God’s law is required by that law. Opposing sin and promoting righteousness is always worthwhile and never futile, regardless of success. For example, if opposition to abortion saved one baby’s life, it will have been justified, as preserving life is a fulfilment of “loving your neighbour as yourself”. Furthermore, we are creatures of God and His moral law is embedded as absolute truth in His creation. Therefore, our very ‘creatureliness’ demands a desire to uphold God’s law, a duty simply reinforced with the Gospel.
The second, allegedly alternative view (B) is that political activism is a futile distraction from the Christian calling to evangelise. In other words, a political and moral change at the fundamental level can only be achieved when the renewing work of conversion changes hearts, when God supernaturally changes people who will then bear fruit, including the cultural, political, and moral ramifications of salvation. This views states that without the Gospel, it does not matter if someone has the right view on moral matters, such as abortion, euthanasia or homosexuality. They will be damned anyway. In fact, any attempt to superficially transform a society, apart from the Gospel, is a distraction from the Gospel, and will simply antagonise those we should be winning for Christ. This view looks to the New Testament model, where despite a context of paganism for many of the early churches, there is no reference to an imposition of God’s standards on political systems that administered these places. In fact, Paul says “For I am determined not hear anything among except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” 1 Corinthians 2:2.
As I said, both view A and B seem to have both Biblical support and reason on their side. Both seem to make valid points. Yet both can’t be right! So I have decided to formulate a view which utilises the valid points of both views and discards invalid points to create a third synthetic option: view C.
View C, or simply Christian activism as I’d like to call it, states that as salt and light in an increasingly secular society, Christians must use every opportunity to preserve and promote the Gospel. At the same time, we are called to oppose sin and have a moral duty to uphold God’s law. Yet we should never divorce this from the Gospel, else it will become futile. If we seek to reform legislation and public morality without reference to the Gospel, we are implying moral uprightness can be achieved apart from the work of salvation. We in effect make the Gospel redundant. Like Jesus, therefore, we should go about doing good (including the challenging of those who do bad, as Jesus challenged Pharisees and others), yet seeking the lost and relying on the supernatural work of redemption as the only hope of an anti-Christian society.
This kind of Christian activism, due to its emphasis on the Christian Gospel, is consistent with the idea of heavenly citizenship. We are ‘sojourners’ or foreigners in this world, with our eyes set on another Celestial City. Jesus said “My kingdom is not of this earth.” The Christian activist should not give the impression that reforming our present cultural context is a substitute for the Heavenly Kingdom! This does not stop the church’s influence from being sanctifying or uplifting to the world. We are to be ‘heavenly-minded’ as we engage with and seek to influence the world.
View C has a high, presuppositional view of God’s law. God’s law is always worthy of defence and activism, yet an understanding of the power of the Gospel reveals itself as the only effective way to truly reforming a society that has rejected God’s law in favour of man’s own morals. History bears this out, as we see that evangelical awakenings have so often led to political progression. For example, Wilberforce’s campaign against slavery was an effect of his own conversion and the wider evangelical movement that preceded it. Wilberforce was absolutely right to do what he did, but note how the Gospel inspired his campaign.
Although this view of Christian activism deserves to be more fully developed, I hope this quick outline helps resolve the conflicted minds of others, who like me have seen truth in both polar views.