Historians have different emphases in their study of the past. Mine is the influence of Christian faith on a society and its outworking in government. I am a student of “governing,” not politics per se. While the two cannot be separated, I do think it’s important to keep the distinctions.
Government is something God wants, if it follows His prescription for how to carry out its responsibilities. Politics is the often messy pathway for figuring out who does the governing, and it is sometimes rather discouraging to see its inner workings.
I’m reminded of C. S. Lewis’s rather pointed comment in the essay “Membership”:
A sick society must think much about politics, as a sick man must think much about his digestion.
To be obsessed with politics may, therefore, be an indication of a low state of society, if Lewis is correct.
Naturally, Christians who want their society to reflect Biblical values will want to get involved in politics to try to turn things in a Christian direction. There’s certainly nothing inconsistent in doing so; in fact, I believe we are called to do so. It has something to do with what Jesus said about being “light” and “salt.”
It’s also natural, at this time in America, for most of us who feel that call to align ourselves with the party that wants to curb abortion, to protect the Biblical concept of marriage, and that seeks, at least in its public pronouncements, to uphold the Christian moral standards overall.
Again, there’s nothing wrong with that. But Lewis has this habit of making us think more carefully on how to proceed. In his day, back during WWII, there was a movement toward setting up a Christian political party. Here’s the caution he offered in another essay titled “Meditation on the Third Commandment”:
From many letters to The Guardian, and from much that is printed elsewhere, we learn of the growing desire for a Christian “party,” a Christian “front,” or a Christian “platform” in politics. Nothing is so earnestly to be wished as a real assault by Christianity on the politics of the world: nothing, at first sight, so fitted to deliver this assault as a Christian party.
I have discovered, though, that even earnest Christians seeking to infuse the faith into politics can disagree over the specific means of doing so. This past election has made that abundantly clear. Lewis continues,
Whatever it calls itself, it will represent, not Christendom, but a part of Christendom. The principle which divides it from its brethren and unites it to its political allies will not be theological.
I found myself this year at odds with those with whom I agree on the essentials of the faith. My concern was the person who was chosen to represent the Christian worldview; I believed he was more of a detriment to that worldview than a promoter of it. It pained me to be divided from many of my brethren over that. The party that was supposed to speak for my Christian views seemed to be rather schizophrenic, in my estimation.
Lewis saw the problem:
It [the party representing Christian faith] will have no authority to speak for Christianity; it will have no more power than the political skill of its members gives it to control the behaviour of its unbelieving allies.
But there will be a real, and most disastrous, novelty. It will be not simply a part of Christendom, but a part claiming to be the whole. By the mere act of calling itself the Christian Party it implicitly accuses all Christians who do not join it of apostasy and betrayal.
It will be exposed, in an aggravated degree, to that temptation which the Devil spares none of us at any time—the temptation of claiming for our favourite opinions that kind and degree of certainty and authority which really belongs only to our Faith.
There is one great difference, of course, between the politics of Lewis’s day and ours. No political party back in the 1940s was advocating abortion or same-sex marriage. Lewis was referring more to differences of opinion on more mundane policy positions.
Yet his caution remains, and rightly so. We must always be careful not to put politics on a pedestal. We must disengage ourselves from the temptation to make it an idol.
And we must never allow politics to come between believers who will spend eternity together.