Why should Christians participate in Politics?

Should they? Political leaders in Kenya famously told Christian leaders to stick to their Christian sphere and not interfere with politics. Are the two mutually exclusive? Does Christianity have anything to do with politics and political leaders? If politics is, a “dirty game” should Christians have anything to do with it? The separation of church and state has been a topic for constant philosophical debate dating back over a century. If the church and state should be separate, what business do Christians have voting? What authority, if any, do church leaders have to comment on political issues of a nation such as Kenya?

I believe the Christian in the African context has a God-given mandate to actively participate in the political life of their country. Christians have a role to play in every sector of leadership and governance living out their faith in Christ as they do so. Here is a short summary of my reason why.

Church and stateA Biblical Mandate: God has invited His people to extend his influence over the world. The physical, social, political, economic, and cultural aspects of our world suffer the effects of sin. This sin is evident in the brokenness we see in many aspects of human society. (Romans 8:19-22) This brokenness is addressed when God’s people live out their mandate. (Romans 8:19) This mandate covers all areas of human life including politics and governance. It is a continuous effort that began at the fall of man. (Genesis 3) It stepped up to a higher level when Jesus became God incarnate, teaching about the Father’s Kingdom. He then left his followers to carry on the work with the help of the Holy Spirit. That work will conclude when He comes back at the end of time. (Revelation 11:15) Throughout the Bible we can see evidence of this mandate among God’s people.

In the Beginning… The mandate for God’s people began in Genesis where God invited his people to “be fruitful and increase; fill the earth subdue it.” (Genesis 1:28) God invited Adam to exercise delegated authority over His creation. (Genesis 1:28) This call was repeated and extended when man got the authority name all creation, influencing the identity of the things that God created. (Genesis 2:19-20) In this way God’s people use their delegated authority from God to become agents of growth and even influence identity in God’s world. This mandate continues throughout God’s word. It is a foundational principle that governs our understanding of where Christians get the authority to participate in politics, governance, and leadership generally.

What about the Law? In the books of the law, the nation of Israel was presented as an initial model of God’s relationship with his people. Here, God presented an elaborate structure of what it means to live as a society under God’s rulership in that context. God gave a framework that touched all aspects of Israel’s life providing tangible examples of how God’s values and justice apply in human society. The rules covered most of the areas of Israelite personal and public life. For example, the life and priorities of a King in Israel were outlined in the law. (Leviticus 17:14-20) Many justice and legal systems in the world today, including the Kenyan one, can trace their structure, and origins to this law. Mostly, legal systems exisbible-law-gavelt to provide reasonable order and wholeness to human society. This is a God instituted value often called the “Shalom.” Though human legal and political structures have evidence of human brokenness, we still have a duty as Christians to establish them, reshape them, and serve under them, exerting God’s values as we do so.

Stories of Leaders and a Nation: The extensive narrative section of the leaders and prophets provide stories of the, often erratic, relationship God had with His people. The prophets arose, filled by the Holy Spirit, to speak the mind of God to generations of His people. Their voice arose both when the people did the right thing, or did wrong. In the same way,a Kingdom perspective gives Christians, and especially their religious leaders, the unique role of speaking the mind of God to their generation. In doing this they inform, remind, and reinforce God’s values in our political context. The following are some examples we find in scripture.

Of Kings and Prophets: Moses and Aaron demonstrated how leaders strive to depend on God as they gave direction in a season of terrible oppression in Egypt. Their journey documents what leadership looked like for them in a time of transition great uncertainty in the desert. (Exodus) Samuel directly participated in the selection and the inauguration of leaders at the early stages of Israel’s monarchy. (1 Samuel 8) His warning about the potential perils of earthly authority were pertinent at the time and remain relevant for reflection today. (1 Samuel 8:10-22) Nathan became God’s voice pricking King David’s conscience and explaining the consequences of his moral failure on his own family and the fledgling Kingdom. (2 Samuel 11-12) Ezekiel issued a challenge for God’s people to become the moral conscience of the society. He modelled this challenge in his own life as he explained his role as the watchman for the nation. (Ezekiel 33:1-20) This prophetic role, and the attendant responsibilities are as relevant today as they were then.

Amos taught that complacency had no place among religious leaders in the face of societal injustice. (Amos 5:18-27) Amos was vehement in his condemnation against systemic injustice in the society at the time. (Amos 5:1-17) When eventually Israel went into exile, Jeremiah gave direction to God’s people, encouraging them to exert positive influence and maintain their hope even under a potentially oppressive regime. (Jeremiah 29)

daniel_den_lionsNormal People, Extraordinary Influence: Others in the Bible became models for modern Christians through the lives they lived in exile, or under oppressive regimes. They were otherwise ordinary people who stepped into opportune moments in time, exerting God’s influence in making extraordinary decisions. Daniel became a civil servant, an agent of God’s influence through multiple unbelieving regimes in foreign lands. Esther was a unique example of influence that she exerted behind the scenes to ensure God’s purposes for His people prevailed. Deborah and Jael, in the book of Judges, overcame gender stereotyping to fill a glaring gap in national leadership at a critical time in Israel’s life. Each of these, and other Biblical role models, carried out their mission often at great personal cost, and despite their human weaknesses. Their lives and subsequent achievements are attributed to God’s influence over human affairs through the obedience of His servants. In the same way, God’s people acting in obedience to His Word can exert God’s influence over human affairs.

Jesus and Politics: Jesus Christ, God incarnate, provides the most comprehensive understanding for us of what a Kingdom perspective entails for God’s people. He taught that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfil it. (Matthew 5:17) This statement comes with reference to His call to establish God’s Kingdom. (Matthew 5:19) His mission was to preach about the Kingdom of God, modelling its values with his own life. He instructed his followers to preach this Kingdom as well. (Matthew 10) In his life and ministry Jesus also spoke boldly and prophetically to the authorities of the day challenging the status quo. (Matthew 23) He then sent the Holy Spirit to teach, and empower the believer to be a witness to this Kingdom. (Matthew 23) Jesus had an expectation that his followers would do these same things and even more in their lives as His witnesses, and agents of God’s Kingdom. (John 14:12-14) Christians have the power Holy Spirit and Christ’s intercessory backing to effect God’s influence on earth through prayer and bold action.

Activ(ist) Apostles: We can see the dual effect of prayer and bold action in the apostles and the early Christians. In the book of Acts, we can see Paul-Silas-Jailerhow the Apostles became agents of God’s Kingdom as they influenced the world of their day. The Apostles began by living out God’s values within their community modelling God’s Kingdom to that society. (Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-37) Their lives demonstrating God’s love, sharing and community were a contrast to the society at the time. This was a powerful witness in and of itself. The Holy Spirit in some instances led the believers to power encounters that were noted by the authorities. Two notable examples are Peter’s miraculous healing acts that captured the attention of the authorities, and Paul’s dramatic prison release. (Acts 4:16, Acts 16:25-34) Peter was instrumental in the conversion of Cornelius, a military and political leader of his day. (Acts 10) Using different strategies, energized by the Holy Spirit, Paul, and his companions challenged the institutionalized idolatry of Ephesus, and the pagan philosophies in Athens. (Acts 19, 17:16-34) Like the Old Testament prophets, the Apostles’ lives were not without challenges. The authorities persecuted them for their beliefs. This was especially because of the way their Kingdom values upset the status quo. (Acts 4,7, 19) Still, they remained steadfast in being Christians implementing God’s Kingdom on earth. This same mandate to exert God’s influence in society remains in force over Christians today. God the Father has given his people the mandate to exert His influence over the earth. This mandate extends beyond the personal spiritual arena, into all the structures of human life. These include politics, governance, and leadership.

So should I vote, or become a politician (instead)? With this understanding of their mandate, Christians should vote. They do so with their Christian perspective, with their conscience, while exercising their responsibility to be agents of God’s influence on earth. Their voting choices must come out of their understanding of God’s values. In this way, by voting, Christians affirm the values they believe in. They exercise their minds, finding the right leader who best fits and represents God’s Kingdom values. Their vote is thus a personal duty of obedience. The result of the vote is outside the dictates of the individual, but within the realm of the omniscient and omnipotent God.

Similarly, Christians with the passion, call, qualifications and the networks also should go for electChristians in Politicsive office. They will work within the government structures to evaluate, enact, and propagate legal and governance structures that ensure God’s values of justice and equity for all. The same applies to civil servants who, like Daniel, should use their opportunity to serve in these structures to bring about God’s Kingdom values. Both politicians and civil servants have a high call to create structures and live such lives that will be a testimony to both believers and non believers of God’s power, righteousness, and justice. At the same time, they will be watchmen standing guard against God’s retribution against nations that harbour structural and systemic injustice.

Christian debate in Government? Opposition? Whether voters, politicians, civil servants, or other participants in national leadership governance structures, all have a duty to actively try to understand what the issues are and what their role is. Christians should engage their God given intellect to engage with the issues, making use of the diversity of experience and opinion that God has provided. This gift of diversity blossoms when Christians from different political persuasions, ethnic perspectives, professions, and experiences come to the table to passionately, exhaustively, and yet respectfully engage each other on issues.

There is a dire need for Christians in the government, in the opposition, in civil society, and other spheres who are bold enough to challenge others, and themselves on the best way to establish God’s wholeness and peace (“Shalom”) in the society. Where there is difference then temperance and respect should prevail. Where there is agreement then each should be honest enough to rise above the rhetoric for common good.

What if? Where existing leadership fails in aspects of justice and righteousness, then Christian leaders and their congregations should act. Such action does not invite or condone wanton bloodshed. However, such action is firm, clear, and driven by the Kingdom perspective that comes from God’s Word. They will systematically work within the existing God-instituted structures to address evil. There will also be instances where like the Apostles, Christians should oppose the authorities, respectfully yet firmly, challenging them at the risk of their personal lives. Whenever obedience to God is pitted against obedience to the propagation of systemic bloodshed and idolatry, then like Daniel, obedience to God must carry the day.

The-Christian-VotegsAnd those Bishops and Pastors? Christian leaders must teach God’s Word and its application beyond personal spiritual life. God’s word is powerful and effective for the individual, and it is also applicable and powerful for national and global issues. Christian leaders, like Old Testament prophets, must be prepared to fearlessly speak the mind of God to their generation. In some instances, Christian leaders may use their spiritual authority to intervene and quietly give direction where leaders have erred or lost their way. The authorities might have invited them, but in other instances, like Nathan, they will act unilaterally under the compulsion of the Holy Spirit. On occasion, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, and in concert with the wider body of Christ, leaders may also rally their followers to decisive public action against political, economic, or other forces that thwart God’s justice, equity, and righteousness for all. To effectively carry their mandate, Christian leaders must take their instruction from God’s Word, and their inspiration from the Holy Spirit.

So? Should Christians be involved with politics? Yes, they should by all means participate, at all levels according to their calling, station, and gifting in life. Such involvement is by virtue of being children of God the Father and followers of His Son Jesus. Their involvement is inspired by the Holy Spirit and informed by God’s Word.

What does this mean for clergy and top leadership in the church? Christian leadership have a duty to teach about political engagement from the corporate gatherings, to the house churches, weaving this thinking into a holistic understanding of the Gospel. Christian leaders, and their followers should also constantly evaluate the extent to which national governance and political leadership relates with God’s influence on earth. Where it fails then they should call it to account, and commend where it does well. Church leaders should learn to manage the tension between their personal position on politics and the biblical foundations for a just society effected through political means. Where there is a conflict then the church leaders’ political opinions must give way to God’s vision for his nations. The leadership should also encourage deep Christian reflection from within the incumbent government as well as the opposition. The church leadership should model how to engage in honest, respectful debate both in private and in the public, for the common good of the nation.

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One Response to “Why should Christians participate in Politics?”

  1. Tony Kienji Says:

    Very insightful.Kindly turn this into a small book(pocket-size) and have it distributed in churches, universities and public spaces.Also create a sermon around it and go teaching in the different churches in Kenya.KENYA WILL NEVER EVER BE THE SAME AGAIN!!!
    ¤ISAIAH 45:1-3
    You are blessed and highly favoured of the Yahweh Elohim!

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