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Should Christians Engage in Political Activity?
From protests to running for political office; from voting to donating; from petitions of outrage to social media posts; what does the Bible say about Christians engaging in political activity?
Against the backdrop of the memorial of Martin Luther King, Jr., the 46th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, the passage of an expansive abortion law in the state of New York, the firestorm that has erupted in response to certain events that transpired in at the Lincoln Memorial during the annual March for Life, and the un-ending Government shutdown, I find myself returning to the following question: from protests to running for office; from voting to donating; from petitions of outrage to social media posts; according to the Bible, should Christians engage in political activity?
The Sin of Erithea
Many of us are familiar with Galatians 5:19-21. This frequently cited scripture is often used as a blunt weapon by people from both within and without the church regarding all matters of sexual immorality. Certainly, sexual immorality is identified as a clear sin; yet, right in the middle of this list of lurid and scandalous works of the flesh is the Greek word, "Eritheia.”
Depending on which translation you prefer, the word "Eritheia" is quite inconsistently translated into several English words, which often includes "seditions" or "strife." The problem is that these single word substitutions are all based on Greek meanings of the word "Eritheia" from decades and centuries after the text of Galatians was actually written by Paul.
In fact, prior to Paul writing Galatians, the word "Eritheia" can be found only ONE time in all of Greco-Roman literature. Recall, that Paul was a highly educated Roman citizen, this logically means that this word, "Eritheia," must mean exactly what it meant in its single original use at the time Galatians was written.
What was this single and original use?
Aristotle originated the use of "Eritheia" in his great work, Politics. According to Aristotle, of which Paul certainly had been educated in, "Eritheia" actually means: "engaging in electioneering for political office," especially when in pursuit of personal political power.
That's right, listed right between sexual immorality and murder is ... electioneering. Along with sexual immorality and murder, without pause, political campaigning is listed as a sinful work of the flesh. Even more alarming, according to Galatians 5:21, those who engage in such things will not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. If that warning doesn't make you pause before you protest, post on social media, donate, demonstrate, sign a petition, or even vote, I'm not sure what will.
So, does this mean Christians are supposed to abstain from Politics entirely?
No, this does not mean Christians should abstain from politics entirely (though I think it would be of real eternal benefit for most American Christians to at least temporarily abstain from current American political discourse). But, be warned: we face severe consequences before the righteous judgment of our Lord if we, as a Christian, act from the wrong spirit in any political activity.
As Christians we are no longer held to the law of sin and death (Acts 13:39); instead, we are held to the highest standard: the law of love.
And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-39)
Please make sure you read the entire following run-on sentence before reacting: Christians are free to engage in politics, just as they are free to engage in absolutely anything (as 1 Corinthians 6:12 and 1 Corinthians 10:23 state), PROVIDED what a Christian does is consistent with love (so long as your definition of love is consistent with how God has defined loved - more about this in a few sentences). For the Christian, as long what you do is fully consistent with God’s definition of love, go for it. Yet, this freedom should cause us, as believers, to tremble.
All manner of evil has been done in the name of “love.” God knew that love would be horrifically understood and ill-defined (such as the case with a very irritating John Lennon song). To proactively clear up this confusion, in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, God gave us a comprehensive list of what love is and what love is not. For the Christian, by this comprehensive 15-point love test, any political activity must be evaluated.
Consider your political activity. Is your political activity consistent with all of the following (not some of the following fifteen items, but all):
1. Does your political activity demonstrate patience?
2. Does your political activity demonstrate kindness?
3. Is your political activity absent of jealousy?
4. Is your political activity absent of bragging?
5. Is your political activity absent of arrogance?
6. Is your political activity absent of unbecoming action?
7. Is your political activity absent of seeking its own way?
8. Is your political activity not driven by provocation?
9. Does your political activity not take into account a wrong suffered?
10. Does your political activity not rejoice in unrighteousness?
11. Does your political activity rejoice with the Truth?
12. Does your political activity bear all hardship?
13. Does your political activity believe despite the midst of all hardship?
14. Does your political activity hope despite all hardship?
15. Does your political activity endure all hardship?
But here's the thing, just as you don’t get to define love on your own terms, you also do not get to pick and choose which qualities to apply when evaluating your political activity. You don’t get to emphasize one and neglect the other fourteen. You don’t get to pick your favorite three that support your agenda. The test of love requires 100% to pass; if you get 93 percent – you still fail.
In addition to the 15-point love test, does your political activity manifest evident and increasing growth of the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) (again not some, but all):
1. Does engaging in this political activity manifest growing and evident love (as God has defined love, and as previously discussed)?
2. Does engaging in this political activity manifest growing and evident joy?
3. Does engaging in this political activity manifest growing and evident peace?
4. Does engaging in this political activity manifest growing and evident forbearance?
5. Does engaging in this political activity manifest growing and evident kindness?
6. Does engaging in this political activity manifest growing and evident goodness?
7. Does engaging in this political activity manifest growing and evident faithfulness?
8. Does engaging in this political activity manifest growing and evident gentleness?
9. Does engaging in this political activity manifest growing and evident self-control?
Similar to the love test, you do not get to pick and choose which fruit by which to evaluate a given political activity. You don’t get to emphasize one and neglect the other eight. You don’t get to pick your favorite three that most easily support your agenda. The fruit test requires 100% to pass; if you get 89 percent – you still fail.
As Galatians 5:23 states: “Against such things [The 9 Fruits of the Spirit] there is no law.” If your political activity passes the 15-point love test, and is in time manifest growth of all 9 Fruits of the Spirit – then carry on. However, if your political activity fails the 15-point love test, and – in time – is not manifesting the growth of all 9 Fruits of the Spirit, then you are not acting of by the spirit, and you are instead acting by flesh and engaging in the sin of "Erithea." (Note: the works of the flesh listed in Galatians 5:19-21 are juxtaposed against the Fruit of the Spirit listed immediately following in Galatians 5:22-23). If your political action does not score a 100 percent on the love and fruit tests, stop and repent! Be warned: if your political action does not pass these tests, at best, your action will be an entirely powerless waste of time; and at worst, your action will forfeit your inheritance in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Finally, but clearly related to the 15-point love test, there is the fear test: Does your political activity engage in, propagate, depend on, peddle in, or entertain fear?
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18)
The Highest Standard
Does this seem like quite a high standard!? Absolutely, because the standard of the law of love established by Jesus Christ alone is far higher than the standard of the law of sin and death established in the Mosaic Law.
When we each face the Lord in righteous Judgment, our actions will be judged on one criterion – and that is the perfect standard of love established by Jesus Christ alone. But as this essay has presented, this is the highest standard (far surpassing social conceptions of love along the lines of an irritating John Lennon song, and far surpassing the standards of the Mosaic Law). People engaging in “Christian” activities or even “Christian” politics – including even the noblest of actions, such as those on behalf of the sanctity of life of each child in the womb - will be cast from the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 7:21-23; Galatians 5:19-21). Without love, even the noblest of actions will be deemed by our righteous judge to be nothing more than an annoying clanging of cymbals (1 Corinthians 13).