Well, the political season is upon us again. And it’s time for all sorts of Christian stock phrases about politics to be used and reused. One of my favorite is the phrase, “Jesus is neither a Democrat nor a Republican.” This is one of those phrases that is used so frequently that no one really bothers to ask what it means; nor does anyone bother to ask whether it is really true. But, I want to take a moment to analyze this phrase as we head into this political season. What does it really mean? Here are some possibilities:
1. The phrase could simply mean that the Bible doesn’t speak to politics.
I suppose one possible interpretation of this phrase is that it means that the Bible doesn’t address political issues; it is simply silent on this matter. The Bible is only interested in redemptive issues and theological issues and should not be made to determine which political views are right. But, is that an accurate portrayal of the Bible? Sure, we can agree that the Bible doesn’t use the terms “Democrat” or “Republican,” nor does it make statements like “you should vote for the political party that….” But, that doesn’t mean the Bible provides no principles or guidance on how to evaluate a political party. Indeed, as Van Til once said, “The Bible is thought of as authoritative on everything of which it speaks. Moreover, it speaks of everything. We do not mean that it speaks of football games, of atoms, etc., directly, but we do mean that it speaks of everything either directly or by implication.”
Thus, there is no reason to think the Bible cannot address political issues. To suggest otherwise is tantamount to suggesting the Bible cannot address the question of evolution because “it is not a science book” (to use another cliché). The problem with such an argument is that it only allows the Bible to speak to so-called “religious” issues and not “secular” ones. However, the Bible itself does not honor this religious-secular distinction—all the world is God’s and he has a say over everything in it. Moreover, almost every political issue has an ethical dimension to it. And surely the Bible speaks to ethics. Thus, we cannot say that political issues are “off the table” when it comes to what the Bible teaches.
2. The phrase could simply mean that neither political party lines up entirely with what the Bible teaches.
Another interpretation of this phrase is that it is simply another way of saying that neither party is perfect; both have their problems. Ok. But surely no one would dispute this. No human institution is perfect this side of the Fall (including the church!). To state such a thing doesn’t really advance the discussion—it is simply stating a truism.
Even if both parties are flawed to some degree, the real question still remains, namely which political party is the closest to the principles and ethics laid out in Scripture? After all, at the end of the day, the Christian still has to go to the polls and vote for someone. And surely he wants to vote for the party that is closest to the teachings of Scripture.
My suspicion therefore, is that this phrase is not being used just to say that both parties are flawed; rather it is really being used to say that both parties are equally flawed. And if both parties are equally flawed then someone can claim that it doesn’t really matter how we vote. Everyone is off the hook and political debating (at least on a biblical basis) should just stop. But, if someone is going to make such a claim then they have to do the heavy exegetical lifting to prove their case. A cliché is not enough to demonstrate that both political parties are equally flawed.
Moreover, I think the claim that both parties are equally flawed is highly problematic when one considers that Democrats and Republicans have near opposite political platforms on almost every major issue. Is it really likely that there would be two parties with nearly opposite values and ethical positions and, at the same time, neither would be closer to the teachings of Scripture? I suppose it is possible. But, is also very unlikely.
3. The phrase could simply mean that there are good Christians who are both Democrats and Republicans.
I suppose one could interpret the phrase “Jesus is neither a Democrat nor a Republican” as just another way of saying that there are Christians, good Christians, who are Democrats and Republicans. Therefore, the argument goes, there is no right or wrong way to vote. But, once again, I am not sure how this particular understanding constitutes a coherent position. The fact that there are Christians who have differing positions on an issue does not mean the Scripture supports both positions equally (which would be contradictory if you think about it), nor does it mean the Scriptures are necessarily unclear about the issue. After all, there are “good Christians” who are Arminians, and there are “good Christians” who are Calvinists. But, this does not constitute grounds for saying they are both right, or that it doesn’t matter, or that one cannot know such things. That type of attitude is more due to the influence of postmodernity—where there is no one right view—than it is due to historic and biblical Christianity.
The fact that there are Christians in a political party different from our own certainly means we should show them charity, love, and respect—after all they are brothers and sisters in Christ! But, it does not therefore mean we throw our hands up in the air and say that politics doesn’t matter or that the Bible has nothing to say about such things.
4. This phrase could simply mean that Jesus would never join a political party or that he would never have allegiance to a political party.
This particular understanding of the phrase is designed to do away with the notion that God is “for” one political party and “against” another. No political party can be regarded as God’s party. Thus, we can vote for whomever we want as Christians because God does not wear a lapel pin of a donkey or an elephant.
Now, some of this is certainly true. God does not align himself with man-made political parties in the sense that he endorses everything about them. And the reason he cannot endorse everything about a particular party is because no party is perfect. They are all flawed to one degree or another. But, this just brings us back to the issues we raised in #2 above. Just because both parties are flawed does not mean that both parties are equally flawed. Still remaining is the important task of determining which party is closest to the ethics, principles and values of Scripture.
So, just because God does not (and cannot) unequivocally endorse either party is not the same thing as saying that it doesn’t matter which party we vote for. Some parties are more pleasing to God than others.
So, where does this whole discussion leave us? We have been discussing what is possibly meant by the phrase “Jesus is neither Democrat nor Republican.” The four options above are not exhaustive—I suppose there are other options about what this phrase might mean. But, at least as it pertains to the options discussed here, I would argue that this phrase is highly problematic. Each of the possible meanings above suffers from the same fatal flaw: all of them are trying to find a way to make politics a neutral affair for Christians. Whether it’s the argument that the Bible doesn’t address politics (option #1), or that political parties are equally flawed (option #2), or that good Christians disagree (option #3), or that God cannot fully endorse a particular party (#4), all these arguments are trying to say it doesn’t matter what political views Christians support.
But, as I have argued above, this is a shockingly unchristian approach. It is almost suggesting there is a place in the world (even an ethical place!) where God has no concern about the direction we take. This stands in sharp contrast to the historical (and Reformed) Christian position outlined by Abraham Kuyper: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!'”
One wonders how the “Jesus is neither a Democrat nor Republican” approach would have worked for Dietrich Bonhoeffer as he navigated the frightening political landscape of Germany in the 1930’s or 1940’s. Would he have been compelled by the idea that the Scripture was neutral about whether Christians should vote for Hitler’s socialist party? The sad truth is that many Christians and many churches in that day went along with Hitler’s politics and offered no protest. Bonhoeffer disagreed and argued that it was the Christian’s duty to oppose the National Socialist party. I doubt Bonhoeffer would have been persuaded by the argument that “good Christians are on both sides of this issue.”
So, if the “Jesus is neither a Democrat nor a Republican” approach is flawed, where do we go from here? I would suggest a different course of action. Rather than spending our energies trying to keep the Bible out of politics, we should work to let it back in. What I mean by this is that we need to stop telling Christians that whatever voting choice they make is as equally valid as another, and instead we should encourage them to apply Scripture to these political questions just like we apply it to every other area of life (whether it be economics, art, or medicine).
No doubt this will create debate and disagreement about whether Democrats are closer to biblical principles or whether Republicans are closer to biblical principles (or whether another party is closer!). But that’s Ok. Christians debate Calvinism vs. Arminianism, Credo-Baptism vs. paedo-Baptism, home school vs. public school education, and beyond. A vigorous, deep, and thorough debate about what the Bible teaches about politics would be a refreshing change from the postmodern “no political position is better than any other” approach currently en vogue in the modern church. At least then the focus is in the right place: what the Bible teaches.
For more, see my recent video on this question for RTS’s “Wisdom Wednesdays“:
I wonder if there is an unstated assertion driving your (re)framing of the conversation – namely, that voting is something God wants American Christians to do, and so there must be a godly way to do it. I find myself in disagreement with both aspects of such an assertion: I do not think that voting is a significant political act for Christians anymore nor that there is a “political party” that represents Christianity in any meaningful sense.
So I close with a proposal in the form of a question: Why not intentionally critique the list of items that our society insists are THE significant “political acts” (voting, putting up candidates’ signs, giving to campaigns, declaring our opinion after viewing televised debates, etc.) and instead insist that the social acts God expressly requires in Scripture are the more determinative “political actions” (i.e., going to church, sharing the gospel at work, giving to the poor, fighting for the weak/helpless in our neighbourhood, etc.)?
Michael Kruger says
Why is it an either-or issue? Can’t Christians do both “political acts” and “social acts”?
No, I don’t think it is possible to speak about the importance of voting & the possibility of doing it in a godly way – and still leave readers with a sense that Scripture explicitly calls us to focus us on another set of acts as more significant in the kingdom of God. But feel free to prove me wrong. My sense is that we as American Christians need to be warned against thinking that voting is a significant political act in God’s kingdom (especially during this time of year), because it replaces what our Lord calls “significant” with what the spirit of our age calls “significant”. Or do you disagree that going to church on Sunday, for example, is not more significant than voting?
You still seem to be making it an either-or where it can be a both-and – I can both go to church on Sunday AND vote. I can have a sign put up in my yard for the candidate who I feel will best fight for the weak and helpless in my neighborhood AND give to them myself. I can watch a debate on TV AND discuss the Christian (or non) basis for the positions taken with my coworkers. I can contribute money to a candidate who I feel will represent a Christian viewpoint AND contribute money to my church.
Of course, how much time and money I can put into each one is an open question and a valid discussion, but starting from a point of “none” on the one side doesn’t seem justified (and I don’t think you’ve really given reasons for it yet either).
Mr. Kruger, when I think of the current state of political parties in this country, I do not believe the question: “Would Jesus be a Democrat or a Republican” is relevant.
Rather, I think Jesus would fashion a cord of whips before entering the halls of congress.
Just like he did to the Roman government? He was concerned about his Father’s glory when he fashioned a cord of whips. Instead he said render to Caesar the things that are Caesars. Beyond that it doesn’t seem Jesus was much interested in the workings of secular government. Jesus tells us, in his Word through Paul, to submit to governing authorities who are God’s servants for our good. Surely when Christ returns he will come with a ‘cord of whips’ in judgment, but he did not when on earth his first coming, and gave no instructions that we should either. My understanding is that we should work so that the government’s laws reflect God’s righteous ways, that governments actually punish wrongdoers and approve good conduct, not vice-versa.
The conflation of the church and secular government causes much wrong thinking in my opinion. People who think the government should tax highly and redistribute the wealth to the poor is an example. there is nothing in the Bible that indicates that is God’s purpose for secular government, rather his instructions on helping the poor are for Christians and His Church to carry out. You can say you think it is a good and moral thing for a secular government to redistribute wealth but it is not a Biblical or Christian idea.
“My understanding is that we should work so that the government’s laws reflect God’s righteous ways, that governments actually punish wrongdoers and approve good conduct, not vice-versa.”
Hence my “cord of whips” comment. Congress has become a godless house of iniquity that no longer believes in punishing wrongdoers.
Anyway, my remark was somewhat tongue-in-cheek.
My attitude toward Democrats and Republicans, however, is “A pox on both their houses.”
John Stefanyszyn says
The Lord Jesus was neither a democrat nor a republican…for He does not believe in FREEDOM of Rights and Religions which confesses it right, a right, to worship any god.
The Lord Jesus Christ is Son of the One and Only God and it will be Only Christ that will rule as the One King according to the Will of His Father and NOT according to man’s freedom to serve serve and magnify oneself.
…and both democrat and republican will weep and clench his teeth in anger when his freedom will be no more.
Isn’t “when his freedom will be no more” a curcial point here?
I mean, although living according to the wrong religion is a sin – it is a wrong before God, in this period of time before the King returns, man to man (government to man), has God delegated a responsibility to governments to prevent worship of a false God in itself? Or, is this something He has resolved to deal with on the last day?
Kenny Strawn says
One key detail that people often overlook is what the parties stand for/against: Republicans definitely stand against sexual sins, sure… but at the same time are fully supportive of greed (another deadly sin, mind you) on the corporate side of things and are willing to use clichés like climate change denial, advocacy of tax breaks for the wealthy, and opposition to antitrust laws as excuses to stay greedy (and, by extension, as excuses to keep on sinning). Democrats, meanwhile, seem to enjoy promoting the use of feticide and/or embryocide as a crutch to keep having sex out of wedlock, not to mention enjoy promoting forms of sexuality that misuse body parts designed for defecation and not for sexual intercourse, wasting gametes and spreading bacterial/viral STD’s like mad in the process, while at the same time being rather virtuous on the fiscal end.
As C.S. Lewis mentioned in Book 3, Chapter 3 of Mere Christianity, “If there was such a [biblically Christian] society in existence and you or I visited it, I think we should come away with a curious impression. We should feel that its economic life was very socialistic and, in that sense, ‘advanced’, but that its family life and code of manners were rather old fashioned — perhaps even ceremonious and aristocratic. Each of us would like some bits of it, but I am afraid very few of us would like the whole thing. That is just what one would expect if Christianity is the total plan for the human machine.”
Love the CS Lewis quote. However, not everyone who uses “climate change denial, advocacy of tax breaks for the wealthy, and opposition to antitrust laws” is doing so as an excuse to stay greedy – in fact, for some of us, for some of these, we “use” them because we actually believe it’s the most Christian thing to do.
“Climate change denial” is, for me, actually mandated in order to be a good steward of the gifts God has given me and to promote truth (the case for man made climate change being nowhere near as rock solid as it is represented to be, and the solutions proposed being a terrible waste of resources that will do little to no good for anyone).
“Tax breaks for the wealthy” is little more than rhetoric, so I can’t really respond in detail (any more than I can to a “soak the rich” attitude). Opposition to antitrust laws (in some cases), or support for free market capitalism (more broadly), is based on it being an effective method to channel human greed into non-destructive (even constructive) channels in an overall non-Christian society where greed will be a dominant factor. If we lived in CS Lewis’ society, there would be no need for such laws, and we could follow a more socialistic approach, but right now, that’s not where we live, so instead our socialism turns into enabling and our government ends up supporting things like climate change activism (see above) and abortion.
On the other side of the political spectrum, I find it hard to imagine how a Christian can justify feticide/embryocide or promote non-Christian forms of sexuality and still be doing their best to promote love for God or love for their neighbor. One really has to redefine love to mean “anything-goes sex”, so far as I’ve seen. I’d welcome correction/explanation on this though …
It is tricky at times. Esther had a political role to play in the life of her people as did John the Baptist when he challenged Herod regarding Herodius. We are Christians just as much as citizens as was the Apostle Paul.
To be silent or inactive may be just as much wise as apathetic depending on the attitude or the time I suppose.
A democracy is meant to give the avergae Joe & Joanne a voice & it would a shame to waste it. Even if deals are done as parties play polemics & pay great attention to corporate entities & popularity opportunities.
Great point though. Scripture should always be our guide, even in politics, it just that it can be so hard to get to the bottom of things.
Very interesting post, Dr. Kruger. I just wanted to comment from the viewpoint of someone having lived in Europe for a long time and being familiar with the ways our European brothers and sisters approach this issue.
As to your point 1, I think the real problem is not that the Bible doesn’t speak to politics, it’s just that different Christians at different places and in different times have deemed different issues as the most important and worthy to fight about. I’m talking here only about issues having support in the Bible. In other words it depends on the issue considered “authoritative” by each group of believers, or at least “the most authoritative” and worth fighting (even killing) for. Consequently believers in Europe don’t make a big fuss about which party to vote for, compared to here in the US.
As to your point 2, if you don’t want to call each political party as equally flawed, you will have to come up with nearly impossible criteria to measure the “flawedness” of each one, and said criteria will be inevitably biased by your personal preferences as to the importance of the issues. Again the general position of believers in Europe is that it doesn’t matter much, as long as the party doesn’t embrace outlandish position like genocide, or whatever. (to be continued)
(posting 2) As to your point 3, again your conclusion is contradicted by the mere existence of Christians among voters of each party. In the US it’s generally believed the GOP is “God’s party” but this is a distinctly American phenomenon. This baffles the Europeans to no end. They would never assume they would need to vote for one particular party because it is the least flawed, but even if they assume such a thing, they would never make a big fuss about it.
As to your Bonhoeffer example I respectfully think it is way over the top, and by consequence, invalid, as no party in the Western world today (I mean no mainstream party, not sure about the fringes) advocates Nazi-like positions.
As to your conclusion that “instead we should encourage them to apply Scripture to these political questions just like we apply it to every other area of life (whether it be economics, art, or medicine)” I totally agree but again the vote of each believer will be influenced by what issue they think is the most important. (to be continued)
(posting 3) And finally here are some concrete examples to illustrate what I said. I have listed here a few issues that may be deemed as the most important, or the most authoritative by sincere believers, and also the party or candidate who would get their vote based on those preferences:
a. If you think the most important issue is abortion: you vote Republican (maybe Cruz)
b. If you think the most important issue is being peaceful and loving your enemies: you vote Democrats
c. If you think the most important issue is lying, meaning no politician should lie: you don’t vote for any of them (especially not for Cruz)
d. If you think the most important issue is money in politics, because “money is the root of all evil”: you vote Sanders
e. If you think the most important issue is if the candidate is a sincere believer and especially his overall life example: you vote Carter (or someone like him) maybe Dr. Carson
f. If you think the most important issue is taking care of your neighbor and not leaving anybody on the side of the road: you vote Democrats
g. If you think the most important issue is whatever Pat Robertson or Franklin Graham says it is: you vote Republicans
h. If you think the most important issue is that no earthly government can be truly godly and Christian, not even the United States: you stay home.
And there may be many other examples added, but I hope you see my point. Sorry for the long post!
I would say that Jesus is neither a Republican or a Democrat because that brings him down from his rightful position as Master and Creator of all and tries to stuff him into some political box of our own making. Remember the response of the Angel of the Lord to Joshua when Joshua asked if the angel were for or against Israel.
That is why I will not affiliate with any political party. My first and greatest allegiance is to Jesus, and all others are subservient to that. This does not mean that I think both parties are equally flawed or equally virtuous. Even my voting will be flawed (for, among other reasons, I don’t have perfect information to make a decision). If I affiliate with a particular party, I’m afraid I would grow to care more about my “side” winning than Jesus’ will being done. Instead, I seek to (prayerfully and imperfectly) use the Word of God to inform me about what to look for in a candidate, and will make the best choice I can using Scripture as a lens and God’s glory as a goal.
Steve Mittelstaedt says
There is another way to look at this.
My childhood introduction to Christian community was poisoned by the dissolution of a congregation in the midst of an acrimonious Arminian/Calvinist dispute. Most of my friends were children of parents on the other side of the battlefield.
The fact that theologians have been arguing issues like this without resolution for a very long time suggests that the “right” answer might be out of reach, and it is time to reframe the questions being asked. And maybe the tone in which we ask them. It’s not that we shouldn’t have theological and political opinions, or shouldn’t act, based on those opinions. But the certainty with which we hold those opinions blinds us to the actual footprint of our behavior toward each other.
I suspect God might be more concerned about who we injure in our certainty than whether we are Republican or Democrat.
Barry Wong says
james archbold says
Re Jesus political standing- Birth certificate pending.
The phrase usually means that Christianity shouldn’t be used as a crass political tool. Since the Moral Majority started in the late 1970s, the GOP has claimed the rights to Christianity, which tarnishes religion with greed, cruelty to the poor, warmongering, torture of prisoners… Before that religion has been used for different causes: civil rights, prohibition, suppressing voting for women, then blacks before. It was used by both sides on slavery, but justifying and condemning. But today one party wants to claim it to the exclusion of the other. It wants to ignore half of the Religious Freedom (free exercise) and destroy the other half (forbidden establishment) in what is a baldly theocratic push. It seems power hungry.
This is not positive.
I understand fighting abortion, but don’t think harnessing to cruel power hungry, bloodthirsty torturers is the direction Jesus would go.
Meant to say it wants to elevate free expression and destroy the idea of no establishment.
Johnny Hutchinson says
“Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” [John 6:15]
The first problem with such conflations of the Gospel of the Kingdom and sociopolitical causes is that it is conscripting and constraining Christ, or at least our image of Him, within our own preferred box. He does not remain Lord, but a handmaiden “Great Kazoo” of our political fetishes.
Secondly, the extent by which both parties are at variance with Kingdom ethics at the present time is so great, a Christian should not belong to either party. If one does not believe so, it may be an indication that one’s understanding of the Christ has been long blighted by the sociopolitical perspective through which we see Him, and correspondingly we lack a critique through a more faithful Christianity towards the party that we support. This is not to suggest that God is not interested in temporal politics. But True Christianity is and will always be independent of any political platform.
Christians generally have a erroneous and/or immature political theology by which to comprehend and prudently practice politics. “The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8). Whether Two Swords, Two Kingdoms, Separation of Church and State, or the myriad of others; every political theology falls down for a seminal reason that Scriptures intended to demonstrate: external laws, and by extension constitutions, political structures, and political machinations are too weak a static defense to restrain the evil genius of man to circumvent them.
You can’t say one political party is better than the other. You can’t say one dogma is better than the other. In my opinion one of the basic problems with Christianity is the attitude my church is better than your church. Aren’t we all striving for the same thing. None of us is worthy of throwing the first stone so let’s worry about removing the splinter from our own eye before we worry about the one in our brother’s eye.
Looking from outside of the US, if the Republicans select Trump it would be impossible for a Christian to vote for either party in November!
Seems to me the most obvious reason why this isn’t a useful question is that Jesus was not American.
steve hays says
The issue is primarily ethical and secondarily political. Do we have a gov’t that allows us to love our neighbor, honor our parents, provide for our family, &c., or do we have a gov’t that increasingly forbids us to do what is right and commands us to do what is wrong?
The Democrat Party is the party of abortion and euthanasia. The party that pushes a public eduction monopoly to indoctrinate kids (e.g. “war on boys”). The party that denies the difference between men and women, and prosecutes you if you dissent (transgender laws and ordinances). The party that strives to disempower parents.
Because social ethics intersect with politics, that’s why Christians need to be politically involved. They need to lobby for laws and public policies that allow them to fulfill their godly social obligations. The Democrat party is increasingly and militantly antithetical to that.