Does the Bible support the Christian Right?

Q. It troubles me a great deal that in American culture some Christians have labeled themselves as the “Christian Right” and aligned themselves with certain political groups. We all know now why Christ was crucified, but at the time he was persecuted because he didn’t overturn the government as the populace expected him too. I am not trying to be judgmental about these groups, but doesn’t their well publicized agenda turn non-Christians off about being open to becoming followers of Jesus if they don’t agree with their politics? I don’t see the Bible supporting one political opinion over another. Our job seems to be clear: to love our Lord our God with all of our being and love our neighbor as ourself.  Am I missing something?

This question gets into a vast subject that has complex and interrelated political, sociological, historical, and theological dimensions, which I can’t even begin to address here.  For the purposes of this blog, however, let me share a few reflections on what I think are the biblical dimensions of this question.

One thing we discover in the Bible is that government and politics are included in the comprehensive range of cultural endeavors that God wants faithful people to become involved in.  Biblical figures such as Joseph, Daniel, Esther, and Nehemiah provide models for us by the way they exerted a godly influence from the important government positions they held.  Paul writes in Romans that the governing authorities have been “established by God” and that rulers are “God’s servants.”  So the Bible does not support the view that followers of Jesus should stay away from government and politics as if these things were inherently worldly and contaminating–although those who do participate must always be careful to maintain complete honesty and integrity.

On the other hand, we also discover from the Bible that no one political position or agenda fully expresses God’s wishes for a given culture.  One of the best illustrations of this is the way Jesus chose his twelve disciples from across the full political spectrum of his day.  Matthew was a tax collector who had collaborated with the Romans occupation of Judea; Simon the Zealot belong to a party that advocated violent resistance to Rome.  Jesus called both of them, and everyone in between, to join him in a kingdom that was “not of this world,” but which was nevertheless destined to transform the world so that it would once again conform to God’s original intentions in creation.

The outworking of the kingdom of God in a specific culture can take place along many different paths. The Bible itself illustrates how various answers can legitimately be given, in keeping with godly principles, to cultural questions.  Could Jews intermarry with non-Jews?  Some biblical books say definitely not, others suggest that in certain cases the answer might be yes.  Could Jewish followers of Jesus eat with Gentile followers?  The New Testament records that some early church leaders sincerely felt they shouldn’t, while others felt they could.  How should Jesus’ followers relate to Rome?  As noted above, Paul explained that the Roman authorities were “God’s servants.”  But at other cultural moments captured in the New Testament, Rome was an enemy to all believers, portrayed as riding on the beast from the Abyss and “drunk with the blood of God’s holy people.”

So in our own day, we should be careful not to identify a single political movement or agenda with God’s purposes for our nation.  There are at least some things in every party or movement’s agenda that do reflect the ideals of the kingdom of God, and other things that don’t.  All followers of Jesus should be “fully convinced in their own minds” about what political principles to endorse and support, but at the same time they should be gracious and generous towards other followers of Jesus who are involved in politics but who are coming from a different perspective. Each should give the other credit for having good motives and for having thought through the biblical basis of their beliefs.  Ideally Jesus’ followers should be able to model how to work together for the common good across ideological differences–something that is badly needed in our society today!

I believe it is true that the media publicity afforded to some figures on the “Christian Right” has created the impression in some minds that to be a follower of Jesus (or at least to be accepted as one), a person must hold certain political views.  I hope all believers will make every effort to correct this false impression. (This can probably be done most effectively by those who agree politically with the Christian Right.  Blow the minds of your Christian friends who are political liberals by affirming their genuine faith and thanking them for their sincere desire to make a difference in our world according to their understanding of the implications of biblical principles!)

To conclude, I agree that our mandate from Jesus is to love the Lord our God with all of our being and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  How that works out politically will be complicated and it will require lots of good will and cooperation among followers of Jesus who see things differently, but who are all equally sincere and equally committed to the coming of the kingdom of God.

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is an an ordained minister, a writer, and a biblical scholar. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the New International Version (NIV) that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He was also a consultant to Tyndale House for the Immerse Bible, an edition of the New Living Translation (NLT) that similarly presents the Scriptures in their natural literary forms, without chapters and verses or section headings. He has a B.A. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

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