by Terry M. Smith
A cartoon of years ago pictured a man seated in a pastor’s office. The pastor looked at him and said, “Give up your life of crime. Quit politics.” The Bible is the inspired Word of God; it is also a library of books written across many years in varied cultures, countries, and political contexts—which affects what political lessons we can take from it today.
When we look for it, politics oozes from Scripture. Both Pharaoh (Ex. 1) and King Herod (Matt. 2) had infants killed to ensure their reign’s survival. Israel’s king was not to seek wealth, wives, or weapons (Deut. 17:14-20), which unwise King Solomon ignored to his and his nation’s downfall (1 Kings 10:14-11:11).
The rise and fall of nations were described at length (1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chr.) and nations were denounced by prophets (Amos, Obadiah). Political alliances were formed. Leaders killed their rivals to retain or take over a throne (2 Kings 19:37). Spies were sent (Josh. 1-2) and assassins struck and were killed in return (2 Kings 21:23-24).
Sages spoke of the king’s role in justice, of God’s ability to raise up leaders, and of how people were to place their ultimate trust in God (Proverbs). The state was not morally neutral; rulers were to “hold no terror for those who do right” (Rom. 13:3; Pro. 16:12-15; Pro. 29:4). The state in general was to be honoured (Rom. 13) and yet it could become demonic in particular contexts and needed to be resisted (Rev. 13).
Christians were to pray for quiet and peace (1 Tim. 2:1-2). Jesus said to give what is Caesar’s to Caesar and to God what is God’s (Matt. 22:21). Christians were to “love … believers, fear God, honor the emperor” (1 Pet. 2:17). There is much more.
There are many lessons to be learned from God’s Word amid many challenges in how to transfer what it says into our context today. No person in the Bible lived in a democracy as we do and original sin affects all of us, not only kings.
Today some Christians try to remove themselves from politics by not voting. It’s an attempt to be peacemakers, to be non-resistant; it’s a rejection of both the use of force and the violence involved in politics. Still, we’re all involved in the political spider web and the spider is not easily ignored. We’re all linked, connected, entangled positively and negatively in what happens politically.
Sixteenth-century Anabaptists made political statements by what they proclaimed and lived. Mennonites in pre-revolutionary Russia were aware of the state’s power; some used the threat of exile to Siberia to control their rivals. The Kleine Gemeinde moved from Russia to Canada in 1874-75 because of the politics in both countries.
Dr. James Urry reminds us that Mennonites have often been active in political affairs and Dr. Frank Epp has said that Mennonites often lobbied when their rights were at risk.
Canada’s election results of Oct. 21 are now in, and analysis is happening as we await how political leaders and parties will work together or not over the next few years. Our nation’s needs are many and people, even Christians, are divided on what to expect and how to respond.
Politics is difficult—Scripture is open about this. What does it mean to be “shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16)? What advice would you give to the politician or to the pastor in the cartoon mentioned earlier?