Politics and the Text

I don’t know if the church gets much more divided than during an election year. 2024 is shaping up to be no different. How should we, the body of Christ, think and behave in this divisive climate?

In this article of Faith and Fellowship, different Lutheran Brethren authors offer a few helpful ways to think about approaching political issues. To set the stage for these articles, this article will remind us of a few important New Testament texts to keep in mind, as well.

Romans 13:1,7
1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God... 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”

This text sounds fine as an abstract idea, but it can be a lot more challenging when it’s placed in a historical context. While in some situations, scripture does indeed give us license to obey God rather than man (Acts 4:19), keep in mind Paul’s experience with governing authorities. They weren’t always “just.”

Perhaps the most striking example of how far Paul would take this submission occurred in Philippi, in Acts 16. There, Paul submits to an unjust beating and imprisonment, even though he could have invoked his Roman citizenship at any time. Through his submission to unjust authorities, the Philippian jailer and his household were saved.

This exhortation and this example remind us to submit to our governing authorities with respectful, honoring speech and prayers (1 Tim 2:2), whether we agree with all their moral, economic, and governing decisions or not.

Throughout his ministry, Paul gained hearings with several government officials throughout the Roman world. As far as we know, Paul invested no energy to fight for better political systems, nor did he disparage those leaders publicly. He certainly gives general believers no guidance to do so. And why? Because our attention should be focused elsewhere; something Paul explains in our next text.

1 Corinthians 9:20, 22
20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews… 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.

Paul’s priority was preaching the gospel, and he was careful to avoid creating obstacles to that priority. To the Jews? He became a Jew. To the gentiles? He became a gentile. That got him into trouble sometimes, but he knew what he was doing. He was becoming all things to all people for the sake of the gospel.

Perhaps the question for us this year would be how can a Christian be a Democrat to the Democrats, and a Republican to the Republicans?

This doesn’t mean that you have to lie and be disingenuous depending on whom you’re talking to. In fact, there are both valid concerns and valid problems with both parties, yet history shows they will both disappoint! Instead of digging in and arguing for one side or another, Christians have the freedom to not get overly focused on political parties, because we are focused on more important things.

If a conversation turns political perhaps affirm what can be affirmed—if that’s even necessary (maybe silence is better)—in order to avoid creating obstacles set up by political stances that could turn divisive. Why? Because our hope is something better than any political party.

Revelation 21:1,4
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. . . 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Finally, from Revelation 21, we are reminded that all earthly injustice will finally be resolved at the renewal of all things.

Revelation 21 is all about the final, ultimate, perfect ending to the longings and pain this world has. While earthly kingdoms will always disappoint, God has promised a final kingdom that will “wipe away every tear.” A kingdom with no death! A kingdom with no mourning, nor crying, nor pain!

So, as we come into this divisive political season, we remember with Romans 13 to submit and honor our governing authorities. This likely involves participation in our political systems. However, we remember with 1 Corinthians 9 to be cautious, that our participation should not create obstacles for others. And ultimately, with Revelation 21, we remember that these political systems are ultimately hopeless, and not the answers to the injustice we see in the world today.

Like Paul, we can endure injustice now because of our eternal hope. More than that, we can proclaim this eternal kingdom to a dying and broken world that doesn’t know where to look for hope.

Dr. Daniel Berge is Professor of New Testament at Lutheran Brethren Seminary.


Dr. Berge wrote a longer version of this article for "Letter to the Shepherds," the Seminary Alumni Journal. CLICK HERE to read that full article.

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