No Christian would deny that we are to pray for our nation and its leaders. And most would agree that in a democratic nation, believers should be faithful to exercise their right to vote.
But what about going beyond praying and voting—to actually seeking public office? That’s where some draw the line. Should evangelicals really become part of something as worldly as politics?
Absolutely, says Greg Baker, executive director of The Family Leader Ambassador Network. “In the church, if someone says they have a heart to become a pastor, we welcome that; we encourage it. But the second they say they have a heart to become an elected official, we say, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa. What are you doing?’”
That kind of response comes from a faulty understanding of the Bible, Baker says.
“A lot of [today’s] issues are in the institution of government, and a lot of Christians believe government is an institution of the world,” Baker told Decision. “But if you read the Scriptures, it’s not. According to Romans 13, government is an institution of God. It’s actually His, as much as the church is. The government belongs to Him. It’s got a purpose: to punish evil and reward good. And how do you determine good and evil without the church and without the Bible? You can’t do it. Good and evil are determined by the Lord, so if Christians and the church are not engaged with government, it can’t do its job.”
Much of American Christians’ reluctance to engage in the civil process, Baker said, stems from the 1963 Supreme Court decision that removed Bibles from public schools and redefined the separation of church and state. No longer did it mean two separate institutions working together; it began to mean that those two institutions could have nothing to do with each other—and sadly, the church acquiesced. “Today,” Baker said, “the vast majority of churches will not even preach about God’s design for government. They don’t preach about how this actually does belong to the Lord.”
But it’s not too late to become involved and to see change, Baker said: “When you read the Bible, God has taken cultures from far darker places and seen radical change.” Baker points to the ancient city of Nineveh, known for its brutality and wickedness. But the people repented of their sin after the king heard the message of judgment brought by the Prophet Jonah.
So how should Christians go about engaging in the civic process?
“First, we need to change our mindset about what it means to run for office,” Baker said. “We use the word politician all the time. The Bible uses a different word: minister. In Romans 13, it calls government officials ministers of God. Just as a pastor is a minister in the institution of the church, an elected official is a minister in the institution of government. If we believers had that mindset, we’d be far more likely to run for public office.”
Still, some Christians holding elected office today find themselves in a quandary when they are expected to enforce laws that violate their Christian values. What then?
“Be a Daniel,” Baker said. “Daniel was very obedient to the king except in one area: when the king said he couldn’t pray. Daniel was obedient to the king prior to that, and he was obedient after that. The only area where he wasn’t obedient, the Lord took care of. Daniel just did what he knew he had to do.”
One Iowa state representative, whom Decision is not naming because he is running for re-election, is another who did what he knew he had to do. Several years ago he was troubled as he looked at society’s moral decay and the decisions facing Iowa’s legislature. But he concluded that if he was going to complain about the way things were, he had better be ready to offer solutions. After much prayer, he ran for office and has served in Iowa’s House of Representatives ever since.
It has not been easy to champion issues such as religious liberty, traditional marriage and protection of the unborn. He said he has experienced intense spiritual warfare and has been the target of hateful attacks when those issues have been debated. But this is no time to shrink back from such challenges. “Not only do we need Christians in the political realm,” he said, “but we need Christians to rise up to leadership in the political realm. So once elected, you don’t just sit by; you also look for opportunities to influence with godly principles and godly servant leadership.”
Whenever he has come to the point of wondering if the struggle is worth it, he remembers the advice he received from a wise legislator: “If it’s not you, then who else might it be? We may not want the alternative.” ©2016 BGEA