In chapter 22, “The Perils of Politics” in God & Government.  Colson shares three potential pitfalls in the political realm for the Church and individual belivers if they are not wary.

1. The church will become just another special-interest group.

Colson notes that was a mistake that President Reagan made when he was challenged by the press regarding his attendance at a “religious right” function during his 1980 campaign was “mixing religion and politics.”  Reagan responded that “the church was like any other special interest group, after all – like a union, for example.”

Colson also writes:

“Reagan was refreshingly candid, but dead wrong….. We should always remember that our allegiance is to the kingdom of God.  To behave as if the Church is just another special-interest group demeans the Church and the Lord of the Church…. Representatives of the kingdom of God must never forget that the transcendence of God’s justice must come before any political entanglement that marries Christianity to a political movement.”

2.  Christian leaders who are courted by political forces may soon begin to overestimate their own importance.

It is easy to get caught up in the power and allure of politics.  Christian leaders should never forget that their influence is because of what they represent, not who they are.

It is easy to compromise their independence rather than lose access to political influence when they need to confront a specific issue.  Colson states that the result of that is that “they keep their place but lose their voice and thus any possibility of holding government to moral account.”

3.  The Gospel becomes hostage to the political fortunes of a particular movement.

This is likely the most dangerous snare and you have seen this mistake made by both liberals and conservatives when they have aligned their spiritual goals with a particular political agenda.

You see this when we receive letters from Christian political advocacy group that have a “sky is falling tone” making it sound like the Church is doomed.  Colson notes that one Christian leader when asked what would happen if the Democrats won the 1988 presidential election said, “I don’t know what will happen to us.”  I guess he forgot that not even the gates of hell will prevail against the Church, (Matthew 16:18) so the Democratic Party shouldn’t be of any concern regarding the future of the Church.

On the left Colson gives the example of a Methodist bishop who wrote after Reagan won the 1980 election, “The blame out not to be placed on all the vigor of the Right, but maybe on the weakness of the saints… If the people of faith will be strengthened by defeat and address themselves to the new agenda which is upon us.”

If you agreed with the Bishop you were a person of faith, if you didn’t you evidently were not.  Colson writes of a prominent figure with the evangelical left:

Nor are you (a person of faith) if you support any of President Bush’s policies, according to Sojourners founder Jim Wallis, who has attacked religious conservatives for being obsessed with abortion and gay “marriage,” and for being indifferent to the plight of the poor.  Unfortunately anyone who disagrees with Wallis’s ideas on how we should go about fighting poverty – if they think, for instance, that faith-based initiatives do more to help those in need than simply throwing money at them – is dismissed as not caring for the poor.

Colson states that only way the Church can be the conscience of society is when it is free of any outside domination and avoid these dangerous pitfalls.

This was a challenging chapter for me to read.  I do not believe that I’ve crossed the line (feel free to disagree with me).  I have endorsed McCain, but that doesn’t mean I won’t point out areas of disagreement.  Perhaps next time I’ll be neutral, perhaps not.  Colson feels that we shouldn’t make endorsements, I’m not so sure I agree but I understand his point.  I do, however, agree with the pitfalls he states.  Christians need to vote their consciences and vote for the common good.  We need to speak out against injustice in the policies of either party and not be beholden to any.

What do you think?

8 comments
  1. Because we live in a republic where we vote in our representation, and because we also are fundamentally Christian in thought and deed, I don’t see how it’s possible NOT to endorse one political candidate over another or integrate our world view into our politics. I think the harder part is keeping the world – and the worldly thinking – out of both.

  2. Because we live in a republic where we vote in our representation, and because we also are fundamentally Christian in thought and deed, I don’t see how it’s possible NOT to endorse one political candidate over another or integrate our world view into our politics. I think the harder part is keeping the world – and the worldly thinking – out of both.

  3. Colson wouldn’t disagree with the integration of our worldview into politics. The point he’s making is that we not become so enamored with a particular candidate or party that we not challenge them when they go astray.

  4. Colson wouldn’t disagree with the integration of our worldview into politics. The point he’s making is that we not become so enamored with a particular candidate or party that we not challenge them when they go astray.

  5. If absolute power corrupts absolutely, politics is worse.

    Point #1- Spot on, I have nothing to add.

    Point #2- Wherever you have people, you deal with pride. Even the most godly need to guard against that.

    Point #3 – I think the problem we face as Christians is whether we have a candidate in which we can agree to their whole platform. Do we vote for the lesser of two evils in the cases where we feel we do not? A tough question and I am not sure. Participation in government is being a dutiful citizen, but if politics and kingdom issues do not line up pretty well, what do you do?

  6. If absolute power corrupts absolutely, politics is worse.

    Point #1- Spot on, I have nothing to add.

    Point #2- Wherever you have people, you deal with pride. Even the most godly need to guard against that.

    Point #3 – I think the problem we face as Christians is whether we have a candidate in which we can agree to their whole platform. Do we vote for the lesser of two evils in the cases where we feel we do not? A tough question and I am not sure. Participation in government is being a dutiful citizen, but if politics and kingdom issues do not line up pretty well, what do you do?

  7. Good review, Shane. I think Bonhoeffer put it best when he said. ” The church is the church only when it exists for others…it must tell men of every calling what it means to live in Christ, to exist for others….In particular, our own church will have to take the field against the vices of hubris, power-worship, envy, and humbug (I love that–it seems particularly appropriate for the type of political garbage that is mostly afloat in the media) as the roots of all evil.” (from Letters and Papers from Prison) I think he was concerned about speaking (and living) truth into all situations, perhaps especially political ones as his situation was particularly about speaking truth into the political realm. He also emphasized in Ethics that part of this truth speaking..does depend on who you are “speaking” with. I think that is where political advocacy by Christians gets us into hot water. To advocate outside of our own circle as representatives of Christ, exposes us to the marvelously perceptive and suddenly logical foes who see the inconsistencies in our candidate and are quick to point out real and apparent inconsistencies in our positions. Words aren’t worth much anymore. Too many of them out there.

  8. Good review, Shane. I think Bonhoeffer put it best when he said. ” The church is the church only when it exists for others…it must tell men of every calling what it means to live in Christ, to exist for others….In particular, our own church will have to take the field against the vices of hubris, power-worship, envy, and humbug (I love that–it seems particularly appropriate for the type of political garbage that is mostly afloat in the media) as the roots of all evil.” (from Letters and Papers from Prison) I think he was concerned about speaking (and living) truth into all situations, perhaps especially political ones as his situation was particularly about speaking truth into the political realm. He also emphasized in Ethics that part of this truth speaking..does depend on who you are “speaking” with. I think that is where political advocacy by Christians gets us into hot water. To advocate outside of our own circle as representatives of Christ, exposes us to the marvelously perceptive and suddenly logical foes who see the inconsistencies in our candidate and are quick to point out real and apparent inconsistencies in our positions. Words aren’t worth much anymore. Too many of them out there.

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