The Political Church: Framing the Discussion

FramePictures have frames to separate them from their surroundings, to help the eye distinguish the picture from the noise of the background. The frame helps us see the picture for what it really is.

When we discuss politics from the Christian perspective, we do well to ask what should make up the edges of the frame — what are the boundaries? What are the limits? What distinguishes Christian political discourse from secular discourse?

And there are several things, including —

1. The Lord Jesus. Christians believe that Jesus is the Messiah of prophecy, sitting on the throne of David and ruling over the entire universe. Even kings must answer to Jesus.

In a democracy, many people have power, and so many people are like kings — and they are all subject to the authority of Jesus, the Lord of lords and King of kings.

Of course, many kings and many people in power have no idea that they are called to serve Jesus, but Christians do. Therefore, it’s especially important that Christians vote, campaign, and lobby as servants of the one true Lord, the only true lord and king. We can’t be selfless, compassionate Christians on Sundays and selfish voters on Tuesdays.

2. “Love your neighbor.” In many respects, the central command of Christianity is love for our neighbors. And we are to be known as God’s people by our love for each other and for those we encounter. We are even required to love our enemies!

Therefore, very early in any political conversation, the question must be asked: what does love require?

And often, the apostles express love in terms of personal sacrifice and service for others. Indeed, selfishness is specifically prohibited to Christians — and yet American politics are almost always framed in terms of selfishness. We must not be very noble people, because our politicians find they best get elected by appealing to our self-interest.

3. “All nations.” Another fundamental of Christianity is that Jesus is Lord of all nations and that our love can have no national boundaries. This is made unmistakeably plain in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, of course — but it goes all the way back to God’s covenant with Abraham, in which he promised to bless all nations through his seed.

Christianity is meant to overcome racial, national, and ethnic barriers, forming all God’s elect into a single nation, a single people. And this principle is so ancient and so central to God’s purposes that we must consider it among the most non-negotiable of the non-negotiables.

Therefore, any political conversation has to be framed in terms of: Does this separate or unify nations? Does this smack of racism?

4. The widows, the fatherless, the alien, and the oppressed. We are called, of course, to love everyone, but God points us toward those who are most vulnerable and needy, because they are most in need of the service and sacrifice that our love calls us to. Therefore, these are the ones closest to the heart of God, and so they should be the closest to our own hearts.

A democracy can be particularly tough on the vulnerable of society, as they often do not vote, and certainly have no money to give to politicians. Therefore, someone else has to stand up for them.

There are two ways for this to happen in a democracy. One way is for a political party to add them to its political coalition in hopes of gaining power through the force of numbers. And this works — to a degree. But it has certain inherent problems —

* There will be others in the coalition with desires that run contrary to the needs of the oppressed. If the oppressed can only act through the party, they may often be forced to take half a loaf — or much less — just to hold the coalition together.

* The coalition may come to take them from granted. As Machiavelli said, keep your friends close — and your enemies closer. Or as the political consultants like to say, “S***w your friends. Where else can they go?”

* The aims of the political structure may not be to help the needy, as much-needed “tough love” may not be politically expedient. The political system may well encourage very self-destructive behaviors just to win the next election.

* The other party becomes the enemy. Why help people who aren’t going to vote for you or give you money no matter what? Polarization is a serious problem for the oppressed — and a nearly inevitable result of coalition politics.

In America, the party that tries to bring the oppressed and needy into its coalition is the Democratic Party, and Republican politicians feel no incentive to help those who vote Democratic. Indeed, they sometimes feel compelled to make them pay a price for supporting the wrong party.

Conservative, white churches tend to be Republican. Liberal white churches tend to be Democrat. Black churches are essentially all Democrat. And, as a result, when the conservative white Christians get together for political purposes, it doesn’t occur to them to think about low-income housing, food stamps, or laws that protect the poor from predatory practices.

In the Republican world, the free economy is sufficient protection, because they have the resources to make choices. (For example, and it’s not an absolute truth, of course, but it’s the poor who are most concerned with laws to protect tenants against unfair practices by landlords. The landlords have no interest in such laws, and the wealthy renters have options that force the market to treat them more fairly.)

So what’s the solution? I’m generally an economic conservative and prefer small government — but I’m no libertarian. I’ve seen enough crime and fraud to appreciate the value of wise government regulation. The market doesn’t cure all ills. Sometimes the market is stupid. Sometimes it’s evil.

Nor do I believe that the American political system always produces the best results — because it’s predicated on competing selfishness. Two parties compete for power by making promises that appeal to our self-interest. It’s amazing that it ever works at all, and sometimes it actually works remarkably well. But not always and not for everyone.

So here’s a plan —

1. The church — white and black, all denominations — unifies to pursue the mission of God in each community. Soon, the church develops not only a passion for the needy in its towns, it develops a deep compassion, because the members know the poor and needy by name and they know the problems they face each day.

2. From compassion comes both credibility and wisdom. Anyone can argue for the poor, but it’s the people who’ve sacrificed time and money to serve them and who know them personally who have the credibility to speak for them.

3. The church stands outside either political party and, instead, speaks with the authority that comes from commitment and experience on behalf of those who can’t speak for themselves.

The church speaks for aliens who can neither vote nor contribute to campaigns — but the church speaks what’s best for all, not necessarily what the aliens want, but what love compels. And the church speaks for the unborn, for orphans, and the disabled. Again, the church isn’t the unpaid lobbyist for the powerless. Rather, the church speaks whatever God’s will is for the powerless.

In reality, in a democracy, a united church would be extraordinarily powerful. Imagine a voting block that includes all Christians! The key, therefore, is not to use that power on behalf of the church or for the wealthy within the church but for the weak and vulnerable of society — fulfilling its natural, prophetic role to speak God’s counsel to the nation’s rulers.

Now, God’s counsel is not always what the poor or the powerful want to hear. God expects people who want to eat to work for their food if they are able. And it’s not loving at all to support laziness or irresponsibility.

And, in fact, it’s not always obvious what laws or policies will be wise. Good people can differ. Somtimes the church needs to resist the temptation to argue specifics (which we so love to do!), and instead speak in generalities.

Does this make the church pro-immigration or pro-welfare. Maybe. Maybe not. After all, we are supposed to love all our neighbors, not just the poor. The church doesn’t blindly advocate for the poor regardless of the consequences to the rest of society. Rather, the church does what it can to make Congress and the state legislatures aware of the needs of weak in society and offers suggestions for meeting those needs in ways that best for us all. It’s about wisdom and judgment..

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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22 Responses to The Political Church: Framing the Discussion

  1. Alan says:

    Does this make the church pro-immigration or pro-welfare. Maybe. Maybe not. After all, we are supposed to love all our neighbors, not just the poor. The church doesn’t blindly advocate for the poor regardless of the consequences to the rest of society.

    Amen. I'd just add that the church should not merely advocate for the short term benefit of the poor (which tends to keep them poor), but for their long term benefit — including a strong economy with plenty of jobs for them. And empowering them with the character and skills necessary to hold those jobs.

  2. John says:

    I still think the best plan is for the church to do the benevolent work. You can define benevolence broadly. Your comments move in that direction, but you stop short of saying it, if I read you right.

    If the church relieved the government of that work, that should result in a tax reduction, which would free up more money for the church's use. If benevolence were handled locally, people would see first-hand the results which should increase their motivation to contribute.

    I am aware that some commenters will now hoot me off the blog…but I think I am right. So come on. 🙂

  3. David Himes says:

    Maybe it's just me, but I see a significant difference between helping the poor and advocating for the poor.

    And "loving one another" seems to have more to do with helping than with advocating.

    Advocating seems to put the burden of helping onto someone else, rather than onto me.

  4. Alan says:

    John, why does it have to be either-or? When the government does benevolence, it uses money taken from both the willing and the unwilling — so there is more money. When the church (and other benevolent organizations) do it, only the willing contribute. Now, we could argue about whether it is right to force the unwilling to contribute. But it's hard to argue that there is not more money for benevolence when the government takes it by force.

  5. Alan says:

    David, that's another false dichotomy. We should do both. Scriptures tell us to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. That's advocacy.

  6. David Himes says:

    It may be false in theory, but it's much less false in practice.

    Most people who are busy helping don't have time to advocate. And most people who are advocating, don't have much time to help.

    So, it is often a practical choice that must be made.

  7. Alan says:

    David, I don't buy that argument. The scriptures tell us to do both, so we really don't have the option of choosing one or the other. If you love your neighbor, you'll do both for him.

  8. Rob Woodfin says:

    I listened to an adult Bible class teacher say recently that "faithful" Christians should respectively be considered "conservative" Christians, "not like 'liberal' Christians who believe and do whatever they want." I think he may have been influenced more by contentious newsletters or talk-radio than by actual Biblical or academic reference.

    When he proceeded to discuss the topic of "false teachers" and use President Obama as his key example, the political agenda became even more clear.

    I would like to suggest that Jesus' ministry on earth was steeped in liberalism. A central tenet of His message was for us to be compassionate in the first person, active voice, present tense. In the sermon on the mount, "meek" and "merciful" seem to me to be characteristics focused on the common welfare rather than individual advancement.

    A primary objective in many conservative congregations today is to "purify" the church. That means sending anyone of liberal thought (folks who read New Wineskins or vote Democratic) to the curb.

    I agree there are extremists in both the liberal and conservative camps, in church and in society. There are also good ideas and efforts on both sides which often lack the cooperation needed to fully succeed due to the winner-take-all attitude encoded in our American DNA. Were we to break down the barriers to reasonable conversation and realize that "walking together" does not require singleness of opinion (or party), we could certainly bear much more fruit for the kingdom.

  9. Tim Archer says:

    A sticking point for me is point #3. The world of the last few centuries has been one of each nation looking to its own interests and those of nations that are somehow allied with it. It's probably always been like that, but we're talking about modern political systems.

    Good national politicians are going to promote the interests of their own country, even when those interests may not be the best for others. It's hard to mesh that with a Christian view that we are part of a kingdom that encompasses all nations.

    Ideally our country will act in a way that will benefit all countries. This has not been true in practical terms. Will it ever be true in the future? I'm pretty skeptical.

    For example, would we be willing to lower our standard of living if it meant raising that of every other nation? (Not saying it would… this is a hypothetical) Would we be willing to have less security here if it meant greater security worldwide? And so on. I honestly don't think so.

    That's why it's hard for me to see the church identifying herself too closely with any nation. Nations look to their own interests. They will gladly use the church to promote their interests, but will only give lip service to promoting the interests of the church.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  10. Tom says:

    Jay, your assertion that "In America, the party that tries to bring the oppressed and needy into its coalition is the Democratic Party, and Republican politicians feel no incentive to help those who vote Democratic" is probably just about as true and as false as most generalizations. If either party "tries to bring the needy or oppressed into its coalition," my observation is that this rarely translates into "an incentive to help" them. It seems to me that whatever inclusiveness there is in any party is almost always about amassing to themselves political power that allows them to have their way. More and more the political system in this country is controlled by those with money regardless of political affiliation. And most are interested in governing to promote their own selfish interests.

  11. laymond says:

    John said, "If the church relieved the government of that work, that should result in a tax reduction, which would free up more money for the church’s use"

    John, that might be a logical answer, if the government only used Christian taxes, to care for the poor. Sorry no hooting , just fact.

  12. John says:

    Hi Laymond,

    The church people who give would pay less taxes which would free up more money.

    We are too political in the church. We need to be less political and more Christian.

  13. laymond says:

    We are too political in the church. We need to be less political and more Christian.

    I could not agree more.

  14. jerry pinciati says:

    "1. The Lord Jesus. Christians believe that Jesus is the Messiah of prophecy, sitting on the throne of David and ruling over the entire universe. Even kings must answer to Jesus."

    This is bad politics. It makes for fundamentalist tyrants and state churches and burning Servetuses at the stake. People who think like this will be excluded from salvation for their tyrannical mindset.

  15. Larry Short says:

    Jery, I disagree. Almost all selfishness comes from centering on us, our group, our economic class, our county, state, nation, etc. The universal of Jesus' reign is to break that away.
    The Arizona law is a catalyst for this problem. What's good for the world including emmigrants is never in a national best interest.
    Right now Mexico has bad gangs making money on drugs and illegal border moves. Crime in the SW USA is rising at a time local government budgets are hurting for revenue. It is a hard time on local law enforcement.
    Miami was like that thirty years ago during the Muriel refugee wave. Cuba pushed prisoners out to sea, and Miami hispanics tried to help them all come. Many only knew crime and returned to it. The coroner's office handled 3 times normal murders, and local hospitals went deep in debt hadling emingrant care. Unlike Az now, the economy then was stronger.
    Remember why the man borned blind was borned that way? So that the power of God could be displayed. Maybe most immigrant problems are an opportunity to show love. That's reflecting the single King of the world.

  16. Anne says:

    It would be wonderful if politics were based in Christianity. Politics, though, sometimes runs a step behind society. It seems to me first and foremost we need to change society and one area we have overlooked in this discussion is our media. We must put pressure on such outlets as what comes out of Hollywood, TV, etc. If we as Christians stood together and refused to watch much of what we are offered maybe we could influence the return of decency. I am always amazed and sometimes appalled at what good decent Christians watch and what they allow their children to watch.

  17. Jay

    I've been reading this post over and over for several days. Something about it bothers me. I think the point that tugs at me is the statement:

    "Nor do I believe that the American political system always produces the best results — because it’s predicated on competing selfishness."

    I always thought the American political system was predicated on, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

    It seems that at some time we lost our way. We chose sides and started hating people on the other side.

  18. Alan says:

    Nor do I believe that the American political system always produces the best results — because it’s predicated on competing selfishness.

    I don't think that's an American distinction. It's mankind in general. I'm not aware of any culture in history that has not been driven by self interest. The difference is in who has the power to win at that competition. Historically, in most nations, government has consolidated power and the people are relatively powerless. What's supposed to be different about America is that that the power of government is limited and the people have power to change the government. But over the years America has trended toward a more powerful government and less powerful people.

    America is not a Christian nation. But it has always been a place where Christians were protected from the government, where they could practice their Christianity without interference. That too has changed, as government policy and public education has become increasingly hostile to some aspects of Christian teaching.

    Many of us were raised with a "God and Country" ethic. I was a Boy Scout and "God and Country" was definitely a pillar of that institution. I think that for real Christianity, nationalism is at best a distraction and at worst heresy. Jesus' kingdom is not of this world, and our citizenship is in heaven.

    Php 3:18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.
    Php 3:19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.
    Php 3:20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,
    Php 3:21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

  19. Jay Guin says:


    When the poor are the victims of unjust laws — which, for example, allow the rich to unfairly exploit them — advocating for the poor is helping the poor. Advocating for the poor doesn't mean advocating for whatever they want. The politicians will do that. Rather, the church should advocate for what love compels, in godly, scripture-informed wisdom.

  20. Jay Guin says:


    Good thoughts. Ironically, I think it's likely that God-consistent policies will further America's prosperity. After WWII, our lend-lease program restored prosperity to both allies and conquered peoples, creating markets for US products and leading the economic boom of the 1950s and later. Third-world poverty is a dead loss to us — costing us charity and lost markets. Defeating poverty does good to all. Economics is not a zero-sum game.

    Latin American poverty is even worse, costing us not only foreign aid and lost markets, but also encouraging the drug trade and illegal immigration.

    Internal corruption and near-feudal economic systems have to be reformed — which is hard for a government to impose from outside. And we've tried using the military for "nation building." Doesn't work.

    Corruption is best defeated by a change in worldview coming from a religion that changes hearts. Only Jesus does that. But if all Jesus wants from us is regular attendance, token benevolence programs, and 5 acts of worship, we could convert entire nations and not see lives improved.

  21. Jay Guin says:


    I'm not arguing for a theocracy, as I've stated at length in earlier posts. But the scriptures name Jesus "King of kings."

    Kings who rule without regard to Jesus' teachings are more likely to be tyrannical — as Jesus teaches against the abuse of power and insists on treating people with justice and love. I grant that many "Christian" rulers have ignored his teachings, but I'd still far rather be governed by a government informed by Biblical teaching than an atheistic government.

  22. Jay Guin says:


    One reason I don't allow readers to turn conversations toward politics (other than in the abstract) is we often show ourselves as very unloving (even hating) people when we discuss our present or past presidents, Congress, etc. And we've come to equally hate the other party. We can't let anger turn to hatred. It's better to suffer wrong than to make the church look bad in the world's eyes!! And yet many Christian websites and forums are filled with unspeakable invective aimed at fellow Christians who disagree over health care or welfare or the Iraq War.

    So, yes, I agree. We lost our way by melding American politics into Christianity — and so feel justified in being unloving in dealing with political questions.

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