What is the relationship between religion and politics? Can a church member or the church itself be involved in politics? How should we relate to the state and to the political authorities who are in charge?
Dr. Bert Beach began his article “The Christian and Politics”1 with the above three questions. Many Seventh-day Adventists think that the church has no political role to play and that individual members should not be involved in politics. Many Christians have the opposite point of view and believe that it is the responsibility of every Christian to influence politicians to build a better world. Many Christians also think that to do nothing is to support the wrongs and allow injustice to rule the world, while a minority of Christians thinks that the church’s mission is only to build the city of God here on earth.
How do we choose the right position? First of all, we have to look at Jesus. What did He do? What was His position toward politics? Jesus was not a political leader. His temptation in the wilderness had a political dimension. His feeding of the multitude could have been the first step in His assuming kingly power. What about the triumphal entry into Jerusalem? But He resisted the temptation to become a political figure. His mission was primarily spiritual, yet it had strong political implications. He taught justice and honesty. He condemned the leaders and the rich who oppressed the poor. He spent time with the poor and the oppressed.
The boundary between social and political issues is not always easy to determine. Adventist pioneers were involved in some social issues. At the beginning, Adventists were concerned about alcoholism, slavery, the oppression of women, and the educational needs of children and youth.
Dr. Beach wrote: “Christianity is not a religion of isolated individualism or insulated introversion; it is a religion of community. Christian gifts and virtues have social implications. Commitment to Jesus Christ means commitment begets responsibility for the welfare of others.”
I will share some principles which can be helpful when dealing with this very important topic. The Religious Liberty Leader’s Handbook2 has been a significant source of suggestions and information for this article.
THE CHRISTIAN IS A SERVANT
The Bible gives us several examples of people who served their country and their kings in high positions of responsibility and who God was able to use because of their faithfulness. The New Testament principle is that the Christian must love and serve his neighbor. My neighbor is anyone living in a society, in a country, or in the world. To serve my neighbor means also to serve my city, my country, and even the world.
Jesus said to His disciples: “The kings of the Gentiles lord over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves” (Luke 22:25, 26).
THE CHRISTIAN'S MOTIVATION IS LOVE
The Christian’s motivation for service must be far more than monetary reward or social prestige. It has to reveal the kind of God he or she believes in—a God who loves people. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Jesus became a servant because He loves us.
Ellen G. White wrote: “The exercise of force is contrary to the principles of God’s government. He desires only the service of love, and love cannot be commanded; it cannot be won by force or authority. Only by love is love awakened.”3 This is fundamental.
THE CHRISTIAN WORKS FIRST FOR THE GLORY OF GOD
We are first of all citizens who owe our allegiance to the King of kings. We are not from this world, but we are working in this world as ambassadors of God and His kingdom. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Eccl. 9:10). And “whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Col. 3:23).
There is no radical opposition between serving God and serving the community and the country. The two kingdoms have common rules. They also have opposing rules. In case of conflict, the Christian will obey his Master. As Adventists, we believe in the validity of the Ten Commandments, which point to certain values and serve as our guide. We recognize them as the rules of the kingdom of God. The apostle Peter said, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
The values of our faith and the law of God identify the border between these two sometimes-conflicting realities.
For the Christian, rulers are God’s servants, whether they acknowledge this responsibility or not. Ellen G. White wrote: “Rulers are God’s servants, and they are to serve their time as His apprentices. . . . They are not to connive at one act of dishonesty or injustice. They are not to do a base, unjust action themselves, nor to sustain others in acts of oppression. Wise rulers will not permit the people to be oppressed because of the envy and jealousy of those who disregard the law of God.”4
"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men. Col. 3:23"
A CHRISTIAN CAN HOLD A HIGH POSITION
Great opportunities exist for Christians who are employed by the government in positions of leadership or public service. They must use their God-given gifts and talents for the good of the community and the nation. They must continue to work for the good of all and “do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31), rather than for selfish purposes or their own promotion and interest. During Bible times, God’s men and women who held prominent positions of power and authority were committed to their work, to their people, and to God. Think of Joseph, Daniel, Esther, and Nehemiah. All of them faithfully fulfilled an important role in God’s plan.
A CHRISTIAN CAN HAVE A GOOD INFLUENCE ON THE GOVERMENT
When church members are elected to significant positions of public office and responsibility, the influence of their lives and their example becomes even greater and demands careful attention. By their actions and their lifestyle, they can have a powerful influence for good or evil. They have opportunities to be important witnesses to the truth, just like Daniel and his three friends in Babylon.
Frequently the church is judged by the witness and lifestyle of its members who serve in prominent places. Many times they are a positive witness, but sometimes they can be an embarrassment and a poor advertisement for the church. Peter urged Christians to maintain good conduct among the Gentiles in order to glorify God (1 Peter 1:12).
A CHRISTIAN HOLDING A HIGH POSITION CAN HELP PROTECT THE PEOPLE OF GOD
Through careful representation and diplomacy, dedicated Christians in positions of responsibility can help to avert trouble. Joseph helped save Egypt from famine and provided protection for the children of Israel in Goshen. Ezra and Nehemiah obtained assistance from Artaxerxes to complete the rebuilding program. Esther had a prominent role in saving her people from genocide. To those Christians who are serving their country during times of crises, God says, as Mordecai said to Esther, “And who knows but that you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).
THE SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTIST CHURCH IS NEUTRAL TOWARD PARTY POLITICS
The Seventh-day Adventist Church avoids advising its members in political matters and does not support any particular political party. Some church members have become involved in politics, which is their personal decision. However, because of the rivalry that often exists between political parties, it is better, when feasible, for Christians who wish to stand for positions of responsibility in elections, to do so as independents.
THE SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTIST CHURCH IS NOT NEUTRAL ON MORAL ISSUES
Christian values must be shared, promoted, and protected. When a political program is in opposition to Christian values such as justice, temperance, freedom, and separation between church and state, the Adventist citizen has to accomplish his/her task according to his/her beliefs and conscience. To refuse to vote is not an effective way to contribute to a better society. Some laws and political programs can have very negative results.
Ellen G. White wrote: “In our favored land, every voter has some voice in determining what laws shall control the nation. Should not that influence and that vote be cast on the side of temperance and virtue?”5
THE SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTIST CHURCH DOES NOT DICTATE HOW TO VOTE
The decision on how we vote or whom we support is an individual decision. It should be made prayerfully based on what we believe will be the best for the country and for the continued proclamation of the gospel. The church should not be involved in political campaigning.
Never should the pulpit or church meetings be used as a platform for political campaigning. Ellen G. White wrote: “Would we know how we may best please the Savior? It is not engaging in political speeches, either in or out of the pulpit.”6 For Adventist pastors and teachers to do so would potentially be very divisive for the church.
THE CHRISTIAN WILL STAND FOR SEPERATION BETWEEN CHURCH AND STATE
No earthly power or government has the right to legislate in matters of religion, and never should the church use its influence or its power to bring about religious legislation or force others to conform to its beliefs or practices.
Ellen G. White points out the Satanic nature of compelling conscience: “All persecution, all force employed to compel conscience, is after Satan’s own order; and those who carry out these designs are his agents to execute his hellish purpose. In following Satan’s cruel proposals, in becoming his agents, men become the enemies of God and His church, and will be judged in that great day by that man whom God had ordained; for He had committed all judgment into the hands of His Son.”7
1 Dialogue, 1997, vol. 9, no. 1:5.
2 Department of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty, South England Conference, 1993.
3 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, 22.
4 Ellen G. White in Review and Herald, October 1, 1895.
5 Ellen G. White, Gospel Workers, 387.
6 Ellen G. White, Testimonies to Ministers, 331, 332.
7 Ellen G. White in Review and Herald, January 10, 1893.
John Graz is the director of the Department of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty at the General Conference. This article is from the just-published book Issues of Faith & Freedom— Defending the Right to Profess, Practice, and Promote One’s Beliefs, available at <www.adventistbookcenter.com>.