Politics Is Not Theology

By Graham Glover

Say it with me: “Politics is not theology.”

One more time: “Politics is not theology.”

To put it another way, the art of politics is not the practice of theology.

In other words, politicians are not theologians. While not a novel or groundbreaking statement, it is one I find increasingly necessary to make in this volatile political season.

Politics is most often about compromise. To get things done, politicians are required to negotiate. Conversely, theologians should always maintain their theological integrity. The practice of their vocation should seldom, if ever, compromise on matters of the faith.

This shouldn’t be a difficult concept to grasp. Believers know that faith ultimately means very little when theology is compromised. Students of politics know that nothing is accomplished—at least nothing lasting—without compromising on policy. Yet some believers continue to look to politicians to be stern examples of rigidness, remaining steadfast on all issues in order that they might “solve” the things that plague our land. These believers naively think that if we only elect the right candidates, who refuse to compromise, all the while passing the right laws and appointing the right judges, that our nation might finally be made right(eous) again.

But this is hogwash. It is political and theological naiveté at best. You know it and so does any serious student of theology and politics. Politicians must compromise. If you think they shouldn’t, you don’t really understand politics. Theologians, however, are bound to the Word made flesh, which doesn’t allow for such negotiation.

Again: “Politics is not theology.”

Now, are there issues where politicians should remain resolute? Of course. On the issues of life, marriage, and religious liberty, believers should expect their governing officials to remain true to the tenants of their faith. Too often, our politicians quickly compromise on these issues after the election cycle is over. Even more common is a capitulation to the changing social mores when these politicians don’t need the grassroots efforts of those that helped get them elected or appointed in the first place. The desire to be liked and affirmed by trending sections of society is palpable when politicians fail to uphold in practice what they know to be right in principle. What is even more frustrating is when their compromise comes before the issue is even debated or a vote offered.

But even on these issues—these “uncompromising” issues—the faithful cannot equate politics with theology. We cannot look to our politicians to change the moral failure of our nation. They can help by not condoning sinful behavior. It would be great if they were able to undo laws that are clearly ungodly. How they do this and the manner in which the votes and decisions are made to make such things happen would undoubtedly be messy and likely not a perfect solution, but it would be a start. Even then, we must remember that the only thing that will ultimately make our world righteous is the Gospel of Christ. Human laws won’t do it. Politicians can’t do it. Only Jesus can make things right.

And this is why politics is not theology. For the things of man are not the things of God. Our imperfect nature can never do what only God can. Politics is tarred with compromise, a reality that will never change. Theology is graced with the eternal truths of the divine, a reality that cannot and will not compromise.

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2 thoughts on “Politics Is Not Theology

  1. My two cents… From my article in the April 2016 “Lutheran Witness”…

    “Second, it is very possible that elections will be held in which none of the potential candidates is Christians. When this is true, what are we to consider?

    No matter the electoral circumstance, it is always profitable for Christians to have a good understanding of the doctrine of the two kingdoms; that is, the kingdom of the right hand and the kingdom of the left hand. The kingdom of the right hand is the power and command of God given to the Church to preach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments for the forgiveness of sins. It is by the rule of this kingdom that we, as Christians, are re-created to exist as citizens who recognize and are concerned for the rule of another kingdom — the kingdom of the left hand. The kingdom of the left hand is the institution and ordination by God of temporal government for the sake of good order (ROM. 13:1-7). In this kingdom, no matter who is serving in the seats of authority, Christians have been given clear instruction by God to pray, intercede and give thanks “for kings and all who are in high positions” (1 TIM. 2:1–2A).

    And why is this? So that the Christian “may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (V. 2B). The text continues that this “is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior” (V. 3).

    But to what end does it please God that His Christians live this way while exercising a concern for prayer and intercession that seeks to establish and maintain godly government? Because God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (V. 4). Knowing this, Christians actively intercede in the midst of the kingdom of the left through elections, prayerfully and mindfully choosing servants who will best provide for such a context in our nation — and also prayerfully and mindfully praying for and speaking for the repentance of those in authority who violate their vocation when they brazenly oppose God’s Word and will.

    In summary, then, it is good for Christians to be concerned with the faith (or lack thereof) of the candidates, in the sense that believers, having been re-created in Holy Baptism, now have a “kingdom of the right” inclination to desire public servants — Christian or otherwise — who parallel the Word of God, or at least, work with eyes set upon good governance, which serves to provide for the Christian Church to exist in peace and quietness while enjoying an unhindered freedom to communicate the Gospel truth to all.”

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