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.