“Christianity Is Neither Left nor Right,” Part 2: Re-envisioning Conscience Issues As Discipleship Issues
by Owen Strachan
September 1, 2021
On “Worldview Wednesday,” we feature an article that addresses a pressing cultural, political, or theological issue. The goal of this blog series is to help Christians think about these issues from a biblical worldview. Read our previous posts on the Center for Biblical Worldview page. Part one of this particular series can be read here.
Many of us have heard for years now that politics is nothing more than a jump ball. Because Christians inevitably disagree over political matters, we should simply ascribe those disagreements to differing consciences and move on. But as it turns out, our convictions matter tremendously. Elections have consequences—sometimes terrible consequences, as we are now witnessing in Afghanistan after the U.S. military’s withdrawal and the Taliban’s swift takeover of the country.
We cannot blink this dreadful situation away. What we can do at present is retool and reload as Christians. We can remember that faithful biblical figures like Esther, Joseph, and Daniel walked faithfully in fallen times. While not swearing unquestioning allegiance to any political party, we can train the next generation to reject the bankrupt “neither left nor right” philosophy. We can do so by lining out several core considerations.
As I will show in this article, numerous matters have been classified as conscience issues when they are actually discipleship issues. Although there are various gray areas in the Christian faith that the Bible does not directly address, the following (often politicized) principles are not gray areas—they stem from the clear teaching of Scripture. Our approach to different candidates and bills may vary to some degree, but our approach to these biblical realities cannot, and it is clear biblical truth that should shape who and what we support in the days ahead.
The Bible is ardently and unequivocally pro-life. It tells us that God created humans in His own image (Gen. 1:27) and knit us together in our mothers’ wombs (Ps. 139:13-14). It gives us a powerful example of an evil ruler putting children to death and doing so in order to destroy Christ, the incarnate King, in his infancy (Mat. 2:16-18). Christianity is not unclear in the least about protecting babies from the hideous evil of abortion. This is a major priority for us and must be going forward: to do all we can to support candidates and policies that will oppose and ultimately defeat abortion.
For a deeper explanation of how the Bible supports the personhood of the unborn, see FRC’s resource Biblical Principles for Pro-Life Engagement.
In Matthew 22:21, Jesus says these monumental words: “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” This statement undergirds the essential nature of the church. The church is not ruled by Caesar, but by Christ. By extension, Christ’s words teach us that Caesar must do all it can not to encroach on the God-given spiritual jurisdiction of the church. Caesar did not shed his blood for believers; Christ did. In practical form in the public square, this means that government must recognize the need for religious liberty, for citizens to pursue the worship of God without the violation of their conscience. Religious liberty is thus of major importance. In our time, though, it is imperiled. Christians need to support candidates and policies that back religious liberty and will protect our freedom of thought, freedom of conscience, and freedom of speech. If these forms of liberty are compromised, all others will eventually be compromised as well.
The Bible tells us in the eighth commandment, “Thou shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15). There is much more embedded in this simple directive than we might initially think. If you cannot steal, that means you need to respect your neighbor’s property and possessions. You might think you have a right to them, but you do not. Christians must stand behind candidates and policies that recognize the sacredness of the individual and the individual’s role in broader society.
Jesus was an advocate of appropriately bounded government. (Think about it: the only perfect human backed limited government!) The God-man taught his hearers that God was due worship, and Caesar was due taxes (Mat. 22:20-22). Jesus threw down with this statement, in reality. The Roman emperors not infrequently viewed themselves as divine. But only the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was real; all others were just pretenders. From this starting point, we do all we can in a fallen world to back candidates and policies that rightly limit government jurisdiction to its appointed ends. The government is constituted by God to bear the sword, intimidate evildoers, and bring in appropriate taxes in order (by extension) to carry out responsible public works like infrastructure. There are gray areas beyond such mandates, but the Christian is called from a careful reading of Scripture to track with Christ and support a limited government that doesn’t overstep its God-ordained bounds.
Biblical Sexual Ethic and God-Defined Identity
The Bible begins, in social terms, with a marriage in a beautiful garden ceremony, the garden of Eden (Gen. 2:21-25). Out of the gate, Scripture exalts the lifelong covenantal union of one man and one woman. It never wavers or shifts from this starting point (Mat. 19:5-6). Nor does it shrink back from showing and declaring the wrongness of homosexual and extramarital sex, gender-bending, and forming one’s identity according to one’s unredeemed lusts and impulses (Deut. 22:5; Rom. 1:18-32). Christians should support candidates and policies that advocate for the biblical sexual ethic, recognizing that we are free to back non-Christians in the public square who agree in broad terms on these matters.
True Biblical Justice
Today, justice is corrupted. As I have covered elsewhere, so-called “social justice” is not about encouraging true equality (often called equality of opportunity) but a false one (often called equality of outcome). Social justice seekers often end up opposing private enterprise, traditional society, and the free market.
A society driven by social justice will end up with no justice at all. Our judicial system, for example, will judge people in reparative terms (softening sentences due to an offender’s tough background, for example), not moral terms (holding them to account for their actions). Biblical justice is impartial, moral, retributive, and anchored in the character of God himself (see Lev. 19:15; Ps. 82; Rom. 4-5). Christians should stand with candidates and policies that advance true impartial justice, not social justice, and this includes both justice in our own country (in the courts) and also foreign policy that will, we pray, yield some measure of justice and opportunity abroad.
The Free Market
The Bible supports the payment of workers what they are due (1 Tim. 5:18). It emphasizes hard work, thrift, wise investment, the multiplication of resources, and cheerful giving (Prov. 6:10-12; 12:11; 13:4). Christ himself taught the parable of the talents, a spiritual lesson that depends upon the reality of exponential growth of the value of tangible resources (Mat. 25:14-30). In sum, the free market is supported by the Word of God, which frames all economic activity in theocentric (God-centered) and ethical terms. In history, the free market has been an incredible engine of flourishing, lifting whole countries out of poverty when embraced and allowed leash. Christians should line up behind candidates and policies that encourage the free market.
Probably the first response some readers will have is this: “I agree with you on these principles, but I struggle to find viable mouthpieces of my Christian convictions.” This is an understandable response. We are not in a perfect world. We Christians have no perfect political candidates before us. Different parties and movements fail in certain respects. Further, Christians not infrequently are catered to in the runup to elections and then forgotten once candidates take office.
But I submit this: we have two duties. We must oppose what is evil. And we must stand for what is good. The Lord does not expect us to form a perfect Christian political party, nor find perfect political candidates. The Lord expects us to do the best we can with the hand we are dealt. We should do everything we can to oppose policies of corruption and evil. We should do everything we can to promote biblical truth in the public square and back candidates and policies that come the closest to aligning with our convictions.
This will never—I repeat, never—be easy. It will always be messy. It will often be frustrating. But it is necessary, nonetheless. We have no guarantee of saving America; we know our identity as believers is ultimately the new heavens and new earth. But until we can put that zip code on our envelope, we must be salt and light in this place and in this season (Mat. 5:13-14).
Like Esther, we have been placed here for such a time as this.
For further consideration of how Christians should think about politics, see FRC’s resource Biblical Principles for Political Engagement.
Owen Strachan is the author of Christianity and Wokeness (Salem Books). A Senior Fellow with the Center for Biblical Worldview at FRC, he is Provost and Research Professor of Theology at Grace Bible Theological Seminary and hosts The Antithesis podcast.