So, if the “Jesus is neither a Democrat nor a Republican” approach is flawed, where do we go from here? I would suggest a different course of action. Rather than spending our energies trying to keep the Bible out of politics, we should work to let it back in. What I mean by this is that we need to stop telling Christians that whatever voting choice they make is as equally valid as another, and instead we should encourage them to apply Scripture to these political questions just like we apply it to every other area of life (whether it be economics, art, or medicine).
There is little doubt that the last year has been one of the most contentious political phases in our nation’s history. Thus it is no surprise that all sorts of Christian stock phrases about politics have been used and reused.
One of my favorites is the phrase, “Jesus is neither a Democrat nor a Republican.” This is one of those phrases that is used so frequently that no one really bothers to ask what it means; nor does anyone bother to ask whether it is really true.
So, I want to analyze this phrase in our 10th and final installment in the “Taking Back Christianese” series. Rather than following the standard structure for this series, I simply want to ask what people might mean by this phrase (and whether what they mean makes sense). Here are some options:
1. The phrase could simply mean that the Bible doesn’t speak to politics.
I suppose one possible interpretation of this phrase is that it means that the Bible doesn’t address political issues; it is simply silent on this matter. The Bible is only interested in redemptive issues and should not be made to determine which political views are right.
But, is that an accurate portrayal of the Bible? Sure, we can agree that the Bible doesn’t use the terms “Democrat” or “Republican,” nor does it make statements like “you should vote for the political party that….” But, that doesn’t mean the Bible provides no principles or guidance on how to evaluate a political party.
Indeed, as Van Til once said, “The Bible is thought of as authoritative on everything of which it speaks. Moreover, it speaks of everything. We do not mean that it speaks of football games, of atoms, etc., directly, but we do mean that it speaks of everything either directly or by implication.”
Thus, there is no reason to think the Bible cannot address political issues. To suggest otherwise is tantamount to suggesting the Bible cannot address the question of evolution because “it is not a science book” (to use another cliché). The problem with such an argument is that it only allows the Bible to speak to so-called “religious” issues and not “secular” ones.
However, the Bible itself does not honor this religious-secular distinction—all the world is God’s and he has a say over everything in it. Moreover, almost every political issue has an ethical dimension to it. And surely the Bible speaks to ethics. Thus, we cannot say that political issues are “off the table” when it comes to what the Bible teaches.
2. The phrase could simply mean that neither political party lines up entirely with what the Bible teaches.
Another interpretation of this phrase is that it is simply another way of saying that neither party is perfect; both have their problems. And that is certainly the case. But surely no one would dispute this. No human institution is perfect this side of the Fall (including the church!). To state such a thing doesn’t really advance the discussion—it is simply stating a truism.
Even if both parties are flawed to some degree, the real question still remains, namely which political party is the closest to the principles and ethics laid out in Scripture? After all, at the end of the day, the Christian still has to go to the polls and vote for someone. And surely he wants to vote for the party that is closest to the teachings of Scripture.
My suspicion therefore, is that this phrase is not being used just to say that both parties are flawed; rather it is really being used to say that both parties are equally flawed. And if both parties are equally flawed then someone can claim that it doesn’t really matter how we vote. Everyone is off the hook and political debating (at least on a biblical basis) should just stop.
But, if someone is going to make such a claim then they have to do the heavy exegetical lifting to prove their case. A cliché is not enough to demonstrate that both political parties are equally flawed.
Moreover, I think the claim that both parties are equally flawed is highly problematic when one considers that Democrats and Republicans have near opposite political platforms on almost every major issue. Is it really likely that there would be two parties with nearly opposite values and ethical positions and, at the same time, neither would be closer to the teachings of Scripture? I suppose it is possible. But, is also very unlikely.
3. The phrase could simply mean that there are good Christians who are both Democrats and Republicans.
I suppose one could interpret the phrase “Jesus is neither a Democrat nor a Republican” as just another way of saying that there are Christians, good Christians, who are Democrats and Republicans. And I certainly would agree.