One wonders how the “Jesus is neither a Democrat nor Republican” approach would have worked for Dietrich Bonhoeffer as he navigated the frightening political landscape of Germany in the 1930’s or 1940’s. Would he have been compelled by the idea that the Scripture was neutral about whether Christians should vote for Hitler’s socialist party? The sad truth is that many Christians and many churches in that day went along with Hitler’s politics and offered no protest. Bonhoeffer disagreed and argued that it was the Christian’s duty to oppose the National Socialist party. I doubt Bonhoeffer would have been persuaded by the argument that “good Christians are on both sides of this issue.”
Well, the political season is upon us again. And it’s time for all sorts of Christian stock phrases about politics to be used and reused. One of my favorite 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. But, I want to take a moment to analyze this phrase as we head into this political season. What does it really mean? Here are some possibilities:
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 theological 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. Ok. 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.