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The Power of Being Apolitical

How can believers in this media-bombarded society be apolitical? What does it mean for believers to be disengaged from political opinion and participation? What’s at stake?
By DAVE JENNINGS 
Read Time: 8 minutes

When Jesus answered Pilate’s question about whether he was the King of the Jews, he provided an important principle that still governs the lives of all believers.

My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. (John 18:36).

If there ever was a time to resist the authorities and appeal to the political system of the day, it was during the unjust trial and condemnation of Jesus Christ. Wouldn’t the world be much better off with Jesus exonerated and permitted to continue his preaching? Jesus understood the plan and purpose of God and was fully aware of His power to stop these evil proceedings. Yet in humility, he “committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.” (1 Peter 2:23). He knew his Father was in control at all times. Righteousness was only to be found in submission to the Father’s will.

How can believers in this media-bombarded society be apolitical? What does it mean for believers to be disengaged from political opinion and participation? What’s at stake?

In the United States, this summer and fall will feature another hotly contested election of a president, along with many other governmental positions and propositions. The campaign strategies will focus on polarizing voters—painting one candidate as the guardian of positive values and the other as the adversary of those values.

One presidential candidate has already linked himself to the powerful Christian Conservative Movement. He is now selling God Bless the USA Bibles, packaged along with copies of the US Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Pledge of Allegiance, as well as the lyrics to the popular song “God Bless the USA,” by country singer Lee Greenwood.

I wonder if there has ever been a more explicit attempt to affix Christian values to nationalism and the pursuit of political power. Usually, it is more concealed, appearing only as a call for Christians to stand up for the values of the Scriptures. After all, wouldn’t the country be stronger and more blessed if the candidate elected espoused the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ? 

In America, we have been seeing the unprecedented buildup of a multi-billion-dollar political system that is masquerading as a Christian-based social movement. Driving this crusade is a political group that seeks to gain power and impose its vision on all of American society. In her book, The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism, Katherine Stewart unveils a network of think tanks, advocacy groups, community alliances, super-wealthy ultraconservative donors, and family foundations. These powerful influencers are attaching their interpretation of the teachings of the Bible to American nationalism, proclaiming that to stand for their candidate is to stand for the Bible.

Stewart discusses Christian nationalism this way:

It is not a social or cultural movement. It is a political movement, and its ultimate goal is power. It does not seek to add another voice to America’s pluralistic democracy but to replace our foundational democratic principles and institutions with a state grounded on a particular version of Christianity, answering to what some adherents call a “biblical worldview” that happens to serve the interests of plutocratic [government by the wealthy] funders and allied political leaders. It is a political war over the future of democracy.1

So, what is Christian nationalism? Author Bradley Onishi defines it this way.

Christian nationalism is the idea that Christian people should be privileged in the United States in some way—economically, socially, politically—and that that influence and that privilege is a result of the country being founded by and for Christians. Christian nationalism is not the idea that others can’t be here—that if you’re a Muslim or an atheist, you have to leave. It’s also not the idea that only Christians can be part of the government.

However, for most Christian nationalists, there is a core belief that the story of the United States is one where the country has been elected by God to play an exceptional role in human history, and as being chosen by God, it’s the duty of Christian people to carry out His will on Earth.

So Christian nationalists take an approach to their Christianity that says it should have an undue influence on our government, on our economics, on our culture, and that it is by dint of our history, the religious faith that is meant to be privileged in our public square.

With that said, there are different kinds of Christian nationalists and different ways that people manifest their understanding of the term. But when it comes down to it, if we all sit down as Americans at a table and there are people from different backgrounds, different ethnicities, different faiths, and someone who is a Christian says, just by being at this table, I should have a special place, well, to me, that’s Christian nationalism because you’re saying that somehow this country is yours in a way that it is not for everyone else.2

Christian nationalism has fooled millions. Some are so convinced of the “rightness” of the movement that they have been drawn into anti-democratic thinking and illegal behavior. This thinking has manifested itself in extremist actions, self-justifying violence, and even attempts to overthrow the government. 

Christian nationalism has fooled millions.

At the end of the day, we may find some limited Scriptural agreement with a few of the views of these Christian nationalists. We may share common interpretations of Scripture on issues like same-sex marriage and parental rights for the education of our children. But we are worlds away from how to represent these beliefs. Any connection with secular special interest groups and the political process is crossing a line that the Lord Jesus Christ himself would not do in the courtyard with Pilate.

I suspect that the Christian nationalist movement will increasingly be labeled as dangerous, self-serving and unattractive to many Americans. In a recent article by Christianity Today, the dangers of Christian nationalism were identified.

Christian nationalism takes the name of Christ for a worldly political agenda, proclaiming that its program is the political program for every true believer. That is wrong in principle, no matter what the agenda is, because only the church is authorized to proclaim the name of Jesus and carry his standard into the world. Christian nationalism is calling evil good and good evil; it is taking the name of Christ as a fig leaf to cover its political program, treating the message of Jesus as a tool of political propaganda and the church as the handmaiden and cheerleader of the state.3

Today, Christian nationalists represent a minority of Americans but with significant power and influence. Will all of the denominations of Christianity eventually be painted with the same brush? Will there be a backlash against the gospel due to the platform and tactics used by Christian nationalists? Will all Christians be branded as “extremists” due to this movement? We need to separate our community by demonstrating that following Jesus Christ is not about power and money but love and compassion.

The gospel does not spread appropriately through political action groups, the legislative process, or in the support of specific political candidates. It advances through the gentle appeal to a better way of life–one that can be lived in any country on earth. Jesus invited men and women to take up their cross and follow him. Paul instructed believers to pray for those who are rulers over us (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

Not one of those faithful who carried the gospel into all the world did so through secular or governmental means. Later, when Christianity united with political power, it corrupted both the church and government. The gospel was suppressed by a false idea that a Holy Empire could exist in the Kingdoms of Men.

This thought reminds us of Joshua’s significant interaction with the angel of God, who stood with a sword drawn. When Joshua confronted the angel, he asked, “Art thou for us, or for our adversaries?” (Joshua 5:13). A reasonable question to ask, as the nation was about to confront the great city of Jericho. Are you aligned with Jericho or the nation of Israel? The angel’s answer is highly instructive, not only to Joshua but to believers today. “Nay, but as captain of the host of the LORD am I now come.” (v. 14). The angel’s allegiance was not to any nation, not even Israel. His only allegiance was to the LORD. Paul wrote that we were to be “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:20). While we live in a country, our citizenship and allegiance are only to our God and His Son. We represent them, not the country we live in.

Over the next few months, citizens in America will be called on to identify who they support, but this is really a global issue being faced in most nations. Nationalism is on the rise in many countries. Society wants us to identify our allegiance to a political party or a secular point of view. Our opportunity is to proclaim exclusively that our only leader is the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Just imagine for a moment what would transpire in our ecclesias if we didn’t embrace the commitment to being apolitical. Might we have ecclesias split over political opinion? Would we hear exhortations promoting the support of a certain political candidate or a proposed legislation? Such behaviors would tear at the very fabric of ecclesial life. 

Being apolitical is different than being “non-political.”

Being apolitical is different than being “non-political.” A non-political person has a political point of view but has chosen to refrain from political engagement. That should not be us. The power of being apolitical is that we look at the issues facing our society through the eyes of spiritual discernment. We know that man is incapable of ordering his own steps. There is no future in the Kingdoms of Men, not one of them. They are all slated for elimination when our Lord returns. It’s not just that we don’t vote or engage in politics. We see them as a meaningless pursuit. 

But being apolitical is in no way unengaged. We may be required to take an unpopular position on moral issues that we are facing. Our role is to influence and teach those with willing hearts and open ears about how life is to be lived as heavenly citizens. This is done through a patient explanation of what the Scriptures teach us. It is done through personal witnessing of how God has acted in our lives and brought us meaning and peace. We don’t operate in the chambers of government but across the kitchen table as we share the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our strength is not political authority but the power of prayer to our God of unlimited power.

So, let’s live up to our high calling. As Jesus told Pilate, this is not our kingdom. Our Lord tasks us to appeal to men and women who wish to live and reign with the Lord in his Kingdom. Let’s model this by praying for those who “are in authority; that we might lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” (1 Timothy 2:2). In years past, too many social media posts have been created by members of our own community praising or criticizing candidates. That’s hardly a useful testimony of our faith community, and it is an evidentiary trail of evidence used against a young person who may face conscription in the future. 

In the next few months, let’s take the opportunity to demonstrate the power of being apolitical. Let’s model the true call of the gospel for those around us: to invite men and women to repentance in love and compassion. We are preparing for a righteous government to be established over all the earth, led by the man God ordained. (Acts 17:31). 

Dave Jennings 

  1. Stewart, Katherine, The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism, Bloomsbury Publishing, New York, NY, 2019.
  2. From an interview of Bradley Onishi, Preparing for War: The Extremist History of White Christian Nationalism, 1517 Media, 2023.
  3. What is Christian Nationalism? Miller, Paul D., Christianity Today, February 3, 2021.
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