Political Vs. Biblical Vs. Both/And
There is no theological teaching of Luther that is politically innocent. His theology and politics must be distinguished but never separated. Luther himself is thus the first and best witness that the so-called, “Two-Kingdoms Doctrine” does not lead to political abstinence but exactly the opposite: the world as a whole with its problems and decisions is now discovered as the subject of Christian responsibility. (Ryan Cummings, The Forgotten Luther II)
As Lutheran Christians, we have a hard time integrating political issues and biblical teachings. We often cite Thomas Jefferson’s Doctrine of Church and State. However, this is often misunderstood as Jefferson wrote that the government can play no role in telling its citizens how, who, when and where to worship. Jefferson was not suggesting that religious people or religious motivations should be exiled from public debate.
We are theological heirs of a public and political theologian, Martin Luther, who wrote over one thousand letters to civil authorities condemning public policies that thwarted the well being of the poor. Luther also admonished preachers to preach against injustice and against economic injustice and practices that resulted in oppression of the poor. Luther spoke publicly regarding political, military, economic and theological issues and took stands on which he staked his life.
Jesus was a political figure, he criticized the Roman Government and even the religious authorities on how they often mistreated and marginalized people. Jesus continued the tradition of the Old Testament prophets when he called for justice for all of God’s children. In the book of Luke Jesus states, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. – Luke 4:18-19
Let’s go back to the fundamental meaning of the word, “politics”. The word Politics (from Greek: Πολιτικά, politiká, ‘affairs of the cities’) is the set of activities that are associated with making decisions in groups, or other forms of power relations between individuals, such as the distribution of resources or status. Our political parties exists as a group who have and or want the power to decide the distribution of resources in our country; resources that can determine the welfare of its citizens.
Jesus calls us to be political – how do we as Christians help to further God’s kingdom here on earth? We are to call out unjust practices that keep others from thriving. We always use a Gospel Lens – the lens that tells us to love God and love our neighbor – Just as Jesus challenged the rule of law from both the religious and civil authorities, just as Luther challenged both the religious and civil authorities, we too are to carry out our baptismal promise to proclaim the good news of God in Christ Jesus through word and deed, to serve all people, following the example of Jesus, and to strive for peace and justice in all the earth. This means living in both the political and biblical realms together –
Yes, we are called to be political by furthering the kingdom of God here on earth -we are called to love our neighbor, which may mean speaking out against unjust civil policies that are antithetical to the teachings of the Gospel. So as Lutheran Christians, we cannot separate religion and politics- we area called to have one foot in each realm – and to be the hands, feet and voice of Jesus here on earth.