Where should Christians sit on the ‘Right-Left’ political spectrum?
When we look to Scripture, we find references to wealth creation, as well as providing care and assistance to those in hardship — and every situation in between.
There are passages admonishing the wealthy and those in authority when they’re found to be disadvantaging those under their care (Proverbs 14:31, Proverbs 22:29, Ezekiel 22:29, Deuteronomy 15:11, Leviticus 23:22, Isaiah 58:1-12). There are also passages warning against favouring the poor (Exodus 23:3, Leviticus 19:15). Likewise, there are verses which ordain a position of fairness and balance between both (Leviticus 19:15, Deuteronomy 1:17). And of course the Bible urges contentment among all (Hebrews 13:5, Proverbs 23:4-5, Matthew 6:25, Matthew 6:33; 1 Timothy 6:6-7, Luke 12:15).
Together, these suggest that Christians should see themselves as both “progressive” and “conservative”.
Conservatism cannot be what it claims to be — “conservative” — for just one class in society. Conservatism is all about conserving the best for all, seeking to improve the lot of all. This is why I believe those with wealth and authority have a God-given responsibility to ensure the health and welfare of those who don’t possess their wealth or authority, all the while having proper opportunity to their healthy aspirations of bettering their own lot.
I recall reading a 2011 book by former George W. Bush staffer, Marvin Olasky, entitled “Compassionate Conservatism”. This is an excellent descriptor for a truly biblical conservatism. “Common Good Capitalism” was the title of a recent Public Discourse article by U.S. Republican Senator Marco Rubio — and this title also captures a biblical approach to conservatism.
This cuts the legs off claims by many Christians on the ‘Left’ that they are uniquely qualified to uphold the cause of the poor and the marginalised — and it actually allows for and encourages bipartisan concern for “the least of these”.
It also demonstrates that bipartisanship is not a sit-on-the-fence position. Rather, it enables us to confront the excesses on either ‘Left’ or ‘Right’, while combining the best of both where possible.
A case in point would be the USA, and the origins of both the Republicans and the Democrats in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Both of these parties actually arose from the earlier Democratic-Republican Party, founded by, among others, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Their major points of difference were more on the structure and mechanics of government than anything else. There was actually broad agreement between the two parties on social and economic issues.
It should also be noted that many of the Founding Fathers were men of deep Christian faith who realised both the essential relationship between faith and politics. America’s founders understood that both played an important role in society, and their effective separation was to ensure proper non-partisan political practice for the wellbeing of all citizens, as well as the free expression of religious practice.
And closer to home, we should remember that, in both Britain and Australia, the Labor parties of both nations were founded through the efforts of evangelical and Catholic Christians, for whom much the same applies.
Compare that to the present situation — particularly in the USA — where we see both parties split and drifting further to the ‘Right’ and the ‘Left’ respectively. They are now at a point where they each regard the other as extremists — and there is virtually no ‘Centre’ position tenable which can speak to both equally.
(Thankfully, I don’t believe that our situation in Australia has reached such a divide yet. Some members of both major parties, along with some independents and members of small parties, are still able to reach bipartisan consensus on various issues.)
Sadly, practice will bend and even break principles for the sake of pragmatism. As Christians, we must show the world a better way by maintaining our principles. As the saying goes, “eternal vigilance is the price of safety”.
In standing by our biblical principles, Christians can provide a means of drawing both ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ together on the issues that matter, regardless of how far they might have drifted. In doing so, we fulfil our calling as believers to reveal a better way of life than what the world has to offer.
In relation to this, I always come back to 1 Peter 2:9 —
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvellous light.”
In this respect, any position which gives too much to either the wealthy and empowered or to the poor and marginalised, becomes darkened. Both excesses need to be corrected by the light of God’s Word, which is the ultimate source of truth.
Our faith transcends politics, and it informs our stance on all issues. In the words of Francis Schaeffer, the Gospel is True Truth. As such, surely we should be both the ultimate “progressives” and the ultimate “conservatives” all at the same time.
We should be the ultimate progressives because we’re progressing towards a clear goal — the fulfillment of “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.”
And we should be the ultimate conservatives, as we “hold fast that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21) and live as “children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world.” (Philippians 2:15)
This is the “now” and “not yet” of Christian existence in a political context, the paradox of both preserving and progressing.
Surely this is the kind of foundation for honest and open dialogue with a view to unity — the kind that Jesus described in John 17. It’s certainly an improvement on what we’re experiencing at the moment (and have even seen in the pages of some Christian online publications recently), which is more reminiscent of the chaos and division described in 1 Corinthians 1:10-13 —
I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters,
by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ,
to live in harmony with each other.
Let there be no divisions in the church.
Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.
For some members of Chloe’s household have told me about your quarrels,
my dear brothers and sisters.
Some of you are saying, “I am a follower of Paul.”
Others are saying, “I follow Apollos,”
or “I follow Peter,” or “I follow only Christ.”
Has Christ been divided into factions?
Was I, Paul, crucified for you?
Were any of you baptised in the name of Paul?
Of course not!
Many regard the great Romantic composer Gustav Mahler as the inspiration for nearly every later composer of the 20th century Avant Garde movement. He was also an iconoclastic musical progressive. Nevertheless, he once said that “tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire”. This is a great phrase.
In the political sphere, Christians are to speak with authority to the rich and the poor, and to every person in between. We have a message relevant to every unique set of circumstances, and to the only constant in our modern world: change. As such, we need the constant indwelling of the One who is our truest inspiration, the One who can best fire our imagination and our creativity.
Our Lord Jesus is described as our Parakletos, our Counsellor, our Advocate and our Intercessor. Only He can lead us to a deeper knowledge of True Truth, helping us preserve the flame of Truth in the political sphere.
[Photo by Jon Tyson