Point of View
Is God Republican or Democrat?
by Mark David Hall
God may not be a Republican or a Democrat, but leaders of the religious right and left both act as if he wholeheartedly endorses their parties.
Wouldn’t it be astonishing if carefully discerned biblical principles resulted in political prescriptions that mirror precisely those advocated by the Republican or Democratic parties? This is exactly what prominent spokesmen for the religious left and right contend.
For instance, Jim Wallis, in his recent bestseller God’s Politics, purports to take the political left and right to task. While he severely criticizes conservatives, he has virtually nothing but praise for liberals. He does suggest that the Democratic Party might be a bit more critical of abortion, yet most of his advice to Democrats concerns how they can better use religious rhetoric to win elections.
Leaders of the religious right are no better. Examples abound, but my favorite comes from personal experience. Back in my partisan days, February of 1988, to be exact, I was in Iowa doing volunteer work for one of the presidential candidates. On the Sunday morning before the Iowa caucuses I was distributing leaflets in a church parking lot (yes, I should have been in church) when I ran across supporters of Pat Robertson doing the same.
Being somewhat cheeky back then, I asked them why they weren’t in church. They informed me, in all seriousness, that they were doing the Lord’s work. And indeed they were, at least according to the pamphlets they were putting on windshields.
The pamphlets showed the extent to which the different Republican candidates agreed with the Christian position on a variety of issues. The rankings varied, but none came close to Pat Robertson, who agreed with God on 95 percent of the issues. His only shortcoming was his willingness to support tax increases on alcohol and tobacco — God apparently opposes all tax increases, even increases in so-called “sin taxes.”
Wallis and Robertson make the same error of submitting God’s politics to man’s political parties. In doing so, they are able to provide a simplistic set of answers to complicated social and political questions. We would be wise to heed Sen. Mark Hatfield’s admonition that things are not quite so simple.
Christian political thought must begin with a serious consideration of biblical principles relevant to politics. It must then be followed by careful study of the impact political institutions, practices, and policies are likely to have in a particular time and place.
What does it mean, for instance, that humans are created in the image of God, that we are sinful, or that we are called to be peacemakers? Answering such questions requires not just study of the Bible but careful consideration of church tradition and thoughtful contemporary thinkers.
Even if biblical principles are fairly clear, their policy implications may not be. For instance, Christians can surely agree that God calls us to help the poor, but what does this mean with respect to taxes and government programs? If tax cuts create jobs for the unemployed, perhaps Christians should support them. But what if tax cuts lead to a reduction in government programs that aid the poor? What if these well-intentioned programs have the unintended consequence of trapping people in poverty? And so it goes.
Answering questions such as these requires meaningful reflection on history, social science, and practical experience. They cannot be addressed well without hard work, and the answers will seldom be unambiguous and clear.
Leaders such as Wallis and Robertson do a service in calling Christians to think biblically about politics and to be involved in the political process. We should honor them for their contributions, but we should not assume that they, or either party, have a monopoly on God’s politics.
Mark Hall is the Herbert Hoover Distinguished Professor of Political Science at George Fox University. He is also a Chautauqua Scholar for the Oregon Council for the Humanities.