It's often said that religion and politics don't mix. It's also said that politics and religion should be avoided in polite conversation. In an interview for Vanity Fair magazine Tony Blair was asked about his Christian faith, Alistair Campbell, Blair's former communications Chief (aka spin doctor), immediately interupted and said "I'm sorry, we don't do God
Contrast this with a scene in the film Amazing Grace. William Wilberforce when considering giving up his political career for one in religion was visited by members of the Clapham Sect and Thomas Clarkson. Clarkson says to Wilberforce ‘We understand you are wondering whether to pursue politics or religion’. Hannah More responds: ‘We humbly suggest you can do both’.
That is the reformational response. We can serve God and do politics – in fact we can serve God in doing politics. Religion and politics do mix!
As Jim Skillen has written:
Proper Christian faith concerns all of life. It has no limited meaning that can be isolated from the political, agricultural, economic, and artistic lives of Christians and non-Christians. Likewise, politics is never purely secular from a biblical point of view. Nothing in this creation (in this world or this age) has a life and meaning of its own, independent of the Creator’s will and purpose. Biblical revelation and political life, Christian faith and human government are intimately connected from the start in God’s single creation. It is a mistake to think that we should be trying to connect two experiences which have never been disconnected.
James W. Skillen in Christians Organizing or Political Action APJ, 1980
However, the idea that Christianity and politics shouldn't mix has, some claim, a biblical basis:
13 And they sent to him some of the Pharisees and some of the Herodians, to trap him in his talk. 14 And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone's opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?”
15 But, knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why put me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16 And they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to him, “Caesar's.” 17 Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” And they marveled at him.
Many see this as arguing for a spearation of politics and religion. “Give to worldly authorities the things that belong to them, and to God what belongs to God.” Or as Gary Wills has argued in a New York Times
THERE is no such thing as a "Christian politics." If it is a politics, it cannot be Christian. Jesus told Pilate: "My reign is not of this present order. If my reign were of this present order, my supporters would have fought against my being turned over to the Jews. But my reign is not here" (John 18:36). Jesus brought no political message or program.
This is a truth that needs emphasis at a time when some Democrats, fearing that the Republicans have advanced over them by the use of religion, want to respond with a claim that Jesus is really on their side. He is not. He avoided those who would trap him into taking sides for or against the Roman occupation of Judea. He paid his taxes to the occupying power but said only, "Let Caesar have what belongs to him, and God have what belongs to him" (Matthew 22:21). He was the original proponent of a separation of church and state.
Gary Wills ‘Christ among the partisans’ 9 April 2006 New York Times
The major problem with this sort of exegesis is that it is an individualistic and anachronistic reading of the passage. Most contemporary scholars reject outright such naive interpretation. Politics and religion were very mixed in first-century Palestine. It is however, a powerful and persistent myth, believed by many Christians.
Consider for a moment 'What belongs to God?' All things! He is sovereign over all and that includes the State, government and politics and everything that Caesar lay claims to. The State is a servant of God. Jesus is not thinking of two realms! There is one realm: God's; and everything else is subsumed under that. Humans bear the likeness and the image of God - we must give all of ourselves to God. There is not one area of life that should not be under the rule and reign of God .... and that includes politics.
The following bibliography provides a list of resoources for a reformational approach to politics, and approach that sees politics as part of the cultural mandate to cultivate and develop creation.
Reformational Politics: A Bibliography
Craig Bartholomew, Jonathan Chaplin, and Al Wolters, eds., A Royal Priesthood: The Use of the Bible Ethically and Politically
. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.
1992. Politics and the Parties: When Christians Disagree
. Leicester: IVP, 1992
1995. ‘Dooyeweerd's Notion of Societal Structural Principles’. Philosophia Reformata
60 : 16-36.
1997. 'Catholic Political Thought: What Can Evangelicals Learn' Transformation
1998. “Christian Theories of Democracy.” In Contemporary Political Studies
, 1998, Volume II, edited by Andrew Dobson and Jeffrey Stanyer. UK: Political Studies Association of the UK, 1998.
2000. “Beyond Liberal Restraint: Defending Religiously Based Arguments in Law and Public Policy.” University of British Columbia Law Review
33/3 (2000): 617-646.
2000. ‘Silencing the Silencers: Reclaiming a Christian Voice in Political Debate’. Pro Rege
2003. ‘On Globalization: An Exercise in Public Theology’. Comment
2006. ‘Rejecting Neutrality, Respecting Diversity: From ‘Liberal Pluralism’ to ‘Christian Pluralism’'. Christian Scholar's Review
2008. Talking God: The Legitimacy of Religious Public Reasoning Theos
Jon Chaplin and Paul Marshall (ed.) 1994. Political Theory and Christian Vision: Essays in Memory of Bernard Zylstra
. Lanham MD: University Press of America.
Roy Clouser 1999 'A non-reductionist theory of the State' The Myth of Religious Neutrality
Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press ch 13.
Jan Dengerink 'The idea of justice' Westminster Theological Journal
, XXXIX (Fall): 1–59.
Jan Dengerink 1978. The Idea of Justice in Christian Perspective
. Toronto: Wedge.
1975. Christian Idea of the State
. Craig Press.
1997. Essays in Legal, Social, and Political Philosophy
. Alan M. Cameron et al
(ed.). The Collected Works of Herman Dooyeweerd, Series B, Volume 2, pp. 121–55.
2004. Political Philosophy
. Daniël Strauss (ed.). The Collected Works of Herman Dooyeweerd, Series D, Volume 1 (2004), pp. 17–47.
Stuart Fowler The State in the light of the Scriptures
. Potchefstroom:IRS, 1988 F2 No.46
Albert Gedraitis 1972. Worship and Politics.
Chris Gousmett 1999. Christianity and politics: a reformational perspective
. Wetenskaplike bydraes van die PU vir CHO. Reeks F1 No 384.
Bob Goudzwaard 1984 Idols of our Time.
Sander Griffioen 1981 Facing the New Corporatism
William A. Harper and Theodore R. Malloch 1981. Where are we now? The State of Christian Political Reflection
E L Hebden Taylor1969. The Christian Philosophy of Law, Politics, and the State
1997. ‘Canadian Election Accentuates Divisions Once Again,’ Public Justice Report
1997. ‘A Call to Reform the Canadian Electoral System,’ Public Justice Report
2001. Symposium: The Future of Federalism,’ Comment
2000. ‘Voter turnout and competitive politics,’ Public Justice Report
2002. ‘Differentiated Responsibility and the Challenge of Religious Diversity,’ Journal of Markets & Morality
5 (1) (spring 2002): 199-207.
2003. Political Visions and Illusions
(Downers Grove: IVP).
2004. ‘Christianity and Liberalism: Two Alternative Religious Approaches,’ the New Pantagruel: Hymns in the Whorehouse
, (Summer) 1 (3).
2004. ‘Making a Good Constitution Better: A Response to Janet Ajzenstat,’ Comment
(Work Research Foundation) (Winter): 15-21.
Abraham Kuyper1991. Problem of Poverty
ed Jim Skillen. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans
Abraham Kuyper 1931 Lectures on Calvinism
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans)
1986. Thine is the Kingdom
1991. A Calvinist Political Theory
Potchefstroom: IRS, F1 no 283, 1991.
2002. God and the Constitution: Christianity and American Politics
(Rowman & Littlefield).
Rockne McCarthy et al
.1981. Society, State, School: A Case for Structural and Confessional Pluralism
. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Henry Meeter 1990 (6th edn)The Basic ideas of Calvinism
: The Theological and Political Ideas
(revised by Paul Marshall) Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990.
Richard Mouw 1983. Politics and the Biblical Drama
Grand Rapids: Baker Book House
Monsma, Stephen V. 1994. Pursuing Justice in a Sinful World.
Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1984.
H E Runner 1962. Scriptural Religion and Political Task
Gary Scott Smith 1989. God and Politics: Four Views on the Reformation of Civil Government
Corwin Schmidt 2007. 'Principled pluralist perspective' in Church, State and Public Justice: Five Views
ed. P. C. Kemeny. IVP Academic, Downers Grove.
Timothy R. Sherratt and Ronald P. Manhurin 1995. Saints as Citizens: A Guide to Public Responsibilities for Christians.
Baker Books and The Center for Public Justice.
Jim Skillen see the full bibliography here
and Wearne (2008)
James Skillen and Rockne M. McCarthy (ed) 1991. Political Order and the Plural Structure of Society
. Emory University, Scholars Press, 1991.
Spykman, Gordon, et al
. 1988. Let My People Live: Faith and Struggle in Central America.
Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.
Alan Storkey 1979. A Christian Social Perspective
Alan Storkey 2005. Jesus and Politics
Grand Rapids: Baker.
B J van der Walt
1981. No.18 Why the State? Bible Study on Romans 13 and Revelation 13
F2 No 18.
1999. No 50 Religion and Society: Christian involvement in the public square
(86 pages) F3 No 50.
B J van der Walt and Rita Swanepoel (ed) 1995. Confessing Christ in Doing Politics Orientation
Bruce Wearne 2008 Public Justice for All: An Annotated Bibliography of the Works of James W. Skillen, 1967-2008
John Witte Jr 1993. Christian Democracy in Global Context
Bernard Zylstra - see bibliography here