Carlyle Fielding Stewart III

Writings on Democracy, Social Justice, and Religion

Should Christians Only Be Concerned About “Spiritual Things” And Stay Out of Politics?

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Several weeks ago I had a discussion with a man who said quite heatedly. “Christians should only be concerned about spiritual things and stay out of politics.”

I asked this man why he thought that spiritual things did not involve our participation in politics since so much of political decision making affects us at every level of our daily lives. I said to him that politics should be a moral enterprise and that everything from the way we make decisions politically to the budgets that we develop each year says a lot about our moral priorities as a nation.

When Jesus spoke of caring for the least of these, he was not referring to them as isolated entities in society. He did not have a compartmentalized approach to the practice of spirituality that separated a person’s spirit from the other aspects of his life such as what he was to eat and drink and how he would make a living.  Jesus believed that society had a moral and spiritual obligation to help those who could not help themselves.

Jesus’ understanding of  “spiritual things,” to use this man’s terms, involves the totality of the individual and society and how its wealth and resources create a world where each person can be fully integrated into society in order to properly care for themselves, families and communities, which in the long run makes for a healthier and happier society.

Thus the politics of obtaining physical bread to feed the body each day is  just as spiritual as the ethics of consuming the Word of God as spiritual bread to feed the soul each day. “Spiritual things” include mental health, physical, emotional, financial and ecological well being, the capacity to access material resources that promote social and physical wellness and enjoying the basic rights of individuals to live as free and healthy persons in society.

I challenged this gentleman to broaden his understanding of the word, “spiritual” and after further discussion, I discovered that what he was trying to say is that he did not think Christians should become involved in politics because of its corrupting influences and how too often too many of them sell their souls to the devil for personal gain. The higher moral and spiritual principles that should guide their thinking, govern their actions and enhance their personal relationships as Christians are often abandoned for personal wealth and power once they assume political office. 

The result then is that too many politicians seem more concerned about keeping their jobs and towing the line of their political parties than addressing the greater needs of the people they have been elected to serve.  Too many of them have lost moral authority and spiritual efficacy.

On the other hand, there are numerous persons who see themselves more as pubic servants than as politicians. They set fine examples of servant leadership in the public realm. They do care about people. They are concerned about the wellness of persons and society in totality. They know that society can be well and whole if all of its citizens are made well and whole. They understand that to be spiritual is not to be detached from the daily needs and concerns of the lives of every day citizens and they do have a moral and spiritual obligation to see that each person in society is cared for so they can have life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These public servants who happen to be spiritual view politics as a kind of moral and spiritual enterprise that ensures that each citizen has bread and justice.

Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr reminds us that love on the individual and personal level has its moral equivalent in the practice of justice on the collective social level. Every true Christian’s understanding of the practice of Christian spirituality should focus on developing loving interpersonal relations but also seeing that citizens receive a  “love” from society in the form of  justice. This model of spirituality is much more holistic than we care to admit.

Christians should therefore become involved in politics as a spiritual expression of their social concern for the wellness of persons in society. They can achieve this without losing their souls to the devil and abandoning the higher altruism to which they have been called and chosen as Christians and as public servants.

A genuine concern for the total life of all persons in American society is what we need in American politics today. Being “spiritual” means precisely having a concern for the political process and how we can engage the enterprise in meeting the needs of all persons in society while keeping in tact our moral and spiritual integrity.

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