It is easy to take a pessimistic view of politics. There’s always something more the government ought to be doing (or not doing, depending on whom you talk to). Many would say, at its heart, the state must simply do the best that can be done with the hand it has been dealt. They see the state as a means to ensure the safety and property of its citizens – both protecting from outside forces, and from one another.
Yet a Christian conception both expands how we think of politics, and reorients the location in which politics ought to be considered. Not only does the local emphasis on the neighbor take our consideration of politics beyond merely its federal and the electoral aspects, but it also incorporates an understanding of God’s mission to the world.
The Christian view of engaging politics ought to understand the political realm as a possible means of spreading God’s shalom. If this is, indeed, the case, the Christian thinker is met with a quandary – where is this shalom to be found or modeled?
Shalom is only ultimately found in one place on earth – in Christ’s Church.
The Church is the only place in which we can say (theologically, if not always practically) that relationships are truly restored, and that human beings can live in peace with one another and with their God. If we take a broader view of politics, as a means of spreading shalom, then the Church must necessarily be at the center of our political thought.
Two cautions are necessary regarding this idea. Firstly, to claim the Church is at the center of our political thought does not necessitate a theocracy; rather it suggests that the Church and the alternative it offers is the lens through which we ought to consider politics. Secondly, this does not mean that the Church is primarily political. The Church, as the bride of Christ, is always oriented towards Christ himself; its political ramifications are a secondary, although important, result of that union with the Son.
So…what does this actually mean?
I suggest that it means that the classic distinction between Church and State may not, ultimately, be entirely helpful. This is because the distinction between Church and State (which, I think of necessity must exist) has been extended to mean that any dialogue of a religious nature ought not to enter the public sphere.
However, as Christians, if we are interested in spreading God’s shalom, we have to counter such a viewpoint. The very location of our political thought begins in the Church before encountering the public sphere. It is our deepest and core convictions of God’s desires to unify humanity that we ought to bring to the political sphere.
If our political thought as Christians is not formed in and by the Church, then I fear we may never be able to offer any deeply good, beautiful or true alternatives to our society.