Shopping Cart


Why a Christ-follower just might end up pursuing a career in politics

Monday, 8 November 2010  | Jim Reiher

Throughout church history there have been a number of very different views concerning Christians engaging politics. The different views can be placed on a sliding scale, something like this:



1                                                        2                                                                3

                                   Increasing amount of political engagement: à


Considering just three main positions on the spectrum: at one end (1) we see some reject political involvement because of all the very real problems associated with it (the very real dangers of pride, corruption, compromise, being used by others, greed, selfish ambition, self-promotion, criticising other good people publically for personal advantage, and becoming immune to lying and gossip, to name a few). The other end sees some Christians embrace wholeheartedly the idea, and they desire power to dominate and make laws for the council, or state, or country, they are in. In-between them somewhere (2) is the Christian who sees politics as a way to serve and love both God and neighbour.

The difference between (2) and (3) is that (2) enters politics to be a servant, first and foremost. The servant emphasis will not deny that there is some degree of power and authority that comes with the turf – but the priority is to serve not to dominate. Number (3), on the other hand, unashamedly sees power as something to be used well. Power and authority are not inherently evil. It is the evil use of them that is the problem. This Christian enters politics first and foremost to have an influence by using power and authority.

I belong to position number 2. I see no mandate in the New Testament to actively seek power and influence, indeed the teaching of Jesus is quite the opposite. If some of us end up in situations where we do have some degree of power and authority, then we must at that point remember that servanthood is still the greater priority and servant leadership must dominate over the other reality of using power.

My main texts for position (2) would be:

“And calling them to himself, Jesus said to them, ‘You know that those who are recognised as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not so among you, but whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be the slave of all.” (Mark: 10:42-45).


“When I wrote to you in my last letter not to associate with sexually immoral people, I did not mean the people of this world who are immoral or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world! But now I am writing to you that you are not to associate with any who claim to be fellow believers but who are sexually immoral or greedy idolaters or slanderers, drunkards or swindlers. With such persons do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge the outsider…” (I Corinthians 5:9-13).

In the first text here we see Jesus specifically tell his disciples that they are not to be like other people in the world who love to “lord it over” others. We are not to want to have authority over others. We are not meant to seek to be “first”. Indeed, we are meant to be “last”. Like a child. The servant of all. The slave of all.

There is no quote from Jesus or the New Testament to justify forcing non-Christians to live by Christian rules. In fact the opposite is found. The second passage cited above is from the apostle Paul writing to the Corinthian church.

This is a most profound passage of scripture. First, Paul says categorically that he has no interest in judging the person outside the church. It is those who claim to be Christ-followers that he is interested in telling what to do! He does not want us to cut ourselves off from non-Christ-followers. He wants us to be engaged, and friends, and stay a part of the world in that regard. But clearly he wants the individual Christian to pursue a high calling, and he expects Christ-followers living in community (the church) to pursue a corporate high calling. But that is where it stops. He has no interest in telling the outside world how to live. That is not his job. It is not his mandate. We Christ-followers would do well to take a leaf out of his book here: we should pursue a holy life personally and in the church community. We don’t try telling the non-believer to live according to our standards. They have not made that decision yet. They have not embraced Christ yet. They are not to be coerced or forced or dominated over or made to do anything.

This might make us take up position (1)… but there are other considerations that keep me in position (2). Significantly: we live in a democracy.

Democracies did not exist in the Bible days. So there are no direct New Testament instructions on how Christians should live in a democracy. The positive thing about living in a democracy is that power and authority are dispersed between the entire voting community. Power is not nearly as absolute as in other forms of government. And so a Christian (like anyone else in politics in a democracy) is in the end, answerable to the people. There is an inherent servanthood requirement built into it.

In my capacity as a Christian living in this world with people of different views and lifestyles: I won’t try making laws to regulate people’s private lives, when society as a whole accepts those things. I might try to get on quietly living a different way myself. I won’t personally embrace a lifestyle or belief system that I don’t agree with (in my understanding of what it means to be a Christ-follower). I won’t say I personally agree with some beliefs and actions. But I will not try to make people of different beliefs and lifestyles - that society does not see as worthy of jail – I wont try to make people live my way. I would prefer it if they chose to embrace what I see as a good way to live. But I wont make anyone. I prefer to live and let live.

In my capacity as a member of a free and democratic community, as a participating individual working in the democratic structure that my culture has evolved: I will support laws and legislation that do regulate things that impact the whole community, (rather than the personal lives of individuals). I will support laws that protect our fresh water supply; that protect endangered species; that save our biodiversity and old growth forests. I will support things that the majority are either coming around to accept or have accepted if they are good for the whole community. Unless it is something I believe is inherently wrong for the community as a whole (eg. accepting the activity of paedophiles, or having no censorship for children), I wont try to stop it.

Some will disagree with me on what should fall under my Christian service and what should come under my participating in a democracy. And in fact they will probably rightly point out that the two must overlap and it is not at all clear cut as to what might fall in one and not the other. There will be a blurry grey which I have to admit is there. Others disagreeing with me is fine. I am all for it: it is all part of belonging to a community based on democracy and freedom of speech. Let’s enjoy the journey as we explore how to live, together.

Why the Greens?

Okay… it is one thing to get involved in politics… but if one does get involved, which party should they join? My principles aren’t rocket science:

  • Christians should be in the party that best captures where they are at as a Christian at a point in time. That will be different for different people.

  • Christians should be in every party in a healthy democracy because then they can be light and salt in those contexts.

  • No party is truly “Christian” (whatever that means!). Not even the so-called Christian ones. They do not represent all Christians or their priorities.

  • There will be some things in every party that one might not agree with.

  • One has to decide what one’s priorities are when it comes to supporting the party of their choice. You have to ask: what are the most important things that I want to stand up for? And what is less important?

For me, the answer ends with the Greens. Because of their:

  • Concern for God’s creation - when God made this amazing planet and all that is in it, he kept saying “it is good!”


  • Concern for the diversity of life on earth (when God made every new plant and animal species he kept saying “it is good” – should we ambivalent about the destruction of so many species in the pursuit of wealth and possessions?)

  • Suspicion that materialism is the chief end of man and there is more to life than just accumulating money and possessions even at the expense of the very poor in the world

  • Willingness to redistribute some of the wealth of society to the least well off

  • Concern for the marginalised and the very poor

  • Concern for the humane treatment of refugees and asylum seekers

  • Concern that war should only be used as an instrument of last resort

  • Belief in the full equality of all human beings, no matter what their worldview or lifestyle

  • Their “filtre” question that they like to ask of all policies and decisions: “Will our children and grandchildren thank us for this decision?”

  • Desire to also ask of every policy and change: how does this affect the triple bottom line? We don’t just believe in one bottom line (how will this impact the economy?). That is just one of 3 bottom lines that have to be weighed. The other two are: How will this affect the community? And how will this affect the environment? All 3 must be considered in every decision.

I do not find the above significant issues to be somehow sacrificed for parties that want to:

  • prevent gay marriage

  • prevent gay adoption

  • prevent even very conservative euthanasia models

  • bring back the criminalization of abortion

  • bring back discriminating against gays

  • bring back hash divorce laws

  • or other personal morality rules and laws.

I put social justice considerations before personal morality issues. I stand with Paul in the quote noted above: who am I to judge outsiders? Christian personal morality principles are for me and the church. I have no mandate to use power to force non-Christians to live the same way I try to live. (And then we might not always agree anyway).




Blair Davis
November 9, 2010, 9:33AM
I am sorry that you, a well respected Christian have fallen for the 'Green' hypocrisy of claiming policies to be compatible with Christian values and ethics (as claimed by Bob Brown and others) when in fact they are humanism values. How can Green policies on abortion, same sex marriage, euthanasia to name just a couple be labelled 'with Christian values' when they are contrary to God's Word for His creation. While humanism has merit in equality of all in a social justice context,I am at a loss how a Christian could align themselves with a party with such anti Christian policies.
Tim Hunter
November 9, 2010, 3:08PM
Hey Jim. Interesting read, thanks. Just got passed you article on by Darren Cronshaw. I have just started running for family first in Kew District and want God's will to be done. Would be good to hear a few more of your thoughts. Talk soon. Tim.
Jim Reiher
November 9, 2010, 4:12PM
Thanks Blair for taking the time to share your opinion.

You are very kind to say I am a ‘well respected’ Christian. I think a lot of conservative Christians have given up on me since I joined the Greens party 8 years ago!

I would be the first to say that the Greens are not a Christian party. I actually don’t think any of the parties really are. Maybe the Christian Democrats come closest, but even they only represent some Christians and certainly not all. Then there is Family First I suppose. Although they have always said publically that they are not a Christian Party: it just so happens that they are made up of conservative Christians of a few main denominations (Pentecostal and others). But honestly: no political party is Christian, whatever that really means.

Think about it: if a Christian tried to find a party that truly represented Christ (that is what a Christian is after all), then why would they ever vote for any of them?

How about the Liberals? The Liberal Party’s bottom line for every policy and decision is money: will it be good for the economy and for growing material prosperity in Australia? Now that is absolutely the opposite of the emphasis of Jesus who had a whole lot to say about money and giving away things, and caring for the poor, and not building up for oneself treasures on earth that moth and rust consume and thieves break in and steal… but all that Jesus says about money and where our focus should be, is forgotten by some Christians as they passionately embrace the Liberal Party.

Then consider the Labor Party. Not much different in emphasis to the Liberals really. They want more prosperity and they want more of it redistributed to the working class and less well off. That might a good reason to vote Labor, maybe, but the emphasis is still totally humanistic and worldly. Just like the Liberal Party.

And both of them embrace war (that we helped start! Not even defensive responsive war… but aggressive war), and treating the fleeing refugees from war as some kind of evil people to be ignored as much as possible. Nothing Christ-like there.

Your concerns about personal morality issues are good to raise. I, as a Christ-follower, try to live a “holy” life (we have to decide what that means too of course – in the world but not of the world – dedicated for service … all that). So I am challenged to live a certain way when it comes to issues of personal morality, and I am challenged to NOT do certain things too. Now that is for me, as a disciple. It is also for the church: a community of Christ-followers. But there is no mandate in the New Testament to insist that non-Christians live like Christians before becoming Christians! In fact I Cor 5:9-13 says the opposite: Who am I to judge those outside the church for how they live? God can do that. I will judge those in the church. (Paul, summarised). The church is called to be holy, and I am called to be holy. But we are not meant to make others live by our rules (that we usually don’t live up to ourselves), and then impose them by force and punishment.

So… I believe in doing what Peter talked about in Acts 10: God has shown me to call no person unholy or unclean. I wont do it any more. Sorry. We are all imperfect vessels on a journey… I am not going to be a “sin identifier” – as a Christ follower. I will instead by a “grace dispenser”.

The Greens do share a lot of broad Biblical principles with their overall goals and policies: care for the creation; respect for all people; tolerance of those who are different to ourselves; war as a last resort; care for the poor; care for refugees and asylum seekers; more done to fight poverty in the world; …. I find it hard to see how you would disagree with at least that much.

So when social justice and creation care issues are more important for me to work on at a community level, than interfering with people’s personal morality, then it is not hard to see that the Greens appeal to me more than say Family First or the Christian Democrats. I respect your right to say “but personal morality issues are much more important than social justice, the poor, endangered species, conservation, and war and peace issues”. I just don’t agree with you.

Finally I do believe we can work on some of the big moral issues, (like the high abortion statistics) with better policies that do not dismantle choice and freedoms in a modern pluralistic democracy. We can put more resources into fighting poverty (since one of the common reasons given for abortions is “I cant afford another mouth to feed”). We can put more money and resources into fighting domestic violence (“I don’t want to bring a baby into my world”). We can better educate and make contraception more easily available (people really are going to have sex, no matter how much we want to stop them). More can be done to lower the abortion stats – in ways that work (criminalization never stopped abortions, interestingly).

Thanks again for taking the time to share your thoughts.

Jim Reiher
Simeon Payne
November 9, 2010, 8:30PM
I wish to thank EA for publishing this article. And thank you for Jim for your article and response to date. No I don't necessarily agree with or endorse your conclusions - but what I do support and endorse is that us Christians have got to to get way more sophisticated in our approach to the public sphere. Sadly our simplistic yes/no do this/but not this approach just does not cut it in the world today. What I would be curious is for us evangelicals to debate (say) Jim's use of Paul in 1 Cor 5 - rather than just go straight to the jugular on why he shouldn't be a Green!
Jim Reiher
November 18, 2010, 5:56PM
Thanks for your thoughts Simon. I am more than happy to further discuss I Cor 5, (and Mark 10:42-45 and other scriptures as well).
Rowan Ford
May 4, 2011, 9:05AM
Thank you, Jim for your courage in stating clearly what you believe and why you believe it, and for acting on that belief. Secondly, thank you for reminding us that as Western Christians, we often fail to recognise our deep commitment to materialism, war, injustice and environmental degradation, and that these issues should be significant when informing us about how to respond politically. Finally, thank you for your generosity in affirming that other Christians will choose other political parties, and in dealing graciously with your critics.

Got something to add?

  • Your Comment


Online Resources

subscribe to engage.mail

follow us

Latest Articles