Religion in Politics—Is This God’s Will?
“JUDAS the Galilean rose in the days of the registration, and he drew off people after him. And yet that man perished, and all those who were obeying him were scattered abroad.” (Acts 5:37) Here we have another Bible example of religion’s mixing in politics.
Shortly before Jesus’ birth, this Judas ‘enlisted the aid of Saddok, a Pharisee, and threw himself into the cause of rebellion.’ Though Judas was “a rabbi with a sect of his own,” he “tried to stir the natives to revolt, saying that they would be cowards if they submitted to paying taxes to the Romans.”—Josephus’ The Jewish War.
Would Jesus Do It?
Soon after Jesus’ baptism, the Devil attempted to involve him politically. Satan offered him “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.” Christ did not deny that the Devil had authority over the governments. Rather, Jesus rejected this political opportunity, though he could have reasoned that with political power he would be able to do good for the people.—Matthew 4:8-10.
Later the people saw Jesus’ ability to provide food. They evidently reasoned, ‘If Jesus was in the government, he would be able to solve our economic problems.’ Note what developed. “Jesus, knowing they were about to come and seize him to make him king, withdrew.” (John 6:10-15) Yes, Jesus refused to become embroiled in politics, despite his qualifications.
Still later, some politically attuned Jews tried to trap Jesus over a political issue: taxes. Were Roman taxes too high? If a Jew paid the tax, would he thus endorse using taxes to support Rome’s wars? We can learn something from how Jesus responded: “Pay back Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God.” (Mark 12:13-17) In contrast, 225 Roman Catholic bishops in the United States voted last November to adopt a 115-page economic statement that said, in part: “The tax system should be reformed to reduce the burden on the poor. . . . Those with relatively greater financial resources should pay a higher rate of taxation.”
Think what we may about our taxes, Jesus remained neutral as to the politics of taxes. His disciples, such as the apostle Paul, did likewise. (Romans 13:1-7) Even on a hot social issue such as slavery, they were neutral. You can imagine how easy it would have been for a Christian, moved by kindness, to rail against slavery, even as clergymen now take sides on legalized abortion, apartheid, women’s rights, and so on. But true Christians remained neutral!
Oxford professor E. P. Sanders writes: “It is now virtually universally recognized that there is not a shred of evidence which would allow us to think that Jesus had military/political ambitions, and the same applies to the disciples.”
Executing God’s Judgment
As we saw earlier, many Jewish leaders felt that it was in their best interests to be involved with the Roman rulers, doing so even over the trial and execution of Jesus the Messiah. (Matthew 27:1, 2, 15-31) Revelation portrays religion’s influencing and using the political element as being like a ‘woman sitting upon a wild beast.’ Does that not suggest to you how God views this mixing by the clergy?—Revelation 17:1-5.
Here is how even some human observers are judging the matter:
Malachi Martin, a Vatican scholar, saw that clerics “who take up political and social causes are failing in their No. 1 role: to be representatives of Jesus Christ.” He said: “Bishops, for example, do not have a mandate to write about economics or tell the president to not send missiles to Europe.”
But what will happen when politicians and the people tire of the clergy’s meddling? Last year the journal Liberty discussed how Emperor Constantine in the fourth century ‘mixed politics and religion, creating a “church-state” beast.’ It said about the situation today: “Just as in Constantine’s day, the church is using the state to achieve its own ends.”—Italics ours.
God’s Word makes clear what the outcome will be. The time is coming when the political element will turn on and devastate the world empire of false religion, which has long used politics to its own ends. Revelation 19:2 says that this will be an expression of God’s judgment.
Can You Be Neutral?
You personally cannot stop religious leaders from meddling in politics. But individually you can strive to match the Bible’s description of a true worshiper. Jesus said about his disciples: “They are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world.” Thereafter he told governor Pilate: “My kingdom is no part of this world. If my kingdom were part of this world, my attendants would have fought that I should not be delivered up to the Jews.”—John 17:16; 18:36.
Is it possible in our time to be in the world, living on the globe as a legal citizen of some nation, and still be “no part of the world,” to be neutral? The modern history of Jehovah’s Witnesses answers yes. They have complied with the Biblical obligation to be law-abiding citizens, yet neutral as to political and military activities of the many nations in which they live.
The book The Shaping of American Religion said: “While refusing to salute the flag or to participate in the pointless wars between doomed nations, they are in other respects law-abiding citizens. Few other groups have so neatly solved the problem of remaining ‘in’ secular society without also being ‘of’ it.” This has been true earth wide and in many political climates. Even in the face of intense pressure to abandon their neutrality, the Witnesses have given their allegiance first to God’s Kingdom.
Historian Brian Dunn writes: “The Jehovah’s Witnesses were incompatible with Nazism . . . Most important of the Nazi objections to the sect was the Witnesses’ attitude toward the state and their political neutrality. . . . This meant that no believer could bear arms, vote, hold office, take part in public festivals, or make any sign of allegiance.”—The Churches’ Response to the Holocaust (1986).
Such neutrality continues. We read in The Modern Encyclopedia of Russian and Soviet History, volume 15: “Hitler passionately loathed the Jehovists and imprisoned perhaps 10,000 of them . . . The psychologically impervious Witnesses withstood German concentration camps better than most . . . The Soviet government has never permitted the Jehovah’s Witnesses a legal existence, because it sees in the movement, even more than in other religious persuasions, an ideology that radically undermines its adherents’ loyalty to the state. . . . They take no part in elections; they refuse to serve in the armed forces; they limit their exposure to official media to the absolute minimum.”
The book Christian Religion in the Soviet Union (1978) adds: “Soviet Witnesses resist demands for participation in military service, elections, and all other political” activities, which are expected of citizens.
So it is possible to imitate Jesus’ neutrality as to the political and military activities of the Roman and Jewish governments. Doing this today will be a protection when God executes his adverse judgment against religion’s mixing in politics.
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“It’s time to get politics out of the pulpit and the pulpit out of politics. Religious officials have every right to whatever secular views they hold. [But] the pulpit is misused when it is used for secular causes.”—U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Langhorne Motley, June 1985.