Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Church and Politics

I’m surrounded by political issues at the moment. In Swaziland we’ve just gone through a time of elections (although most people feel that Swaziland is still ruled in a very undemocratic way), our neighbours to the north (Zimbabwe) are trying to come to some form of political agreement to stop the country from collapsing entirely, South Africa is getting ready for elections next year and the ruling ANC (African National Congress) has to cope with a breakaway group which is planning to form a new party in time for the elections. And having many dear friends in the USA, I also keep an eye on what is happening over there as their presidential election is coming closer. George Barna just published the results on a poll which his organisation did to try and determine where the votes of Christians will fall in the presidential election. If you’re interested in the outcome of the poll, you can access it here.
Over the past few weeks Christianity Today (and I’m sure many other Christian organisations) also did its fair share to try and determine how Christians will vote in the coming presidential election. One of the articles about this topic has the title: “What We Really Want.” Although I have a lot of understanding for the sentiments of Christians when they vote, I believe that South Africa is fortunate in a certain sense that we have been able to grow out of the mode of thinking that, voting for a certain person or voting for a certain party will benefit Christianity significantly.
I can still remember, when I was much younger, how thrilled we as young Christian students were to listen to speeches made by political leaders in which they unashamedly spoke about their faith in and dependence upon Jesus Christ. The then ruling National Party was known for its policy on Christian ethics (although I could never quite understand, even as a teenager, how they could condemn casinos and dog races – because of the sin of gambling – while allowing gambling at horse races!) I also belonged to (and was sent to Swaziland as missionary from) the Dutch Reformed Church which was often known as “The National Party in prayer,” because of the great number of politicians who belonged to this church.
This morning I was invited to a breakfast and shared the table with a politician from one of the opposition parties who will be taking part in the 2009 elections in South Africa. He made the remark that South Africa, before 1994, was more Christian than it is today.
I beg to differ. It may be true that politicians spoke more openly about their personal relationship with Christ, but when one realises that they kept a – what I consider as a demonic – racist policy (Apartheid) in place and when one reads the stories of how people were often senselessly imprisoned and killed, then one can hardly say that the government of those days were more Christian than the present government.
As I grew older, I realised that I will never be able to give my full support to any political party or to any political candidate. I believe that Christians should vote. I believe that Christians need to discern who they are voting for and why they are voting for a certain individual. But my experience as a South African taught me not to depend too much upon people. Most people, no matter who they are, will disappoint you at some stage. No wonder the wise author of Psalm 146 warned us in verse 3: “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save.”
Ultimately, politicians are there to govern a country. They are not appointed in the first place to promote Christianity. Christians are there to proclaim Christ. It’s not a matter of “… and ne’er the twain shall meet,” but I do think that the role description needs to be made clearer. I don’t want Christian politicians to keep quiet about their faith. But if they dare to speak out about their faith, then they need to make sure that their lives reflect this faith to the people whom they have been called to serve.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008 - Posted by | Church, Disappointments, Evangelicals, Mission, Swaziland


  1. I completely agree with statement that politicians are there to govern a country, not to promote Christianity. There has only been one real theocracy and that didn’t work out very well.

    I’ve been voting as a Christian in USA for about 35 years and I don’t recall a presidential election that has been so divisive and polarizing to Christians. Here, with primarily a two party system, there are many evangelical voices in one party who proclaim (loudly) that its really impossible to be a real Christian and belong to or vote in line with the other. Millions of dollars are spend by American evangelicals every year to try and overturn “non-Christian” laws or institute Christian laws (while millions of people die every year from completely preventable causes). The problem with this is that eventually our obsession with imposing Christian morals and values onto a pluralistic society becomes our mission, instead of the one Jesus gave us in Matt 28. We are duped into believing that our campaigning IS spreading the gospel, while in so doing we are often alienating the very mission field we’re called to reach.

    And America has the same kind of “Christian” heritage that your South African friend described. We colonized this country on the backs of Africans we had ripped from their families and by committing near genocide on the native people who lived here before we landed, breaking every single treaty we entered into with them. Our founding fathers crossed the Atlantic for the very purpose of freely worshiping Jesus, whose name they wore while committing the atrocities described above.

    Indeed God chose the children of Israel (a nation) so that they could be a light to all nations. Jesus instituted a new way of lighting the world, but not through any nation or government. Oh that we would quit worrying about turning one country or another into a “Christian nation,” and just focus on being Christ to the lost and broken people around us.

    Wendi Hammond

    Comment by Wendi Hammond | Tuesday, October 28, 2008 | Reply

  2. Wow Wendi, I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone saying it so clearly. I don’t know enough about American history, but my gut feeling is that you’re probably not far off the mark if one should look objectively at your history.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Thursday, October 30, 2008 | Reply

  3. a politician from one of the opposition parties who will be taking part in the 2009 elections in South Africa. He made the remark that South Africa, before 1994, was more Christian than it is today

    Indeed a very strange remark. It would be interesting to know why he thought that. Before 1994 Christians were persecuted — at least those who failed to bow down and worship Nebuchadnezzar’s image when the cue music sounded. Now we are all free to live our Christian lives. There are certainly plenty of problems, but Christian’s are freer to be Christian now than they were before 1994.

    Comment by Steve | Sunday, November 9, 2008 | Reply

  4. Hi Steve, thanks for your response. My son, Cobus, speaks highly of you and I’m honoured that you posted your comment. I guess what he tried to say was that politicians spoke more openly about their faith before 1994, but then, that was the only way in which they could get the voted of a large part of the White population.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Sunday, November 9, 2008 | Reply

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