Jesus came from a long line of political agitators who spoke out against the personal sins, social evils and even political policies of their rulers and governments. Nathan (1 Ki 13), Jehu (1 Ki 16), Elijah (1 Ki 18; 2 Ki 1), Micaiah (1 Ki 20, 22; 2 Ki 3), Elisha (2 Ki 3), Isaiah (2 Ki 20), Zephaniah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea Amos, Micah, Malachi and even some unnamed prophets (1 Ki 13, 1 Ki 20, 22; 2 Ki 3; 2 Ki 21).
This criticism of government even took a violent turn roughly 160 years before Christ when Mattathias and his sons revolted against a foreign government that was slaughtering Jews and outlawing the worship of Yahweh. The Jews violently liberated their Temple and established an annual celebration of that event (Feast of Dedication aka Hanukkah) that even Jesus apparently celebrated nearly 200 years later (John 10:22). This critique of government continued with John the Baptist who was beheaded for his criticism of Herod. And as I mentioned in my last post, Jesus’ strong condemnation of Israel’s religious leaders included their political leaders as well.
Of course all this was a long time ago in a different place and different culture. You can’t simply assume that such examples can be directly applied to the 21st century. In fact, even in ancient times, reaction to one’s government may have depended to some extent on the situation. For example there is no indication that Joseph condemned the government of Egypt in which he served. Similarly, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are not recorded as publicly confronting the social evils of Babylon, though they did refuse to obey some of Babylon’s laws. Mordecai worked quietly behind the scenes to influence the government but did not openly confront it. And while Paul was not shy about publicly condemning the world’s religions he is never recorded as publicly criticizing Roman government injustices about which he had no say and no reasonable chance of influencing. Similarly, when I was in Russia last year one of the Christians there told me they have absolutely no say in their government so they just try to be faithful to Christ in whatever circumstances they find themselves. In their situation, that is understandable.
We in America are in different circumstances—at least for now. Our government was established to be a government of the people, by the people and for the people. In our government citizens are expected to speak out, to influence, and to vote. We can even protest peacefully. If Christians, both as citizens and as Christians, abdicate that responsibility, we become like salt that has lost its saltiness—“no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men” (Mt. 5:13).
I say all this because I sense in many Christians an uneasiness or outright hostility against those Christians who are politically outspoken. It is almost as if we should keep quiet and just assure everyone that Jesus loves them (which most people hear as, “Jesus is OK with me even when I continue in unrepentant sin”)! It is almost as if some Christians are afraid that if we become too vocal, non-Christians won’t like us. We certainly can’t have that can we (John 15:19; 1 John 3:13; James 4:4).