In this third article of the series centered on examining Church and state relations, particular attention is drawn to the question of whether the Church should get involved in politics. Bluntly put, “Should the Church get involved in politics or not?” And if the answer is “yes” then what kind of politics and to what extent? What happens to Church and state if the Church gets involved or fails to get involved in politics? Let us explore below. The second article of this series on the role and functions of the Church in society made the following points:
What then is the role of the Church in society? Succinctly put the purpose and role of the Church in society is to evangelize it. I am using evangelism far beyond the common understanding of it. It is not just about winning people to a particular Church (group of believers) but a total transformation of individuals and their societies. True evangelism as Jesus taught and demonstrated it, is aimed at total transformation. Jesus taught a message of liberation and empowerment, healed the sick and fed the hungry. He told those who were oppressing and exploiting others to stop and instead to set people free (Luke 4:18-19).
He told them to go and be his witnesses in the form of being the light of the world and salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13-16). Light has the main characteristics of driving out darkness, revealing what is good and bad and, guiding. Likewise salt has the key characteristics of giving flavor (good taste), as a form of medicine to heal and to preserve. In other words, Christians or disciples of Jesus Christ ought to be an agent for positive good in every society they find themselves.
The Church through her members ought to penetrate every sphere of society and be a witness of truth, encouragement, service and empowering people to live better lives. In short the Church should be about spiritual growth and renewal of its members and the wider society, assisting people find and make good use of their talents, time and treasure before God and man, taking care of peoples’ spiritual, social and physical needs, and to be a prophetic voice calling her members and society to the practice of love, truth, justice and advancing the common good of all of society and the environment.
With regard to the question of the Church and politics different segments of the Church give different answers. For the sake of clarity and simplicity we will divide the varying views into three categories. The first category refers to those who say the Church should have nothing to do with politics and should solely concentrate on “spiritual” matters of prayer, fasting, winning souls and engaging in humanitarian works. The second category covers those who claim that the Church (the people of God) should not be barred from any areas of human endeavor including business and politics. The third view espouses that the Church can and should take part in politics but not in party politics.
Again we need to be clear about what we mean by Church and politics before evaluating these positions. As noted in the second article the Church is the people of God whose loyalty is to Jesus Christ and all true Christians make up the Church. But sometime we use the word Church in the sense of an institution and its official representatives (the bishops and clergy). For example, the speeches and actions of Archbishop Michael K. Francis represented the official position of the Roman Catholic Church of Liberia. Politics in the general sense is about the society and its citizens and their responsibilities to it and one another as well as the privileges they derive from being members of the society; it is concerned with the management of the whole of life in society. In this broad understanding of politics all Christians should seriously be involved in promoting the welfare of the society in every aspect.
Concerning party politics (the agenda of a particular political party) our first category will say no to it while the second view will say yes and the third will say yes and no. the third category will yes but that the official Church through its official representatives should be cautious in taking part in politics of a specific party. Rather the Church should be for all and advocate fairness towards all. It is against this background that the Episcopal Church does not permit any of its bishops and clergy to occupy elected or appointed political positions (senator, representative, or minister) while still serving as an active clergy person. If a clergy person chooses to get into party politics she/he must ask the bishop for dispensation and suspend pastoral work for that time in government. The view that says no all forms of politics is unscriptural. All Christians should get involved in good or clean politics of every kind but the institutional Church should do its best to maintain neutrality.