What we have come to call the church-state issue is highly complex. On the one hand, Peter could affirm the authority of the Roman government, declare the emperor “supreme” among earthly rulers, and urge Christians to be good citizens (1 Peter 2:13-15); on the other hand, the emperor when he gave that counsel was none other than the villainous Nero, who eventually had Peter put to death.

So what does the biblical data say? Is government a good and necessary thing? Ordained of God and to be respected? Or is it an obstacle to the Kingdom of God that persecutes prophets? Perpetuates violence and masks injustice?

Here is the certified and unambiguous answer of Scripture: Yes.

Human government – whether tribal or national, democracy or monarchy, freely elected or installed by military force – is capable of both great good and terrible evil. It is the same with every institution populated by human beings.

For the moment, let us grant Paul’s teaching that both family and government are God-ordained. Do you believe some ways of doing family are more ethical and healthier for its members than others? Do you know of some families where a spouse has murdered his or her mate? Or where parents abused children? So family and government share at least this much: Though ordained by God in Holy Scripture, both are capable of either enormous good or monumental evil.

As people of goodwill who care about their neighbors, Christians should be concerned about both these social institutions. We should affirm the value of healthy families, promote marital stability, and support the protection and nurture of children. We should also pay our taxes to help finance the state, encourage integrity in government, and otherwise show ourselves to be good citizens.

But I resent the wrong-headed and manipulative use either of state by church or of church by state. The state should not, for example, require synagogues, mosques, or churches to affirm policies and actions that violate their established tenets of faith. Neither should churches, synagogues, or mosques try to impose their doctrinal beliefs or distinctive behavior codes on the broader citizenry.

Christians are not monolithic in their political views.
Thus I understand why non-religious people are already bristling in the unfolding nomination-and-election cycle. CNN polls “born-again Christians” for their voting patterns, and the Wall Street Journal writes of the “crucial evangelical vote” within the American electorate.

Christians are not monolithic in their political views. Persons – whether clergy or candidates – who position themselves for power by exploiting religion do no favor for either church or state. They use Scripture for leverage and unethically hammer an ethical issue for selective voter appeal. (Sexual promiscuity and concern for the poor are both prominent in the Bible, but the former tends to be a defining issue on the right and the latter on the left. Isn’t that being “selective”?)

Read, think, support, and vote your convictions. Just don’t get suckered into equating the Kingdom of God with party or confusing Messiah with candidate.