ERLC political engagement guide aims to help Christians ‘think biblically’ about politics

Vivek Ramaswamy, Republican presidential candidate, fills out his ballot on Election Day in Columbus, Ohio, on November 7, 2023. Ohio voters on Tuesday are choosing whether to enshrine abortion rights into the state's constitution, in what may well be a bellwether on an issue likely to dominate next year's US presidential race.
Vivek Ramaswamy, Republican presidential candidate, fills out his ballot on Election Day in Columbus, Ohio, on November 7, 2023. Ohio voters on Tuesday are choosing whether to enshrine abortion rights into the state's constitution, in what may well be a bellwether on an issue likely to dominate next year's US presidential race. | MEGAN JELINGER/AFP via Getty Images

The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention has released a guide for Christian political engagement amid a divisive presidential election year.

Released last week, "The Nations Belong to God: A Christian Guide for Political Engagement" was authored by Andrew Walker, assistant professor of ethics and apologetics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a fellow at the ERLC Research Institute.

"Politics is a calling to be engaged within a world that belongs to God, not ultimately to princes, presidents, or prime ministers," wrote Walker in the guide's introduction.

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"My goal in writing this resource was to move Christians to a place of strategic engagement. That begins, first and foremost, with understanding that the nations belong to God."

Miles Mullin, vice president and director of research at ERLC, told The Christian Post on Friday that the commission wants to help churches handle the issues stemming from election-year politics.

"We were thinking about how to best serve our churches during this election cycle, but we wanted something that would be useful beyond 2024," Mullin explained. "We wanted a resource that was grounded in Scripture, thoroughly Baptist in its approach, and relevant to the everyday politics of local communities."

"This guide, written by our colleague Andrew Walker, is that. It casts a vision for political engagement that goes well beyond just voting, but encourages Christians to be involved at every level of politics in a way that honors the Lord and loves our neighbors."

The guide is organized like a catechism, with each chapter headlined by a question and followed by a brief answer, and then a longer commentary building on the answer.

There are 40 questions in the guide, including "What is Politics?," "What is the Proper Relationship Between Church and the Government?," "What is the Common Good?," "Does Scripture Command a Particular Form of Government?," "What is Unique About Christian Political Engagement?," "What is Justice?," and "Do I Have an Obligation to Vote?"

In describing the "overall goal of Christian political engagement," Walker stated:

"Remembering that Christ is the true King of kings, Christians should pursue wisdom,
justice, and righteousness for the sake of the earthly common good, with a view toward recognizing how God has ordered and preserved the world for our good, and ultimately, for his glory." 

The guide states that Scripture doesn't offer an "exact formula" for what the ideal government structure must be. But Walker stresses that "[f]undamentally, a government that sets itself in opposition to God's moral law is a government that is unbiblical and will not survive for long as its ultimate destiny is one of chaos."

The guide advises against the idea of state promotion of a formal religion or denomination. 

"Scripture indicates that the government's jurisdiction is related to earthly affairs
only and is not to hinder, promote, or directly interfere with religious matters," he wrote. 

"Baptists look on established church-state arrangements with great concern," the guide continues. "For one, nowhere has the long-term vitality of the Christian faith been nursed by the state's relationship with it. Where church-state establishments have occurred, they have always resulted in a secularized and nominalized faith accommodated to the needs of the state. By failing to distinguish that which is Christian from non-Christian, Christian identity becomes diluted." 

Walker urges Christians to temper their expectations for political victories.

"A Christian should have chastened expectations about politics in this age," the document reads. "We are not promised total defeat or total victory apart from Christ ushering in his Kingdom."

Mullin also told CP that while the ERLC has "released platform analysis summaries in the past," the commission has "not released a political engagement guide, per se."

"Unlike other guides that are focused on specific policy details, this guide should serve as a framework for Christians to think biblically about all of their political activity, not just a single election," he said.

"The guide also encourages Christians to think not just nationally, but locally, where they are likely to have the most influence. It is our hope that Christians will be inspired to do more than vote, and instead to get involved in their local communities, get to know their neighbors, and work for good alongside them without compromising their Christian convictions."

Mullin said they "wanted to be helpful to Christians as they serve their communities and seek the welfare of the places where God has placed them," referencing Jeremiah 29:7, which reads in part "seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile."

"At the ERLC, we hope that this guide helps remind people both that politics are important but not of ultimate importance," he continued. "And political engagement, at its best, should be a tangible manifestation of that command to love our neighbors as we work towards a common good that both honors God and serves our neighbors well."

"I think we will find that the Lord also opens up more opportunities to fulfill the Great Commission as we engage politics as a way that is found pleasing and honorable to Him."

The guide comes at a time when many believe that the United States, including its churches, is experiencing unprecedented division over politics.

Last year, David Platt, pastor of McLean Bible Church near Washington, D.C., and former head of SBC's International Mission Board, released a book warning about how American political power can corrupt the mission of the Church.

Titled Don't Hold Back: Leaving Behind the American Gospel to Follow Jesus, Platt cautioned that the "American gospel," an ideology that "uses Jesus for the sake of comfort and power and politics and prosperity in the world," was an internal threat to U.S. churches.

"If we're not careful, we can conflate the Gospel with American ideals and values and power and politics, and in the process, lose the way of Jesus," Platt told CP in an earlier interview.

"What He's called us to is so much bigger than what we are tempted to get caught up with in this world, and particularly my country, with the pursuit of comfort and power and politics and prosperity here."

The ERLC guide warns there are "two equal and opposite errors when it comes to a Christian evaluating their love for their country."

"One Christian is tempted to give uncritical love to their country as the 'patriot,'" he wrote. "Another Christian is always critical of their country, believing themselves the 'prophet.' A better model is prophetic patriotism: A person who loves their country while acknowledging its fallenness and who loves their country even when he or she feels criticism is necessary in order to reform it."

"But a love for Christ calls forth a higher love than what we can give to our country or nation," Walker continued. "Christ demands our ultimate allegiance, and it is that
ultimate allegiance that informs how we are to act and live amid the nation where God
has placed us. We can love our country best by not ascribing to it a love that Scripture
deems it not worthy of having."

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