Today is Election Day. If you’ve already voted, well done. You have exercised a right – and fulfilled a responsibility – that is fundamental to the functioning of our republic. If you have not yet voted, there is still time. Don’t let the polls close before you have made your voice heard!
When it comes to Christians and politics, we all know that the general public buys into some truly ridiculous myths. Despite what some might claim in their ignorance, Christian political activism is motivated neither by hate for non-Christians nor by some theological plot to usher in the End of Days. But there is one stereotype about Christian politics that I actually wish were true. Americans tend to believe that Christians are politically hyper-active. They see the Christian community as a highly trained, unusually engaged and monolithic political machine. The reality is far different.
Yes, Christians in general – and evangelicals in particular – were a potent political force throughout American history from our founding until the early decades of the twentieth century. But after a series of public defeats and controversies, the overwhelming majority of evangelicals had abandoned politics by the end of the 1920’s. It would take a full half century, until the 1980’s, for leaders such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson to lure evangelicals back onto the political playing field. But while millions returned to activism, millions more remained on the sidelines. To this day, the idea that Christians should not dirty their hands in the worldly game of politics remains the controlling ethos of churches across the country.
These Christian political dropouts are turning their backs on an awesome heritage. As I document in my new book, In Defense of Faith: The Judeo-Christian Idea and the Struggle for Humanity, Christians have a proud legacy of political activism that should be a source of great pride and profound inspiration. The fact is that every major human rights campaign in Western history has been led by devout Christians. The rank-and-file activists of these movements have come almost exclusively from the churches. And once Jews were given civil rights in Western societies, we too have been active participants in this struggle for humanity.
As the Spanish conquistadores ruthlessly slaughtered and enslaved the American Indians, the only Europeans to speak up in defense of these victims were devout Christians. Led by fearless Dominican clergymen such as Bartolome de las Casas, these Christians fought a prolonged political battle to get the King of Spain to protect the Indians. When the United States engaged in the ethnic cleansing of the American Indians centuries later – forcing them out of their ancient lands to points west of the Mississippi – a large evangelical network led by Jeremiah Evarts fought for their homes and their rights. The campaigns to abolish slavery both in Great Britain and here in America were church movements from start to finish. Christian heroes such as William Wilberforce and William Lloyd Garrison, Thomas Clarkson and Theodore Weld were supported by massive Christian grassroots networks dedicated to freeing the slaves.
In recent decades, Christians have continued to follow this tradition of activism for the sake of humanity. Our American civil rights movement was overwhelmingly Christian. The leaders of this struggle from Martin Luther King, Jr. on down came primarily from the black churches. The activists came primarily from their pews. The soaring rhetoric that inspired their self sacrifice came primarily from the Bible. Today, the ongoing effort to ease the debt and disease of Africa and the third world is very much a movement of the churches and synagogues. When the rock star Bono – a serious Christian — lobbies governments to forgive Africa’s crushing debts, he is quite explicitly acting on a Biblical mandate to love our neighbors as ourselves.
All of these struggles share one thing in common. In each case, Christians acting on the highest ideals of their faith spoke not only to God, but to governments. These men and women took their morality outside of church walls and onto the streets. We certainly can’t look to government to perform all of the compassionate acts for which we’re responsible. If your neighbor is hungry, you must feed him. But there are clearly times when the only way to serve our fellow man is to appeal to government. There was no way that a band of Dominican friars could have stopped the conquistadores from slaughtering Indians. They had to petition the King to stop them. Likewise, there was no way that a network of abolitionists could have forced the slave owners to free their slaves. They had to enlist the power of government to do so.
Israel is another issue that demands government action. Yes, there is much that we as individuals can do on behalf of Israel. We can pray for the peace of Jerusalem. We can raise funds for poor Jews living in Israel or abroad. We can visit Israel, support her economy and encourage her citizens. But when it comes to the major challenges facing Israel today, only government action can make a difference. Only our government can ensure that Israel maintains her military edge over her enemies. Only our government can veto an anti-Israel UN resolution or impose economic sanctions upon Iran. Yes, God might ultimately harden or soften the hearts of our leaders towards Israel. But like Moses and Esther, we must take that first step and petition our leaders on Israel’s behalf.
I deeply admire the record of Christian activism throughout the centuries. I take enormous pride in all of the good that has been done in the name of the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob. I am profoundly inspired by all of the love introduced into our world by people seeking to follow the example of a Jewish Rabbi from Nazareth. As members of Christians United for Israel you walk in a most noble tradition of active faith. But we have much work left to do to ensure that our government is honoring our Judeo-Christian principles both at home and abroad. And our effort to accomplish this goal starts with the most basic of acts. You must vote for the candidates you believe are most likely to uphold our principles. And you must do so today.
David Brog is the executive director of Christians United for Israel and author of a new book, In Defense of Faith: The Judeo-Christian Idea and the Struggle for Humanity. You can follow David on Facebook by clicking here and on Twitter by clicking here.