This is a response to a question I’ve heard often in the past 2 years in the Philippines and countless times online. Rather than responding on a message board I’ll respond publicly and point people to this post in the future.
Today the question was raised: “I have always wondered why “Religious Leaders” who promote the theory of the absolute “Separation of Church and State” even take the time to be involved in or comment on “Political Issues.””
I affirm the separation of church and state often support that separation because I have strong opinions about public issues that effect all people in the public realm. As Christians we can’t obey Jesus (Matt 28:20) without caring about the politics that effect the people around us, especially the most vulnerable (Matt 25:31-46) .
Separation of Church and State
It is impossible to be obedient to Jesus and avoid politics. We don’t need to bless to republicans/democrats and curse the other side in order to effect the public effects of government though. Jesus calls us to be salt and light in this world by bringing tangible hope (physical, emotional and spiritual) and preserving life within the public realm (Matthew 5:13–16) and it is impossible to love your neighbor by seeking peace and justice along side him while avoiding the systems which govern that neighbors life.
State Based Injustice in the Southern Philippines
For example, in the southern Philippines island of Mindanao, where I previously served as a peacebuilder and missionary, one of the major historical issues for indigenous people (IP’s) and Islamic IP’s was land taken from them unjustly, but through government law. In the 1940’s if a Filipino from the northern island of Luzon applied for a land grant on the island of Mindanao he would be freely granted up to 24 hectares. But, if IP’s from Mindanao applied for that same land (which was occupied by them already and had been for 1000’s of years) they would be granted 12 or less hectares of land by the national Government. The IP’s of Mindanao were assimilated in their own land through these unjust just laws. How can I care about Indigenous people, or Muslims in the Philippines who don’t have enough land to feed their kids, or make enough money to educate their children without addressing this systematic injustice? It’s impossible. We need to hold the unjust system accountable with our neighbors.
It is impossible for Christians who keep partisan politics separate from the church to avoid addressing these political issues and love God and our neighbor. Jesus said, “Do to others the same thing you would want others to do for you.” If I was having my land taken from me unjustly I would want other people to speak up about the injustice with me and on my behalf.
Therefore, even though I believe that the church should never bless a political party or political system because Jesus is the sole head of the church, I cannot avoid involvement with the political system because the political system was intended to give this world order and when it’s oppressive rather than creating righteousness/justice the body of Christ needs to speak up and challenge it to get back to God’s intended design for government.