I teach political science classes at LeTourneau University where I have lots of interesting discussions with students about Christianity and politics. In 2020, I published a book exploring the intersection of evangelism and politics (see below) and started this site to serve as a forum for continued discussions with students, family, and friends.
Evangelism & Politics: A Christian Perspective on the Church and the State
In a fallen world, politics will be a brutal, at times violent, sport. Grandstanding, demonizing, misleading, and lying are the native language of political conflict. Violence is historically how political conflicts are ultimately resolved. This fact raises important questions about our faith. Should Christians participate in politics? If so, how should we participate?
Evangelism & Politics argues that Christians should participate in politics and government but their ultimate goal in doing so is evangelism, not political change. The way Christians participate in politics is therefore generally more important than the specific policies they advocate for. In short, Christian participation in politics should be marked by the fruit of the spirit.
At the same time, Christians should not be naive in thinking godly engagement in politics guarantees political success. Ungodly tactics are effective and Christians will be at a political disadvantage when they refuse to use such methods. Nevertheless, Christians should refuse to them because they ultimately see God, not the government, as their protector and provider and godly engagement in politics as a way of providing an evangelistic witness to society that fulfills the Great Commission.
"John Barrett draws from the Old and New Testaments to answer the question: How can the church reconcile the Great Commission with the fact that politics has been and always will be an ugly, often violent, affair... I enthusiastically recommend this book for Christians, people of all faiths, those with no faith, students from secondary through graduate level, and the public. It is enlightening and a pleasure to read."
William A. Mitchell, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Baylor University; Colonel (retired) United States Air Force
"I recommend this book for all those interested in politics, particularly those who are believers. It will demonstrate clearly to you how difficult your job will be to follow God and also perform admirably in your chosen office. Well-written and very helpful."
Richard C. Crawford, Former Mayor of Tulsa, Oklahoma
"John has thoughtfully and skillfully brought a serious issue, politics, into the light! There are many Christians who long for these insights and perspectives on the proper role and voice for a Christian to play. This short epistle should be read by one and all as it shines a clear light onto a serious topic and it gives an honest answer!"
Steve Largent, US House of Representatives, 1994-2002, member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame
“[T]he vision of politics as Christian witness that Barrett sketches is worthy of engagement.”
Amy E. Black, Professor of Political Science, Wheaton College
From Evangelism & Politics
The Christian Authority
Christians playing a direct role in governing, either by choice or by circumstance, have a particular obligation to know God’s word and follow all the obligations of the Christian citizen because of the authority they wield The Christian authority prays for those under their authority and leads the church in individually and corporately confessing the sins of society.
The Christian authority will exercise their authority justly. If laws or higher authorities demand that the Christian authority wield power unjustly, the Christian authority will refuse, as Jonathan did, and suffer whatever consequences come as a result. This includes demands to lie or use violence against those who are not challenging the state’s authority. The Christian authority considers the interests of not just their own constituents but of all people—particularly the most vulnerable: widows, orphans, the poor, and foreigners. This requires the humility to recognize that others, including political opponents and outside constituents, have legitimate interests. Domestically, this means acknowledging and taking into consideration the interests of both political supporters and opponents and, importantly, seeking compromises that benefit all. Internationally, this means acknowledging and taking into consideration the interests of both domestic and foreign peoples and, importantly, forging compromises that benefit all.
The Christian authority is not naïve and does not see compromise and consensus as guarantees for popular favor. They recognize the risks associated with compromise and considering the interests of others. Political supporters, as sinners, are likely to be angered when concessions are made to political opponents. Political opponents, as sinners, are unlikely to be grateful for such concessions or switch allegiances because they know someone from their own ranks will more fully cater to their interests. Nevertheless, compromising and seeking a consensus that takes into account the interests of both political supporters and opponents is a self-sacrificing act of selfless love that provides an evangelistic witness to society. It is done not as a political strategy, but because it reflects God’s love into society.
When Christian authorities engage in political debate, they (like all Christians) are obligated to be gracious, gentle, and respectful to others, including political opponents—both foreign and domestic. The Christian authority will accurately characterize opposing viewpoints, acknowledge the legitimate interests of others, and peacefully petition those with greater authority. The Christian authority will pray for their political opponents. At the same time, the Christian authority can present their views boldly with little regard for how society interprets their motives or values—the Christian authority is concerned with pleasing God, not men. Bold political stands can be an act of selfless love that articulates God’s standard of morality and provides an evangelistic witness to society. While the Christian authority will engage in political debate selflessly, they recognize that in a fallen world, politics will be a brutal, at times violent, sport. Grandstanding, demonizing, misleading, and lying are the native language of political debate. Violence is historically how political conflicts are ultimately resolved.
The Christian authority recognizes that restrained engagement in political debate does not guarantee political success. On the contrary, it entails risks. Brutal measures are used because they are effective. “The children of this world are more shrewd in dealing with the world around them than are the children of the light.”5 Christians engaging in political debate will be at a disadvantage to political opponents who use such tactics. And yet the Christian authority will not use these tactics because they have faith that God is sovereign and the guarantor of justice. The ultimate goal of the Christian authority is not to bring about political change but to present an evangelistic witness to society that fulfills the Great Commission.
The Christian authority will recognize that, as a sinner, they will inevitably fall short of God’s commands. At times, they will overstep their authority, wield power unjustly, engage in political debate in a mean-spirited manner, or simply be wrong in their political views. On those occasions, the Christian authority will acknowledge their shortcomings and apologize—even if it is not politically expedient. The Christian authority’s identity is in Christ, not how the public perceives them. The humility of such actions will present a witness to society as much as when the authority acts justly and lovingly.
The Christian authority will restrain their accumulation and use of power, both domestically and internationally. They will restrain their accumulation of power because they know, as a mere sinner, the accumulation of vast power will present temptations the authority will inevitably fall into. At the same time, the Christian authority acknowledges the risks associated with restraining the accumulation and use of power—risks that will be borne by both the authority and those under their authority. The Christian authority has no illusions that restraining power will guarantee goodwill or reciprocal actions. They restrain the use of power, not as a strategy for political change, but because doing so provides an evangelistic witness to society that contrasts with the way the world uses power. It is an act of faith that trusts the security and wellbeing of the nation to God rather than the state.
Above all, the Christian authority remembers that the future is in God’s hands, not their own. The Christian authority can restrain their use of power, take into account the interests of others, and act in a loving manner (despite the risks) because they do not rely on their own limited knowledge, wisdom, and foresight but rather on a loving, sovereign God. The success of the Christian authority is judged not by the extent of the political influence and victories but by the extent to which their engagement with government and politics provides an evangelistic witness to society that glorifies God.