Christians are instructed in the Bible to be salt and light. An argument from this principle can be constructed which goes something like this. If Christians are to be salt and light, then they should get involved in secular political parties and try and influence their policies and their choice of candidates. In this way, the secular damage to society can be contained or at least slowed down. It is this idea that motivated evangelicals in the US who have thrown their collective weight behind their new President Trump and the Republican Party. As proof of their success in this regards, they can point to the appointment of another morally conservative judge to their supreme court. If, they would argue, we had not backed Donald Trump, then another social liberal would have been appointed to the court and the success of secular morality would have been unstoppable.

This is seems like a powerful argument, but it is a flawed one for a number of reasons:

1. Christian salt becomes worthless when Christian efforts are compromised. When ‘salt loses its savour’, it becomes worthless. When Christians support a political party which espouses doctrines contrary to Scripture, it is supporting those evil doctrines. If a political party, or a leader, refuses to even attempt to repeal laws which support moral evil (for example, laws which sanction the killing of the unborn) and the Christian helps vote such parties into power, they are supporting the practices allowed by such law. And even when a Christian says ‘I will vote for a candidate who opposes abortion’, unless that candidate is an independent, he is still voting for a candidate who has no qualms being part of a political party and system which permit the killing of the unborn in their tens of thousands.

Similarly when Christians, who are supposed to be salt and light, vote for an individual or a party of individuals, who employ obscene and blasphemous language, or who in their personal lives prove to be immoral, they are supporting evil. It is obvious from the US example in their recent Presidential election that Christians who supported either candidate were supporting immoral people to rule over them. To be salt and light does not mean to pick and choose which evils to oppose and which to ignore.

2. Christians are to be ‘A city that is set on an hill’, shining as lights. Ronald Reagan had appropriated this statement from the Sermon on the Mount and applied it to America as a nation. However, this was an inappropriate use of the metaphor, which was essentially another way of saying that Christians are to be salt. In the Sermon, Christ teaches that Christians are to be distinct from the world and are to be bearing witness to the truth in an uncompromised way. The light (that is the moral light) Christians are to display is identified as ‘good works’, which others are supposed to see and glorify God as a result. How can supporting blasphemers, swearers and adulterers to be your civil leaders be construed as a good work?

3. Christians are also urged in Scripture to not be ‘unequally yoked’ with unbelievers. Often this is understood in terms of marriage, but the context does not restrict such advice to marriage. The essence of being unequally yoked is that one party (of stronger oxen) are able to pull in their direction while the weaker party is forced to follow the stronger. In Christian terms, inevitably the Christian will not retain sufficient strength to pull in God’s direction on moral questions when part of a secular political process. The stronger parties today in politics are secularists, some of whom might have a veneer of respectability, but inevitably will follow the secularist and atheist line in most issues. This unequal yoking is also seen in the source of financial support for politicians and political parties. Inevitably monies from immoral sources will have their influence within the political structure the Christian politician and Christian supporters of secular parties are endorsing.

4. Even when Christians had a greater influence in society and government, the progress of secularism has marched on regardless. New Zealand, like all Western democracies was once influenced in its laws and governance by the Ten Commandments and its implications. In spite of Christian involvement New Zealand has now criminalised parents who smack their children, legalised the killing of the unborn, legalised homosexuality and homosexual marriage, permits blasphemy, obscenity and pornography, and outlawed the teaching of Creation in State schools in favour of evolutionism. Soon euthanasia and marijuana will be legalised. The list, no doubt, could be greatly extended, but there is no question that the definition of what is good and what is bad has been reversed for many social issues.

5. Historically New Zealand should be seen as a nation in covenant with God, and therefore one which adheres to the Bible as the rule of faith and life. While many Christians would reject this principle, it has strong historic plausibility. Christians have largely bought into the idea that a democratic government is lawful, even when it ignores and excludes God and His will from its function and purpose.

The Christian response to the current political and social climate should be to stand up and unequivocally be salt and light exposing all the elements of society to the claim God has on all of us in all of our social relations and making the Gospel message the centre of gravity for that witness.

This is best done outside the secular political process. Prayer that God will open the eyes of our fellow citizens and so restore our society and indeed this entire world to government under God is also a permanent obligation.

Garnet Milne

<photo credit: Kirt Edblom Sea Salt via photopin (license)>