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Have you ever wondered how to engage in politics as a Christian? How do you filter what our political leaders say through the lens of scripture? How do you determine if someone in a political office just wants your vote and is willing to misuse scripture to do it? Tom Davis addresses the concerns we should have when our political leaders misuse scripture, how to identify their crafty lies, and how to think theologically when listening and evaluating their promises on their political platform.

I started paying attention to politics around the year 2000. Since then, politics has grown more contentious. The two major parties are suspicious of each other, and the rhetoric has grown even more contentious. Every president elected since 2000 has been declared to be an illegitimate president by some of their opponents. Most political pundits and activists increase the contention, especially during election campaigns. The worst part of this political polarization is that both parties claim Jesus is on their side. How can Jesus be on both sides? What is their evidence that confirms their claim? How should Christians respond?

The Third Commandment: Taking God’s Name in Vain

To help us address how politicians use the name of Jesus, it will help to look at the third commandment. The Ten Commandments are found in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. God leads the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt, and makes a covenant with His people. In Exodus 20, God gives these commandments as the conditions of His covenant with the Hebrews. In Deuteronomy, these commandments are restated as the Hebrews are preparing to go into the promised land. The third commandment is, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.”{1}

These commandments were the foundation for the moral behavior that the Hebrew people were to follow to keep their covenant relationship with God. Sometimes there is a particular confusion over the third commandment. A version of this covenant called “The Redneck Ten Commandments” lists the third commandment as “Watch yer mouth.” While humorous, this fails to capture the essence of the commandment. Dropping a “g__ d___,” or an “OMG” in a conversation is not at the heart of the third commandment. Paul wrote of Jesus, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.”{2} This means that Jesus is God incarnate, which means exclaiming “Jesus Christ!” as an expression of disgust or surprise is the same as the expressions just mentioned. These phrases can violate taking God’s name in vain, but are not at the heart of the issue. There are other passages in the Bible that address the use of impure, offensive, or vulgar language.

If vulgar and impious phrases such as GD or OMG are not at the heart of the third commandment, what is this commandment about? I suggest two meanings, both of which we see violated in American politics.

When God gave the Hebrews the Ten Commandments, the people were coming out of Egypt. The people were going into the land promised to them, which was inhabited by the Canaanites. Those people, as well as most people of the Ancient Near East, thought that by invoking a god’s name, that god could be manipulated into doing what the people liked. Old Testament scholar Abel Ndjerareon tells us, “Pagans end up believing that they can easily manipulate both the name and the god represented by the name. The name thus becomes a way of controlling, of mastering, and taming the divinity. But the God of Israel refuses to allow his name to be used in this way. He is not an object to be manipulated.”{3} Unlike the gods of the surrounding nations, Yahweh will not be controlled or mastered by people simply because they invoke His name. Old Testament scholar John Walton also states, “The third commandment when read as ancient Near Eastern literature concerns how Yahweh’s power/authority was not to be perceived—people were to recognize it by refraining from attempts to control or misuse it.”{4} In the third commandment Yahweh is telling the Hebrews, with whom He just entered a covenant, that He is not like pagan gods. They cannot manipulate Him by using His name.

Politicians do not use God’s name to manipulate God, they use God’s name to manipulate people. People will take God’s name and attach it to a political party or a politician to convince
people to vote for them. Currently “Jesus Saves” is not only a statement of faith, now it is also a political banner. Jesus Saves banners were at the January 6th riots. Why? Were people witnessing to other people during the riot? That is not likely. Politicians use the name of God to gather support for campaigns and political ideas that God does not agree with. While they may not be trying to manipulate God, they are trying to manipulate His people.

There is another aspect to taking God’s name in vain. One use of the Hebrew word for “take” could be something like taking up arms, taking things into your own hands, or taking a bag from someone to help them carry groceries.

The word translated as “take” in the third commandment is also translated as “bear” in other parts of the Old Testament. In Exodus 28, God gives Moses the instructions for how to make the priestly garments and how these garments were to be used. One of the garments, like an apron, is called a breastpiece. The breastpiece has twelve stones attached to it. Each stone represents a tribe of Israel. Aaron is to wear this holy garment when entering the tabernacle: “So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment on his heart, when he goes into the Holy Place, to bring them to remembrance before the LORD. And in the breastpiece of judgment you shall put the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be on Aaron’s heart, when he goes in before the LORD. Thus Aaron shall bear the judgment of the people of Israel on his heart before the LORD.”{5}

A few verses later Aaron is instructed to wear a headband with a gold plate with “Yahweh” engraved on it. The instructions are: “It shall be on Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron shall bear any guilt from the holy things that the people of Israel consecrate as their holy gifts. It shall
regularly be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the Lord.”{6} In this passage we can see that Aaron is bearing, or representing, Israel before God by wearing the breastpiece. The gold plate on Aaron’s forehead signifies that he is God’s representative to Israel. In light of the third commandment and these instructions given to Aaron when fulfilling his priestly role, Israel is to represent God (bear or take his name) to the nations just as Aaron represents (bears) Israel before God.{7}

We Christians should be involved in politics. There is nothing wrong with Christians running for office, or campaigning for a cause. As Christians we bear God’s name. We represent God to other people. This means that how we act, what we say, and how we treat people matters to God. When we take God’s name and attach it to a political view that does not accurately represent Him, we bear His name in vain. When we campaign, we must do so in a way that honors God. We must not misrepresent Him.

American Politics and God

Throughout the history of America, people have appealed to God and the Bible to justify different social and political movements. The earliest people to settle in what became the United States were devout Christians. The Bible informed their beliefs and way of life. The Founding Fathers had a variety of religious beliefs ranging from Enlightenment Epicureanism (an ancient Greek philosophy that believed that gods did not exist, and only physical things exist) and deism to Protestant Christianity. Most of them saw value in the Bible, even if they were not Christians. Different Americans at different times have appealed to God and the Bible to gain support for slavery, the abolition of slavery, Manifest Destiny (a cultural belief in the 19th-century United States that American settlers were destined to expand across North America, per Wikipedia), the humane treatment of Native Americans, Prohibition, and many other movements and goals. However, these movements are not equal when evaluated by the teachings of the Bible. Politicians and activists still appeal to the Bible to rally voters and supporters for their goals. How should current appeals to the Bible be evaluated?

Matthew Dowd, a Democrat who once worked as an advisor to the Bush administration, said, “If Jesus Christ was alive today, He would be called a groomer, He would be called woke, and He would be called a socialist if He was alive today and speaking the message He spoke in the gospels today about treating everybody with dignity.” Dowd went on to say, “Jesus Christ hung around with prostitutes and tax collectors. He was nailed to a cross because He spoke on behalf of the most marginalized people in the Middle East.”{8} He also said that a small segment of conservative activists has corrupted Jesus’ message, which Dowd said was “love conquers hate.”

What should we think about Dowd’s statements during the interview? First, notice that Dowd does not quote the Bible at any time during the interview. He references the gospels in a general way. Given that this was a live interview on a news broadcast, I can understand that because time was limited.

The question remains, how do his claims stand up against biblical scrutiny? Would Jesus be called a groomer (slang for a person who builds relationships with children to manipulate and exploit them)? I think Dowd means that Jesus would be falsely accused of being a groomer. But Dowd seems to think that Jesus would be teaching that same sex intercourse, transgenderism, and things like that are good. I see no evidence of that in the Bible.

Dowd’s claim that Jesus died because He spoke out on behalf of marginalized people completely misses the mark. Jesus did disrupt the cultural norms and class divisions of the Jews of that time. Women traveled with Jesus and His disciples. Jesus spoke with the Samaritans. Jesus touched lepers and other unclean people. He even had a tax collector as one of his closest disciples. But there is no indication that He died because He did these things. Jesus did not die for “love conquers hate.” The Apostle John tells us, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”{9} John also wrote, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not ours only but also the sins of the whole world.”{10} While Jesus taught that the marginalized should be respected and that the oppressed should be defended, that is not why He died. Jesus did not die for love, He died because He loved the world. His death was not about equality, it was a payment for our sins. Those who confess their sins, oppressors and oppressed, and turn to Jesus as Lord of all creation, will have their sins forgiven.

The latest instance I saw of the Bible being used for politics is California governor Gavin Newsom’s campaign billboards promoting the pro-choice position. The bottom of the billboards has Mark 12:31 at the bottom of the poster: “Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no greater commandment than these.” Newsom seems to think loving your neighbor means supporting abortion. He also left out the first part of Jesus’ answer to the question of which command is the greatest, “The most important is, Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”{11} Does Newsom leave this out because he thinks it would make the billboard cluttered? I don’t think so. The question that Newsom needs to answer is, how does promoting the pro-choice position show love for God? Every person bears the image of God. When, in the development of the baby, is the image put in the baby? Because biology, and more importantly, the Bible does not tell us, it seems the most moral and cautious position is to assume that the image of God is in the baby at conception. Let us not forget that the command to love your neighbor is tied to the command to love God. How does abortion show love for God? Every politician or political activist who wants to use passages of the Bible to support their political cause needs to be able to answer these kinds of questions. Leaving these kinds of questions unanswered does not honor the name of God.

During President Trump’s campaign in 2016 he was a guest speaker at Liberty University. The thing most people remember about his speech is that he said “Two Corinthians” instead of “Second Corinthians.” But why should this matter? Christians in England call the book “Two Corinthians.”

The issue in Trump’s speech is the verse he quoted and what was implied by its use. Trump said, “I hear this is a major theme right here. … Two Corinthians 3:17, that’s the whole ball game . . . ‘Where the spirit of the Lord is,’ right? ‘Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.’ . . . But we are going to protect Christianity.”{13} Trump referenced 2 Corinthians 3:17 by quoting part of it, then making the verse about his political campaign, implying that Christian freedom depended on electing him. But what is this verse really about? Here is the verse in context:

“But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”{14}

When viewed in context it is clear that 2 Corinthians is about Christ lifting the veil of sin, and the Spirit of the Lord providing freedom from sin. What does this have to do with Trump, or any other American politician? Nothing.

It is clear that American politicians have used the Bible to gain support from Christians. Most of the time politicians are taking passages out of context so that they can try to gain support from Christians to advance their own agenda. When politicians do this, they are bearing God’s name in vain. When we Christians remain silent, we are bearing God’s name in vain. In order to bear God’s name well we must speak what is true and call out what is false. This includes when people, Christian or otherwise, misrepresent God or the teachings of the Bible.

How Do We Do Politics

Staying out of politics is not a good option. God calls us to be good stewards of the gifts He gives us, one of which is the opportunity to be salt and light in our culture through government. Christians living under dictatorships do not enjoy this blessing. How should we Christians engage in politics then? Where in the Bible can we find guidance? How can we bear God’s name in a way that honors Him in politics? While there are a lot of places to find principles on specific issues, the beatitudes in Matthew 5 are a good place to find general principles for how to engage in politics and life. The beatitudes describe the characteristics that Christians should practice.

The first beatitude is, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”{15} When we are poor in Spirit, we realize that we “can do no good thing without divine assistance.”{16} We must seek God’s will, not our will, in politics. We are not to be about our political vision, but about the business of God’s kingdom. We must humble ourselves before God and make His priorities our priorities.

The second beatitude is, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” When our political opponents face personal crises, we should not celebrate. We do not honor God by hating our political opponents and finding joy in their misfortunes. We should not celebrate the suffering of the liberals, or the conservatives (whichever one you find more annoying). We should still act in love and mourn with them when they suffer personal loss and misfortune. We should pray for them. We should not cover up the failings or our political allies. We should mourn their failures and encourage them to hold themselves to a higher standard.

The third beatitude is, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” As followers of Christ, we know that we depend on God for what we have. We should not be proud of gaining and wielding political power. Followers of Christ inherit the earth because they are meek (biblical meekness is strength under the control of love), not because they wield political power.

The fourth beatitude is, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” We should not engage in corrupt politics, or tolerate those who do. This means calling out corruption in both parties. We cannot ignore political corruption because it is our guy, or we might lose the next election. We must represent God with integrity.

The fifth beatitude is, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Jesus was not ruthless. God mercifully offers us forgiveness even though we do not deserve it. How can we refuse to show the same mercy to our political rivals?

The sixth beatitude is, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” We are representatives of God, his priests. We must be pure, no matter how much it costs or inconveniences us. We serve God, not the world. We oppose tyranny wherever we find it.

The seventh beatitude is, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” We should be known by our love, not by our feuds. We should forgive and make peace with our political rivals as much as we can. We should not hold grudges or try to punish our political opponents when we have the power to do so.

The eighth beatitude is, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” We know that by holding to pure standards and representing God well we will be persecuted. We will be called Bible thumpers, Kool-Aid drinkers, backwards, deniers, and all kinds of other things. When this happens, we take the persecution and look to God, who will bring us into His kingdom.

The ninth beatitude is, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” When others mock us because we are loyal to Christ, we remain loyal to Christ.

As Christians we bear God’s image in every aspect of our lives. We must bear the image of God well in politics as well. This means that we have to treat others as we want them to treat us, pursue mercy, pursue truth, and pursue peace as best we can. We have to do this because we are bearing God’s image. We are representing Him in everything we do. May God grant us the courage and integrity to represent Him well.

Notes
1. Exodus 20:7; Deuteronomy 5:11
2. Colossians 1:15
3. Abel Ndjerareon, Exodus. In Africa Bible Commentary, ed. Tokunboh Adeyemo (Nairobi: WordAlive Publishers, 2006), p. 111.
4. Walton, John, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament 2nd ed (Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 2018), p. 121.
5. Exodus 28:29-30 ESV
6. Exodus 28:38 ESV
7. Imes, Carmen Joy, Bearing God’s Name: Why Sin Still Matters (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 2019), pp. 48-52.
8. “MSNBC analyst claims Jesus would be called a ‘groomer,’ ‘woke,’ and ‘socialist’ if ‘He was alive today’ – TheBlaze,” www.foxnews.com/media/msnbc-analyst-matthew-dowd-jesus-christ-groomer-alive-today. Accessed 11/12/2022.
9. John 3:16
10. 1 John 2:2
11. Romans 3:23
12. Mark 12:29, 30 ESV
13. “Trump Saying ‘Two Corinthians’ Doesn’t Matter; His Heresy Does | Opinion News,” www.christianpost.com/news/trump-two-corinthians-heresy-liberty.html. Accessed 11/12/2022.
14. 2 Corinthians 3:14-17 ESV
15. The Beatitudes are in Matthew 5:3-12
16. Tasker, R. V. G. The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: The Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1961), p. 61.

©2022 Probe Ministries

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Sue Bohlin is an associate speaker/writer and webmistress for Probe Ministries. She attended the University of Illinois, and has been a Bible teacher and conference speaker for over 40 years. She is a frequent speaker for MOPS (Mothers of Pre-Schoolers) and Stonecroft Ministries (Christian Women's Connections), and serves on the board of Living Hope Ministries, a Christ-centered outreach to those dealing with unwanted homosexuality. Sue is on the Bible.org Women's Leadership Team and is a regular contributor to Bible.org's Engage Blog. In addition to being a professional calligrapher, she is the wife of Probe's Dr. Ray Bohlin and the mother of their two grown sons. Her personal website is suebohlin.com.

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