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Saying we’re a divided country right now is quite an understatement. In my own lifetime at least, I’ve never seen a people more divided along party lines. The confirmation process of Justice Brett Kavanaugh was the most recent example of this phenomenon.

Given the current political landscape—and the machinations involved in public service—I’ve started to wonder: Is it even possible anymore for Christians to serve in public office with a clear conscience? While I would answer in the affirmative, I do think it might be difficult for them do so. Here’s why:

Christians cannot embrace a “by any means necessary” philosophy. Framing this discussion within the broader context of ambition might help readers grasp my point. For the purposes of this post, I would define “ambition” as a desire to achieve a particular end. With this definition in mind, let’s say a Christian wants to run for political office. In order to do so, his advisors inform him that he will have to make promises to donors that he knows he cannot keep. What is he to do? If he tells the truth, he will not have the funds necessary to compete with other candidates. Additionally, other entrenched politicians suggest that in order to achieve his goal, he will have to “go negative” while on the campaign trail. Doing so, however, will require him to engage in ad hominem attacks, rather than dealing with substantive issues.

What is a Christian to do? Simply put, Christians cannot employ sinful methods in order to achieve their goals. If a Christian is willing to sin in order to get what he or she wants—well, we’ve just identified our idol. Christians must be people of principle. They cannot be so committed to their agendas that they are willing to trample on other image-bearers.[1]

Second, Christians cannot slander other people. The ninth commandment is clear: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exod. 20:16). According to the Westminster Larger Catechism, the ninth commandment involves, in part, preserving and promoting the truth, maintaining a charitable esteem of our neighbors, rejoicing in another person’s good name, seeking to protect their reputation, and discouraging slander. To put the matter bluntly: This is exactly what one does not see in politics.

So, I conclude: Serving or remaining in a position of power is not the highest good. It can’t be a Christian’s highest endeavor. Serving Christ with a clear conscience takes precedent over maintaining popularity and/or staying in office.


[1] David T. Koyzis, Political Visions and Illusions: A Survey and Christian Critique of Contemporary Ideologies (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2003), 186.