The idolatry of American politics

Someone with sharp eyes may have noticed that I added the Anchoress to the blogroll. Why it hadn’t occurred to me quite a while ago that she wasn’t on there, I’m not sure, but that oversight is now rectified. At least it was good timing; I checked in just in time to catch her asking the question, “Are Our Ideologies Our Idols?” Some might disagree with me, but I’m pretty sure (and have been for a while) that the answer is “yes,” and she provides some good evidence for the proposition.

The truth is, I’ve been convinced for a while that our politics is idolatrous, ever since God convicted me about some of my habits. For instance, I’ve tried (and I think succeeded) to stop saying, “I’m a Republican.” I most often vote Republican, and to say that is a simple statement of fact; but to say “I am a Republican” (which I was—I paid dues to the Republican National Committee and kept my membership card in my wallet, for a while) was to define myself in terms of the Republican party. It was to say that the Republican platform was a defining part of my identity, and that the leaders of that party were my leaders. As a Christian, I have no right to do that, nor do any of us.

We’re called to be in the world, yes, but not of the world; to vote, to participate in our government, is to be in the world, but to attach ourselves to a political party and adopt it as our own is to be of the world. Our Christian faith—the content of our beliefs, our commitment to each other, and above all our commitment to follow Jesus the Messiah—must be the source and control of all our political beliefs and actions, and that cannot be the case if we have a pre-existing commitment to the positions or the political success of any political party. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” and it’s equally true that where your goals are, where your sense of identity is, there you will find your heart as well; and when we let that happen, when our politics shapes our faith rather than the other way around—when our identity is defined even in part by a political party or a political cause—then our political commitments have claimed a place that belongs only to God, and we are guilty of idolatry. We are to find our identity in Christ and him only.

It’s worth noting that the same applies to patriotism. I’m not saying that love of country is always or necessarily idolatrous, because it isn’t; but it can be, very easily. After all, America is a concrete reality which has benefited us in concrete ways, and which needs improvement in concrete ways; the kingdom of God, by contrast, can be a little harder to see, and easier to forget about. Plus, we all get to pledge allegiance to our own concept of what America ought to be, and to define our patriotism accordingly; which makes America a very flexible idol indeed. We need to be careful of ourselves.

Posted in Faith and politics.


  1. We’re called to be in the world, yes, but not of the world; to vote, to participate in our government, is to be in the world, but to attach ourselves to a political party and adopt it as our own is to be of the world.

    If this is completely true, then how could a Christian ever run for a partisan political office? By definition, that candidate must declare himself as a member of that Party.

  2. Just as I am required to declare myself as a member of a denomination in order to be ordained as a pastor in that denomination; it carries with it the same risk, even if few are tempted by it these days. (On the other hand, I think “emerging church” is an idol for more than a few.)

    Obviously, those called to politics have to choose to affiliate with a team if they want to be effective (at least, almost all do); that practical sort of membership is different from what I was talking about. The key for those in politics is to keep from letting their identity get tied up with their job and with the party with which they have affiliated; that party must never become the party they serve, for their service must only be to God. There needs to be a certain degree of emotional detachment there, and the understanding that they are in the party but not of the party, for the problem comes when we are of the party. It isn’t easy, but it can be done.

  3. I hope you do, and I hope this time you win; I’m sure it will be good for your community if you do. And if that day comes, pray all the time, about everything; that’s what I’ve had to do to stay Christian as a pastor, and I think it’s what’s needed to stay Christian in politics, too.

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