I have wondered if being a Christian in politics and being Christlike in politics is the same. I think not. Christian is the name of a representative group. We are a group with vested interests in the world, interests that make it difficult for us to be objective. Christ was interested in the world—not the same as having interests that need to be protected in the world. Christ could look at the world and be interested primarily in the spiritual welfare of all individuals. Christians look at the world and see “us” and “them.”
There are probably many Christian approaches to politics. From the political involvement of most Christians, I would assume that their strategy is identical to non-Christian groups. We Christians tend to focus on an issue or candidate, evaluate that person with our value system, accumulate a power base in reaction, and do what we can for or against. That is how politics works, and that seems to be how Christian politics works. Perhaps there is a difference afterward in the way the country runs; perhaps not. But is there a difference afterward in the way people view Christ? Perhaps Christians gain more respect and power after a political battle; perhaps not. But is their reflection of God one that becomes Him, and is their witness one that pleases Him?
There would be great advantage in finding a Christlike approach to politics. The advantage would not necessarily be for the Christians; but when all was said and done, it would glorify God. Just as the scriptural principle of righteousness makes it clear that we must be involved, we also need a scriptural process—a way to be involved. “Scriptural process” here means learning from and applying Scripture, and not just quoting verses. Certainly any Christian approach should be within the guidelines of Scripture. But a Christlike approach will not emphasize guidelines nearly as much as relationships. Establishing “Christian values” was not the ultimate goal of Christ; having a relationship with people has always been His goal. Christian values are the framework that strengthens relationships. It is much easier to be right than it is to love, but a Christlike approach to politics emphasizes benefits to people over benefits of power.
A Christian approach to politics may show those in opposition just how wrong their opposition is. The Christlike approach to politics respectfully acknowledges the points at which they are right.
A Christian approach could tell everyone how to vote; the Christlike approach directs the attention of the voters to underlying values.
A Christian approach could give us certainty; the Christlike approach gives us a biblical perspective.
It seems reasonable, when investigating how to face politics in a Christlike manner, to turn to the record of the main event in which Christ faced politics. In returning to that event, we can extract a picture of Christ’s approach, Pilate’s mistakes, and God’s success. With that picture in mind, we can discern a practical approach to address every political situation. I call this “The Pilate Process” to remind us how we often miss the point of political confrontations. Its basic objective is to give individuals a means to approach issues or candidates in ways that will not miss the point. The Pilate Process will help us determine what we believe, why we believe it, and why we believe it is of God. The practical result will be that many individuals will be able to become both competent and Christlike in a political setting. The government will not only sense a large Christian grassroots concern; the general population will see a selfless political approach.
Why Identify with Pilate?
Some of us will have difficulty identifying with Pilate. But as we read Matthew 27:11-26, Mark 15:1-15, Luke 23:1-25 and John 18:28–19:22, we may identify with some of his tendencies.
First, even though Pilate was in the position of being politically responsible, he was not at all excited about addressing religio-political issues. He was not looking for trouble; his life seemed best when the status quo was maintained. He had plenty to do and was not searching for additional items to his agenda. When confronted with this religio-political issue—with this candidate for king of the Jews—Pilate knew it was his job to decide the case. But he decided to avoid deciding. He put it back upon the religious people who had raised the issue in the first place. They were the ones with the heartburn, he assumed, so let them take care of the matter: “Take Him yourselves, and judge Him” (John 18:31). But they tossed the matter back to him, claiming that they alone could not do what needed to be done. So Pilate did decide, but he didn’t take responsibility. He let custom tender his decision (see Matthew 27:15). He let the crowd reverse his judgment (see Luke 23:16,25). He let excuse replace action (see Matthew 27:24).
Perhaps Pilate is not so different from us in his avoidance of the religio-political issues. We who are citizen-rulers avoid those issues because they are so much trouble. We tend to leave it to our beloved political system or to a majority who neither recognizes nor cares about Christ. We may say, “I’ll leave it to the religious activists, since they are so interested,” only to have them say, “We need your help.” Our reasons for avoidance may be similar to Pilate’s.
Pilate had a tendency to fear what might happen to his relationships if he were involved in religious politics. He had family pressure not to get involved (see Matthew 27:19). There could be job repercussions if he were connected with such controversial matters (see John 19:12). Pilate was also getting all stirred up inside; his peace with himself was challenged (see John 19:7-8). It is no wonder that Pilate dreaded religio-political issues, or that we do. Some of those issues may demand a price far greater than we are willing to pay. When we are confronted from time to time with such situations, we will make our choice. We can learn much from Pilate’s mistakes and even more from Christ’s example.