A Christian Democrat? Here’s why…

I have seen a couple of interesting posts on this subject on Facebook. One was an article entitled “Christian Democrat? ” on In All ThingsThe website is a Dordt College project, so the article has a very reformed leaning. But it is a good article and on point. I’m not reformed, so the discussion about John Calvin and Abraham Kuyper was less influential for me. Though, I do have an affinity for certain aspects of their thinking. But I was taken back to their quotes when I ran across a link from John Piper asking, “How Should Christians Think About Socialism?”

Piper is a controversial but also widely popular and influential voice in evangelicalism. He is also a very public Calvinist. He tried to be very measured in his response to the question the podcast/ article addresses. Still, he showed a propensity to conflate the type of “Socialism” being advocated by people like Bernie Sanders with a more hard-line political movement of historical communism that grew following the Second World War. As such, he set up a bit of a strawman anti-socialist argument.

Misconceptions About Socialism

The reality is that the type of “Socialism” portions of the Democratic party in the United States advocate for is not the political ideology of twentieth-century Communism. Today’s Democratic Socialism is built on a strong Capitalist base. The goal is the cooperative use of resources for the public good, not government-owned or controlled means of production. There is no abolition of private property, and the coercion factor that Piper references is no greater than what already exists in our current system. (As a side note, I think Piper is on shaky Biblical grounds with his coercion argument, but that would be too much to cover here).

Political Button saying "Jesus Rode a Donkey"

I should not let myself get sidetracked by terms like Socialism. I am not a Socialist, but I am not a pure Capitalist either. Rather, I believe in well-regulated Capitalism with some government-facilitated/ controlled cooperation when it benefits the public good, what some call a Social Market Economy.

Christian Voting Patterns

In the In All Things article by Dave Schelhaas that I referenced above, he tells the story of his granddaughter at a Christian School being told that Christians vote Republican. The assumption that a Republican vote inherently promotes Christian values happens all too often. Further, many feel that when Christians vote Democratic, they do so out of rebellion against God rather than because of their sincere Christian convictions.

With that in mind, I want to share some of the quotes that Schelhaas shared to demonstrate that there have been well-respected Christians going back centuries who have held ideas that sound very Democratic today. Then, I will share a few verses that come to mind often during these discussions. In the future, I hope to address specific issues such as Justice, Economics, Race, Love, Coercion, Idolatry, Pro-life (the practical side), and Pro-life (the theological side). Please let me know if there are issues you are interested in me addressing specifically.

Meme of Calvin and Kuyper in Storm Trooper armor.
The only image I could find of Calvin and Kuyper…plus I love Star Wars

Calvin and Kuyper

Schelhaas quotes H. H. Meter about Calvin, saying, “Calvin advocated public loans for the poor and refugee, measures relating to public health… the fixing of the price of corn and wine and other commodities, the determination of the proper rate of interest, even the ownership by the State of a silk industry… In fact, so much social legislation was enacted by the Genevan government at the time and through the influence of Calvin that his government has been termed Christian socialism.” These policies sound very much like the ideals of the Democratic party and the type of policies progressives advocate for today. 

Calvin’s Commentary on Economic Equality

Calvin was far from the current Republican position on these issues. Not that his opinion on these political issues is critical. He was a human and could be wrong. Since I’m not a Calvinist, I certainly think he was wrong on some theological issues. It is important to realize, however, that the conflation of Christianity and Republican ideals is not historical. It really only goes back a few decades. Many Christian voices throughout history have advocated positions that sound very dissimilar to the Republican platform.

In Calvin’s commentary on II Corinthians 8:15, he wrote, “God wills there be equality and proportion among us, that is, each person is to provide for the needy according to his means so that no one has too much and no one too little.” Calvin’s articulation here, in his own words, seems very much like a progressive Democratic position. He goes so far as to claim that the redistribution of wealth is the will of God. He was advocating for a type of Christian welfare state. 

Abraham Kuyper’s Critique of Capitalism

Abraham Kuyper is one of the most important thinkers to many Calvinists. He was a theologian and a statesman. However, his thoughts about capitalism differed greatly from those of the average American, especially right-wing parties, who see capitalism as inherently good. Schelhaas writes that Kuyper “denounces laissez-faire capitalism as ‘inimical to human well-being, material or physical, out of tune with Scripture and contrary to the will of God,’ believing that laissez-faire capitalism not only brought about injustice to the poor but was fundamentally unchristian in its promotion of greed.” A free-market  economy, pure capitalism, promotes social injustices and is “out of tune with Scripture and contrary to the will of God.” That doesn’t sound anything like a Republican candidate who relies on the invisible hand of the market to bring justice and prosperity. 

Again, Kuyper’s perspectives are not scripture, and his perspective could be wrong, though I think he is correct in this case. The point is that what we often take as given within evangelical culture today has not always been given to Christians.

Reagan’s Legacy

Ronald Reagan was a major political force and is the great hero of the contemporary Republican Party, or at least he was until Donald Trump dethroned him. The second Republican debate in 2015 was held at the Reagan Library, and people often joked during that campaign that Republican candidates were rushing to see who could most align themselves with St. Reagan.  The irony is that Reagan was far too moderate to get elected in today’s Republican party. Whether the issue is amnesty for undocumented aliens, gun control, nuclear de-escalation, raising taxes, or a willingness to compromise, Reagan does not meet the current Republican litmus test. Even Obamacare was originally the market-driven healthcare alternative to Clintoncare proposed by The Heritage Foundation and other Reagan supporters. The Republican party has moved far to the right of where it was in the 1980s.

Ronald Reagan giving a speech in front of American flags.

Government as the Enemy?

From my perspective, Reagan’s legacy has less to do with his policies than his attitude toward government. Reagan famously said in his first inaugural address, referencing the nation’s economic challenges, “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem: government is the problem.” Throughout his Presidency and even more in the ensuing years, this mantra expanded beyond economic systems to most areas of life and government, except the military.

This divide has become arguably the major philosophical dividing line between the political parties. For Democrats, the government has the capacity to do what private organizations are not able to do. No doubt the government will make mistakes. It will screw things up. Yet, the government is ultimately responsible to the American people through subsequent elections, not just corporate shareholders. In a participatory government – admittedly, we need much higher participation rates in the U.S. – the people should be best served by an organization with a broader range of stakeholders.

Biblical Perspectives on Government

More important for me, though, is the question of whether a Christian should view the government as the enemy. The relationship between the individual and the government is far from the primary narrative in scripture.  But scripture can still help answer this question. Since the Old Testament Jewish government was formed by the command of God, I believe there are clues there as to the important role government should plan and how it should function. Further, the general attitude toward government in scripture is positive. There are also some clear clues in the New Testament. Paul writes:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment… Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. Romans  (13:1-2 & 5-7)

When a passage like this is quoted, there is always the tendency to say, “What about Hitler and Nazi Germany?” That is a fair question. The above is a general principle that does not forbid us from standing against despots. However, it also clearly states that we are to honor the Government generally and view it as a tool of God. This, to me, seems the antithesis of a great deal of rhetoric that is coming from the Republican Party, particularly the further right elements.

Jesus’ View on Government Authority

I do not see a Biblical justification for viewing the government as the enemy – even when the government is wrong. Most Christians know the story of when the scribes and priests asked Jesus about paying taxes. What we often do not realize is the context of the question. The question was less about taxes and more about whether or not Jews should recognize an occupying government. Rome was a foreign pagan government that oppressed Israel and taxed them heavily and unfairly.

The Jewish people were constantly rebelling. The subtext of the scribe’s question was, “Should we honor this illegitimate government?” Jesus’ answer was yes. It seems even more obvious in a liberal democracy with a political system that establishes a government for the people, by the people, we should not view the government as the enemy. As Paul said, “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed”.

The Goal: Promoting the Common Good

What is government all about, then? I believe most people would agree that the role of government is to promote the common good, the greater good. It should affirm human dignity. The problem comes when we try to define what that is. The answer is probably a little different depending on the cultural context. The safety of the citizens is, I think, pretty clear. There will obviously be very different opinions about how that works out.

Homeless man sitting holding a Lyra. Beggar with a Lyra, Nikolay Svishchev-Paola, 1900s.
Beggar with a Lyra, Nikolay Svishchev-Paola, 1900’s

Biblical Principles for Government

When thinking about this subject, I often think about Micah 6:8, “what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” We live in a nation with a separation of church and state, so the portion about “with your God” should be handled on a personal level. As a nation, though, we can seek to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly. Even if our nation is not a Christian nation, those are principled Jesus-based values that, as Christians, we should seek for our government to have if it is to represent us. 

Lessons from Sodom

I think also of Sodom. Ezekiel tells us why she was judged, “this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it.” (Ezekiel 16:49-50) One of Sodom’s main transgressions was that despite the city’s wealth, they neglected the social welfare of the poor and needy. I am always struck when I read the biblical law that governed historical Israel. So much of it is about social justice and caring for the poor, needy, and oppressed. 

Jesus’ Teachings on Caring for the Poor

Finally, I think about what Jesus said of those who did not care for the poor:

‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me…. Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me. ’ (Matthew 25:41-43 & 45)

Certainly, this is an admonition for us personally. But how can our politics not also reflect this ethic?

The Government’s Role in Human Flourishing

So, what is the goal of government? To promote human flourishing and the common good. This means providing protection from criminals and foreign nations, enabling a secure economy, and caring for the poor, the needy, and the oppressed—as Christ said, the least of these.


Social Media Reaction

This essay often receives a significant response on social media from people who claim that a Bible-believing Christian can’t be a Democrat. At my wife’s suggestion, I decided to post my response at the foot of this article. The subject will likely become an essay of its own at some point. 

Response to Criticism

Below is a social media response that I have edited to fit a website format:

I believe these discussions are important.

It is very dangerous to reduce these discussions to “no real Christian can be a Democrat.” I’ve been a Christian for over 40 years. I’ve spent most of that time in conservative Baptist churches, where I taught Sunday School, led youth groups, and even filled the pulpit. I have also taught at three conservative evangelical colleges. If you want to know what I believe, I am the author of Faith on View’s Spiritual Foundations Statement. Those are my beliefs, in my words.

While I disagree with much of the Republican platform, I would never say that a real Christian can’t be a Republican. There are both Democrats of faith and Republicans of faith.

Many Christian voters who object to the notion that the Christian faith is compatible with Democratic politics lean on social conservatism, believing that Christian ethics exclude a Democratic perspective when it comes to social issues. Abortion is one such issue. 

Historical and Pragmatic Perspectives on Abortion

The issue is much more complicated than many believe. I’ll write about some theological arguments on that issue at some point, but I don’t want to spend the time on them right now. I want to focus purely on the pragmatic issues.

When Roe v. Wade was decided in 1972, there was a Republican President and a Republican-appointed Supreme Court majority. Evangelicals were largely silent on what they saw as an issue only important in Roman Catholicism. When evangelicals did speak, they were not univocal, but the majority of perspectives leaned toward the permissibility of abortion, even within conservative denominations such as the Southern Baptist Convention. It wasn’t until the evangelical/ fundamentalist power structure mobilized around segregation several years later that evangelicals started pushing the abortion issue to mobilize the masses. Historian Randall Balmer from Dartmouth, among others, has done some good work on this subject.

The Moral Majority and Political Mobilization

The Moral Majority mobilized and was a large factor in replacing devout evangelical Jimmy Carter with our nation’s first divorced president, Ronald Reagan.

In 1992, Planned Parenthood v. Casey was again decided during a Republican Presidency with a majority Republican-appointed Supreme Court. However, that decision reaffirmed the ruling of Roe v Wade.

Republican Use of the Abortion Issue

For over 40 years, the Republicans used the abortion issue to sway many single-issue voters to vote Republican. Until Mitch McConnel manipulated the Supreme Court nomination process at the ends of President Obama’s and President Trump’s terms, there was no progress in stopping abortion. Some will argue that the ends justify the means in such a case. However, it is always concerning to have a political party manipulate democratic institutions to make change. That is especially true when opinion polls indicate there is a lack of electoral support. 

As a whole, abortion has been dropping for 40 years. Statistics indicate that abortion historically drops more under Democratic leadership than Republican. Once the ACA passed, abortion continued to drop. The Obama presidency saw the greatest decrease in abortions since Roe v. Wade. The reality is that the social safety nets are the greatest deterrent to abortion. Hope and education, not punitive measures, are what have historically decreased abortion. 

Once the ACA passed, abortion rates fell over 23% during Barack Obama’s presidency. However, during the Trump administration, the decades-long decrease in abortions reversed and rose almost 7%. The Dobbs decision removing constitutional protection of abortion further exacerbated the issue. Abortion rates increased after Dobbs, with an estimated 11% increase over 2020, reaching the highest levels in over a decade and an over 40% increase above the low, less than a decade before, ushered in by the ACA. Studies from other countries corroborate the experience in the last few years in the United States, indicating that stricter abortion laws do not reduce abortions. Only hope and education do.

Ultimately, abortion is more of a social question than a legal one. Policies that support family values in terms of creating economic circumstances that allow families to thrive help to create a social fabric that supports human rights and increases the survival rate of the unborn.

If one truly wants to save unborn children, then supporting policies and leadership that does that is a wiser course of action than supporting punitive policies and politicians, which ultimately leads to higher abortion numbers.

This essay is from our Anastasis Series where we resurrect articles from the past that are either still relevant today or can be easily updated. This piece was first published on October 22, 2015, and has been lightly edited and updated.

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  • You don’t need Christianity or religion to do any of the things you attribute to government here, and further, our long history of religious and tribal war has taught the wise, including our founding fathers, that religion has no place in government. As legitimate government emanates from the people, and people can be religious, I see why it’s necessary to speak to them in terms they comprehend, but the plurality of our secular democratic system would seem to eliminate the need to rely upon the myths of old to justify government, and speaking to these myths only encourages them, wasting valuable resources of time and mind. I would instead tell Christian evangelicals this, vote for whomever or whatever party your mind tells you will best run the country the way you want it run. If you want TRUMP or some Fundamentalist Conservative to run things vote for them, but remember what country you live in. This is the USA and we are no longer in the 18th century or even the 20th. As a diverse, pluralistic, complex nation of the 21st century, whatever your religious beliefs, you are out numbered and demographically shrinking. You will from now until the end be in the minority, and when you inflict your religion on others, you can expect to reap what you sew, seven fold. This isn’t about religion, it’s politics, and the only thing you need to worry about is the consequences of your actions here on this Earth, on your lives and those of your offspring. I don’t care if you think these are the end times, and that you and yours will be raptured to heaven, and so you think you can let everything go to shit, because you’ll be ‘saved’, it will not save you in the reality of our scientific world. You’re just going to create suffering until your choices kill of your gene pool, then the rest of us will spread to the stars. Stop trying to gain the confidence of the Evangelical Christians, let them make up their own minds, and if they lack minds, so be it. Democracy is a just form of government, we get the government we deserve. So, we should be honest with these Christian Democrats, and not try to manipulate them into voting for Left leaning liberal policies outside their myth, like gay rights or abortion. Simply let them get on with it, and see how they fair. The beauty of the United States Constitution is that it is a living document, changing and adapting to the times. Our democracy is inclusive and egalitarian, it accepts all people and empowers them to become part of our nation, and that is the power, the creativity, that has made us strong. Only forward progress is possible, and soon all people, or at least the majority, will either understand the beauty of our system, and the futility of tribal mythology, like Christian beliefs, or they will tear the world apart in pursuit of “the chosen people of the one true god”, and waste all that we have learned. Don’t pander to religious fundamentalists, that makes us no better than the Muslim theologies of the old world.

    • Thankyou for your comments. They are lengthy so I will not address everything. First, ishould say thatinthis article Iam not speakign to “them” I am speaking to “us.” I am an evangelical Christianso I am not pandering or manipulating them. I am speaking from conviction. I will also say that much of what you write relies on the Secularization Theory of Modernity and I would argue that that thesis is at the very least in doubt if not demonstrably wrong. However, I doubt we will agree on that so not point in going further. I do want to highlight a good point you make. You wrote, “You will from now until the end be in the minority, and when you inflict your religion on others, you can expect to reap what you sew”. It istruethat we are nowin a largely post-christian era in the USA. Christians have not beenwise about how they have used their power and your point is well taken that we need to keep the minority in mind not only because it is right but also for pragmatic reasons. Christians, especially conservative ones, will not be the majority for long (if they still are) and it is in Christian’s own self interest to model a loving way of treating the “other” be cause that is what we are becoming. Not to mention that as a Christian Love is just the right way to go.

  • Thank you for a well stated position on social justice and scripture. I have switched parties a little over a year ago and it took a good 20 years for that to happen (Sarah Palin was the tipping point)

    I have a degree in Theology and have worked in the past as full time pastoral staff at several churches. I now have many Facebook friends (90% are probably Republicans) message me privately to ask “I thought you were a Christian how can you support Hilary?” many times. After taking the time to explain so many times I searched for Democratic Evangelical and it led me here. I have lost well over a hundred FB Friends who several have stated that if I will vote democratic they were deleting me from their list.

    I also have many Evangelical Friends who will only in private tell me that they love my post and they appreciate my desire to try and give a different perspectives. They mostly are secretive Democrats Evangelicals.

    I am a Democrat and I label myself “I am apart of the Republican party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Eisenhower logically today I am a member of the Democratic Party.” I find the call of scripture for my party switch. I still find it hard to understand the unbiblical stances as being the mark of a true Christian. When I read 1 Cor 5:9-13 and these “Pro Religion” laws that allow people to discriminate against the gay community or the fear and uncertainty and doubt presented by the Republicans as being against my core values I have obtained through the scriptures.

    I hope you continue to do this series of articles.


    • Marc,

      Thank you for your kind words. I am sorry that you have had such negative reactions from fellow evangelicals. As you are seeing in your private messages there are more evangelical democrats than we might think at first blush but far too few are vocal about it. I believe a sincere Christian can be either Democrat or Republican. No political party owns God. We just need to make sure that our conception of God is shaping our politics rather than our politics shaping our conception of God.

  • “For over 40 years, the Republicans have been using the abortion issue to sway many single-issue voters to vote Republican but there has been no progress in stopping abortion.”

    THAT didn’t age well… the GOP made great strides last year regarding abortion restrictions. Praise God. For example, as of August, abortion rates have dropped to ZERO in Kentucky thanks to the laws passed in June. https://www.facebook.com/liveaction/posts/pfbid02XnLJEqdL5Pe5epUPoRc5aZQZu2Ky6afXBi5HamKjwBoNN5fbbUstuAZgsTP4RfCLl
    That being said, I agree that the Republicans have used this for years to mobilize, with no effect. It’s about time…

  • In light of the upcoming 2024 presidential election, discussion on this topic needs to be teased out further. Thinking should clarify faith, not weaken it.

  • This is a well-written perspective about many things, including theology regarding government. I agree with his research, and I would appreciate it if it were available for young people today who support the far-right Republican views as Christian views. Most of them seem highly greedy and don’t care about anyone but themselves. Thank you for publishing.

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