This is an introduction to the theology that leads to political engagement by Christians. It explores the notion of the separation of Church and State, how this has been misapplied and re-thought of by significant Christian leaders in the 18th, 20th, and 21st centuries. I conclude with a personal experience of what I consider positive political engagement looks like. - Andrew Corbett
They say art is the thermometer of culture. In this sense, politics might be seen as the barometer of culture. And we might add that Christians should be the thermostat of culture (not the thermometer of culture). By this we mean that art in its various forms - literature, music, visual art, movies, poetry, photography, and fashion, reflect what culture finds acceptable, disturbing, desirable, praiseworthy, and even beautiful. And politics is the popular affirmation (the essence of democracy) of a set of legislative policy agendas that give direction to a culture.
Germany in the 1930s is a case study in the interplay between artistic culture, political climate and the role of religion. It wasn't just that Adolf Hitler was evil. It was that he resonated with something not entirely righteous in the German culture. He became a barometric indicator of where Germany was now heading. When politicians feel public support for their raft of non-life policy agenda items, it is an indication of where our culture is heading. And when politicians take liberties with a non-life policy agenda, it actually feeds an indifferent culture with a diet to actually value non-life policies! And when this happens, it makes the Christian promotion of the Ultimate Life (eternal life) not only unappealing to a culture that increasingly values non-life, but repulsive! That's why we might say that politics is at least the barometer of a culture. This is why it is not only necessary for Christians to collectively work together to shape what culture values, but possible for Christians to do so - but not possible if we ignore what happens in our political spheres.
It seems that in the world's darkest moral hours, God's light shines through fewer but it does so more intently. Such was the case when Adolf Hitler was beginning to mesmerise Germany. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was from a privileged background and from an early age dedicated his life to Christ. While Hitler was merely a barometer of where Germany was going to head, Bonhoeffer was attempting to be a thermostat by challenging his ministerial colleagues to return to Scripture and see why they must collectively challenge the rise of the Nazi Party. But Bonhoeffer largely failed to convince his colleagues of the necessity to engage in the political arena.