“Politicians are like diapers; they need to be changed often and for the same reason.” ― Mark Twain
Your husband hears your five-week old baby crying. You know the problem. She has a dirty diaper. You know what needs to be done. Her diaper needs changing. You’re tired. The baby’s been cranky all day, and you need a rest, even if it’s only a short one. Your ever-loving husband is in his workshop. “Honey,” you call out to him, “would you be a dear and check on Julie?” He returns with baby in tow and passes her off to you and says, “Her diaper’s dirty, so I can’t change it.”
Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Dad was sent to change what was dirty, a natural and necessary thing to do. If his response is so foolish, why is it that when we get into an area like politics, some can justify their inaction by making a similar claim?: “Politics is dirty! I can’t get involved.”
If you view politics as something dirty, then view it in terms of this bumper sticker: “Politicians are like diapers. They need to be changed often.” Maybe then we can dispense with the charge that we should not be involved in something as dirty as politics.
Civil government is established by God, therefore, it is a legitimate area of activity for Christians (Matt. 22:21; Romans 13:1; 1 Tim. 2:1-4; 1 Peter 2:13-17). There was a need for civil government when man sinned and became a threat to other men (Gen. 4:23). Politics is the process of electing the best men to office to protect law-abiding citizens against the lawless (Ex. 18; Deut. 1:15; cf. 1 Tim. 3:1-7). To speak out against the principle of political involvement is to call God’s wisdom into question and to allow the despots and tyrants to rule.
It’s been said that clothes make the man. In biblical terms we can assert that the character of the people will determine what type of political system a nation gets. Our nation was founded on the belief that religious man undergirds a society. “In the last resort, our civilization is what we think and believe. The externals matter, but they cannot stand if the inner convictions which originally produced them have vanished.”1 Dirty (sinful) politics is simply the reflection of sinful men and women–politicians and voters included. Or, to put it another way, we are getting what we deserve. We are reaping what we have sown.
So when a sleazy candidate gets elected, or when your local newspaper or TV station seems to favor the abortionists, or when a jury in Cincinnati says an abominable set of photographs isn’t legally obscene–when any of those things happen, don’t leap to the conclusion that someone did a number on us. Consider instead the sober likelihood that the sleazy politician really represents the values of the people who voted, that most subscribers to the paper and those who watch TV really don’t care about–or even prefer–abortion, and that precious few jurors are willing to sit in judgment on anything.2
Politics is only as good as the people who make it their calling and those who put them into office either by voting or refusing to vote. The maintenance of good government is dependent on good people. Of course, this is true of everything–from the local grocery store to the family restaurant down the street. George Washington, in his Farewell Address (September 17, 1796), gave this advice to the nation:
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.
No governing document can create freedom, national stability, or security by using compulsion to induce compliance to a set of ideals. The best political intentions are no match for the will of the people. In purely human terms, people determine the goodness of a nation’s political system. John Adams wrote: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”3 When self-government is abandoned for self-serving opportunism, we should expect a decline in the health of the nation. Politics will indeed become dirty and infect all of us with its poison.
Why is politics left out of the clean-up process when politics plays such a significant part in our lives? Who else has the means to clean it up? If Christians do not, who will? Generally speaking, Christians have stayed out of politics, making its corruption even more pronounced. The answer is not to consign politics to even more corruption by ignoring its potential as an area for redemption and restoration. Mark O. Hatfield, former United States Senator from the state of Oregon, relates the following on the question of corruption and politics:
I have often been asked: “How can you be a Christian and be in politics?” There is inherent in this question the popular idea that politics is dirty and that no honest person would get himself involved. Have you ever heard a doctor or a lawyer asked that question? Yet certainly there are as many cases of professional or ethical misconduct in their occupations as among politicians.4
Sports is a dirty business, from Little League to the Olympics. Ben Johnson of Canada was suspended after his world-record-breaking performance at the 1988 Olympic Games, because it was learned that he used performance-enhancing drugs. Pete Rose, holder of the all-time hit record and former player and manager for the Cincinnati Reds, was banned from baseball because he gambled on the sport. Mark McGuire, the first baseball player to hit 70 home runs in a season, was accused of taking performance enhancing supplements. The 2001 Little League World series was tainted when it was learned that Danny Almonte, the pitching star of the series, was 14 instead of 12. There are now frequent reports of parents and players fighting at youth sports games.5 In 2003, Kobe Bryant, a guard for the Los Angeles Lakers, admitted he had committed adultery and was charged with raping a nineteen-year-old woman.
How many parents will remove their children from participating in sports because of the dirt? The International Olympic Committee has been working hard to clean up those sports where steroids are the drug of choice for athletic enhancement, especially in track and field and weightlifting. These officials recognize that there is dirt, but they have not abandoned sports because of it. Roberto Alomar spit in the face of an umpire because he didn’t like a call. A parent of a young hockey player killed another parent after a hockey match. Instead of abandoning sports because of these horrible events, parents and officials are working to clean up youth sports by requiring parents to take classes on how to behave and sign “good conduct codes.” The problem is with people who bring the “dirt” (sin) with them to the game not with sports themselves. The same is true about politics.
Abandoning politics because of dirt won’t stop it from affecting you. Every law passed and every policy implemented affects each of us. There is no avoiding politics even if we decide not to involve ourselves. We are involved. Every vote not cast is a vote for the opposition. Politics does not go away when we decide not to participate. Your taxes still go up, homosexuals will teach your children “It’s OK to be gay,” and abortion calls down God’s wrath on the nation as a whole even if we remain silent.
- Paul Johnson, The Enemies of Society (New York: Atheneum, 1977), 117. [↩]
- Joel Belz, “Evidence Mounts: We Are Still a Small Minority,” World (October 13, 1990), 3. [↩]
- J. Howe, “The Changing Political Thought of John Adams.” Quoted in Wayne House, ed., Restoring the Constitution: 1787-1987 (Dallas, TX: Probe Books, 1987), 10. [↩]
- Mark O. Hatfield, “How Can a Christian be in Politics?,” Politics and Politics: Christianity and Contemporary Affairs (Greenwood, SC: The Attic Press, 1968), 7. [↩]
- Jennifer Brett, “Parents conduct turns kids’ sports into brawl games,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution (June 29, 2003), C1. [↩]
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