Politics and the Third Commandment

As I Was Saying

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As the American political season heats up like an August day in Phoenix, I notice more and more mention of God by political candidates and their surrogates. Some people, fearing that we are becoming too secular, might look on this as a good thing. I find it mostly disturbing.

One way to look at it is through the lens of the third commandment: “Do not take the Lord’s name in vain.” We often assume that this is mostly about inserting OMG in our texts or letting slip with a profanity when we hit our thumb with a hammer. The most pernicious violation of this commandment, however, is using God’s name for our own ends. And that’s exactly what we hear a lot of during this season.

It happens in a number of ways. There is is the often-heard underlying assumption that the United States is somehow more special, more important to God than other nations, or that we are a “Christian nation.” This idea goes back all the way to the Puritans who first landed on our shores hoping to make this land a shining “city on a hill.”

Or there is the attempt to promote a certain candidate because he or she is a God-fearing person or a faithful church member, or promotes what is understood to be God’s will on certain issues. We sometimes hear the even more blatant accusation that the politician’s opponent is not God-fearing enough, or that his or her faith is lacking or even absent.

People on the left and on the right sometimes claim that their brand of politics especially aligns with the will of God. The term “Christian Right” is widespread in the media and among its own followers, but there’s also an official website for the “Christian Left.” The point is that with this kind of terminology, we seek to baptize our political views with the name of God.

It may be true that a candidate is a believing Christian and his or her opponent is not. It may even be true that a particular politician’s views, or a political party’s platform, generally seem to some Christians to be more in line with biblical truth. That still does not give them the freedom to use God’s name for their group and its policies as a sort of divine endorsement. Is God particularly in favor of limited government or single-payer health plans?

God is above all politics. As Jesus said to Pilate, “My kingdom is not from this world.” That’s not to say it has nothing to do with this world, but that it is independent from the politics of this world and should not be identified with any politician or party. To entangle God’s name with political candidates or parties in an attempt to curry favor with the electorate is a grievous and dangerous form of taking God’s name in vain. It sullies the glory, holiness, and greatness of God.

About the Author

Len Vander Zee is a retired CRC pastor now serving as interim minister of preaching at Church of the Servant CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich.

See comments (11)


I would draw two other corollaries to this:

First, that how we do our politics also matters. The nature of politics can lead to an easy reduction of the other side, a casual tolerance of venom and the like; people become things or tools to some other good. Relationships get reduced. And of course there is simply the obsession of the campaign -- as some one who has participated, I've seen all these in myself and others.

Second, in doing politics, one needs to keep remembering that those on the other side are (at their best) also seeking the common good, and if Christian, seeking to live faithfully. The obsession of politics can make this hard to practice since politics can invite us to division and even the ending of friendship, nonetheless, if one can reach across the boundaries one can find a mutality that can  keep both of you from getting consumed. 

All of this, of course, is summed up in the HC, in Lord's Day 40, and the Sixth Commandment.


Bill Harris, I appreciate your comment at least as much as I appreciate the editorial. "in doing politics, one needs to keep remembering that those on the other side are (at their best) also seeking the common good, and if Christian, seeking to live faithfully." There is so much hateful rhetoric coming from American evangelicalism, posted by Christians every day, that claims the "other side" (i.e. non-Republicans) are unbiblical and unfaithful, and implies that the Democratic candidate is the embodiment of evil. I think we need an article about how pastors can survive this season, because I'm not feeling it right now.

Yes, thank you, Len!

Agree with the editorial.  The US is at least honest by putting "In God We Trust" on the money because Money is the civil god of this world.

Amen! A wise and timely word!

Mr. Vander Zee, by your very article are you not bringing God into politics by expressing your view? And I am fine with that. But I am not fine with taking God out of politics. The third commandment says, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name." I do not believe taking a stand for Jesus in politics is misusing His name. However, if you are solely using the name of God to further your candidate, that of course is wrong. My faith and love for Jesus comes BEFORE country. It makes me sad when people want to take God out of politics. Too many 'Christians' remain silent and do not take a stand for God. We have been so blessed by God!


If I remember right, God was a major part of selecting kings and government leaders in the Old Testament, and often punished the Israelites for not following his commands and direction. Think of how Samuel was chosen, or David, and how Joseph ended up in the palace. They were followers of God. It was all a part of God's plan, not mans plan. Why then, must we leave God out of our political process now? Isn't that exactly what Satan wants? There is no perfect candidate. However, as a Christian I would have to vote for the candidate, or those he/she surrounds themselves with, that follows most closely to biblical principles as I understand them. I personally cannot vote for a candidate who is pro-choice and ignores the 6th commandment, "Thou shalt not kill", or who ignores the 9th commandment, "Thou shalt not bear false witness." May we pick and choose the commandments we want to follow?


I do not believe that theU.S.is more special to God than other countries, but I do believe that theU.S.is more special to me (and many others who want to make theU.S.their home). Therefore, I want this country to walk as close to God as sinful people will. Therefore, I pray for political leaders who make God a priority in their lives as well.


If we do not look for biblical principles to guide our country, what exactly does one look for in the candidates? We are told biblically to love, show compassion, feed the poor, take care of the elderly, but wait; isn't that in the Bible and taught by Jesus?


So, let's take Jesus out of politics and let Allah in, because that is what is happening. The Muslims are not asked to take Allah from politics! In fact we are expected to include the Muslim religion into our politics, schools, government, and laws. Think about it.



Praise God from whom all blessings flow.


What seems to be missing in the editorial is any differentiation between the use of God’s name and the advocacy for Christian values. No one disputes the evil of using God’s name but the advocacy for Christian values is not only appropriate, it is an important expression of our faith. The expression “shining city on a hill” does not use God’s name, rather it is an image of a place where Christian values dominate. To conflate that with the third commandment is an act of desperation.




This editorial appears to be yet another attempt to shut down conservative voices who see that voting for an advocate for killing the unborn, and a practitioner of deception is a violation of Christian values. In fact, in a democracy, we cannot escape responsibility for the acts of those we elect. In the past administration, we have been responsible for butchering untold thousands of babies that were created in God’s image. We made that choice. And when our leader made the really dumb decision to withdraw from Iraq, we became responsible for the untold horror of uprooting and destroying hundreds of thousands of Muslims and fellow Christians. That was our choice – we elected him. Our votes select leaders who either help to bring about God’s Kingdom here on earth or they do not. And we will answer for those choices in eternity.




Why do progressives get so bent out of shape when conservatives advocate for those who believe in Christian values. Are they ashamed to recognize that their candidate has stated her intent to get us to change our views on abortion? Are they ashamed to acknowledge that she is a pathological liar who has used our political system for personal enrichment?




Why do broad swaths of evangelical Christians such as Robert Jeffress, Jerry Falwell Jr. and James Dobson see thing so differently? Do they have a different Bible? Are we so much more sophisticated or enlightened than them? How can they be so wrong and we so right? Don’t we both believe in salvation through the blood of our Lord?




Progressives have made the CRC so toxic for conservatives that even our efforts at evangelism begin with the question, “What party do you belong to?” How does that promote communion of the saints?




Thanks Leonard for your thoughts on our presidential political campaign.  I like your thinking, especially the last paragraph of the article, as well as some of the initial comments.  I find some of the other comments, especially some of the last ones, very narrow minded in their perception of our U.S. democracy and politics.  The mind set of these last comments seems to discount the thoughts of everyone other than themselves or their own perspective on our national identity or the ideals that should govern our nation.  But it seems that such commentors are also less concerned with ideals than they are with particular issues.

John Calvin suggested that the Christian should look at all of life through the lens of Scripture.  He would suggest that the fall of Adam and Eve has clouded the vision of all people, and now through the lens of Scripture our vision has been improved to see all things (all of life) more clearly.  The problem though, is that not all people are Christian, and do not use such a lens by which to view life.  If they are not Christian, they may well ask, “why would I look at life through the lens of the Bible.  I don’t even believe the Bible.”  Others may suggest looking at life through the lens of the Koran, rather than the Bible, which also gives a distinct perspective (corrective lens) by which to view life, living and politics.  Others may suggest seeing life through the lens of the Hindu religion, and on and on.

As a “democracy”, the U.S. (and Canadian) mind set is that all religious views are equally valuable and valid.  Our government and as a nation, we don’t give priority to one or the other religious viewpoint.  Our government, taking into consideration all viewpoints, should govern for the good of all.  A candidate who pledges to govern according to his own religious allegiance, is betraying the American or Canadian ideal.  The candidate who would seem best to lead a democracy is able to govern the nation for the well being and common good of all, without giving priority to any one religion.

It’s obvious, listening to some of the candidates in the U.S. campaign for president and vice president that they want to give priority to a Christian perspective, whether they look at life through the lens of Christianity or not.  Should they look at politics and government through such a lens they may not fit the American or Canadian ideal to begin with.  But I suspect that others are using the name of Christianity or of God only to get the votes of Christians.  Of course, the American public can see through such hypocrisy.  Beyond that, the evangelical Christian population is a diminishing segment of our population, and such appeal to the Christian right may backfire in the candidates’ faces.  We’ve seen that happen already with some of the earlier candidates.  As a citizen of the U.S. (not the kingdom of God), and as a Christian, I think we should respect the religions of others and promote the good of all.  If I were a citizen of Old Testament Israel, I might feel differently.

Thank-you for this excellent insight.  There is no question that political candidates use God's name to extort power, we've seen it not just in the in the US but in other countries as well.  It is blatently obvious that political candidates use hot-button issues that they feel will draw the attention of Christian voters, such as abortion or gay rights, hoping that mentioning those issues will bring them to power.  I do believe that there are some politicians that go into politics with their heart in the right place in regards to values, but there are many others who simply use Christians as a tool to get voters and don't really care about the issues. This is where it is up to us to use our discernment.  Just because a politician uses the name of God, doesn't mean their heart is in the right place. Don't jump on a bandwagon just because someone said, "I'm pro-life"...they might just have said that to make you jump on their wagon.  

@Hilda Clark How do you think Muslim people, or any other minority religious group, feel when they are constantly faced with laws, school curriculum, and politics that are often intertwined with Christianity? Should their children not be able to learn about their ancestry in schools? Should they not get a voice in politics because they are not Christians?

Vander Zee negatively criticizes anyone who considers the United States "special" because of it's founding on Biblical principles. He says people who think that way are taking God's name in vain, as he apparently believes America was not founded on Christian principles.

Such a negative (and inaccurate) view of our founding is common on the Left, but it's a dangerous and disappointing denial of human history in general, and American history specifically.