“Politics without principles” is one of the seven deadly sins on Mahatma Gandhi’s list. By “politics without principles,” Gandhi expressed his belief that politics should not be guided solely by the desire for power or personal gain but rather by a set of moral and ethical principles that would benefit the greater good.
In both democratic and totalitarian systems, there exists unethical behaviour and prioritisation of personal gain over the public good. In this article, I look at politics without principles from a biblical perspective to see what we can learn today.
The Perils Of “Politics Without Principles”
In most countries, it is not unusual to associate ‘politics’ with corruption, deception, power struggles, and even violence. The negative perception of politics is partly due to the practice of politics without principles.
The abuse of power in Politics leads to a culture of fear and distrust. Likewise,
corrupt practices and bribery can quickly erode public trust and undermine personal integrity. Deception and dishonesty damage credibility.
Herod’s Politics – A Case in Point!
The politics of Herod the Great (37BC – 4BC) was a politics without principles. As a client king of the Roman Empire, his actions always stemmed from fear and self-protection. He was always fearful of the possibility of someone usurping his throne.
• Herod imposed heavy taxes and raised funds to pay tribute to the Roman Empire, support his lavish lifestyle, and finance his building projects. His approach to taxation was marked by inconsistency and opportunism rather than a coherent policy based on fairness, justice or public interest principles.
• When the Magi came from the East following the star and enquired about “the one who has been born king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2, NIV), Herod was “disturbed”. His jealousy over any possibility of someone other than him being the king of the Jews angered him. He ordered the killing of all male infants born in Jerusalem, from two years old and under.
• Herod the Great systematically eliminated anyone he considered to be a threat. He murdered his sister Salome’s husband, Joseph, and his wife’s grandfather. After Salome reported that his dear wife Mariamne and her mother were plotting against him, Herod executed them. He also killed two of his sons, Alexander and Aristobulus.
Jesus And His Principled Stance
In stark contrast, Jesus exemplifies the importance of remaining steadfast to one’s principles in the face of political pressure. He prioritises the well-being of his followers and the pursuit of truth and justice above all else.
The Encounter Between Jesus And Herod Antipas
Luke 23:6–12 portrays a compelling illustration of politics with principles through the encounter between Jesus and Herod Antipas (Herod, the Great’s son). Herod Antipas’ sole motive for engaging with Jesus was to further his personal and political interests.
It’s worth noting that Jesus had previously referred to Herod Antipas as a “fox” (Luke 13:32). This occurred when some Pharisees warned Jesus that Herod was planning to kill him. In Jewish culture, the term “fox” was often used to describe someone considered to be deceitful and untrustworthy.
By using this term to describe Herod, Jesus likely expressed his disapproval of how Herod wielded his power to achieve his own ends. Despite Herod’s attempts to draw Jesus into their political machinations, Jesus remained true to his values and refused to compromise or betray his mission. He refused to be swayed, even in the face of potential punishment or death. He remained committed to his beliefs.
Jesus’ unwavering dedication to his principles is reflected in his silence during this pivotal moment.
The Perennial Need For Politics With Principles
The Bible encourages and provides guidance on politics. It highlights justice as a cornerstone to governance: “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:24, NIV).
The Bible exhorts leaders to govern and lead with humility and wisdom, placing a high premium on the value of collective wisdom: “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22, NIV).
Paul encourages believers to submit to governing authorities believing they have been instituted by God (Romans 13:1-7) and pray for those authorities for their welfare and good governance (1 Timothy 2:1-4).
Additionally, he reminds Christians that their ultimate citizenship is in heaven and encourages them to put their trust in God and to prioritise their spiritual lives over their political allegiances (Philippians 3:20-21).
Politics without principles can lead to the decay and destruction of society.
Jesus’ antidote, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you…. (Matthew 20:25-28, NIV), teaches that good governance and leadership are based on solid theological and moral convictions.
Jesus invites his followers to embody virtues such as justice, fairness, humility and seeking the common good of all. We need to reassess the patterns of governance and earnestly pray for a positive turn towards Politics with principles.