Biblical-theological foundations of church involvement in socio-political issues

Why is the Church interested in socio-political issues? This question is often asked in some circles of society. Others even say that the Church’s place is in the sacristy, demanding to know why the Church gets involved in politics. However, it is symptomatic during social or political conflict, to hear people saying, ‘churches must help in working for peace and reconciliation in society.’ From this emerges the need for reflection to see if the Bible, the foundation of our faith and of all Christian teaching and action, says something about this.

What is the Church?
In paragraph 4 of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, we find the affirmation that “the Church has been seen as «a people made one with the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit»”. In this concept of the Church presented by the Council Fathers, inspired by St. Cyprian a priest of the Church of North Africa, in his work De Dom orat. 23, it is clear that the Church is an assembly of those called by the one and triune God. In other words, the Church is God’s project. It is also clear that it is made up of people. Because God calls people, beings he created in his own image and likeness who respond positively to his call, makes a covenant with them, makes them his people and entrusts them with a mission.

Every divine initiative is always for the benefit of human beings. God calls human beings out of love and wants them to live in his love and be able to replicate it in the world. This is the mission of the Church. Therefore, the Church is the visibility of God’s saving will.

Object of the Church’s action
From the brief conception of the Church set out above, it can be deduced that the object of the Church is essentially the human being, his whole being, that is, soul and body and the whole of his humanity. It is the whole human being because God’s saving action is universal, and it is up to each person to accept it or exclude himself from it.

The human person is spirit and flesh. The spirit has its needs, which is mainly its relationship with the Creator. In the same way the flesh also has its needs. It follows that if the object of the Church is the human being, she has to be concerned with his needs, from the spiritual to the very basic, although there is a particular focus on the spiritual dimension.

In his programmatic encyclical Redemptoris Hominis, Pope John Paul II makes it clear that the human being is the path of the Church. He states in paragraph 14:

Man in the full truth of his existence, of his personal being and also of his community and social being-in the sphere of his own family, in the sphere of society and very diverse contexts, in the sphere of his own nation or people (perhaps still only that of his clan or tribe), and in the sphere of the whole of mankind-this man is the primary route that the Church must travel in fulfilling her mission: he is the primary and fundamental way for the Church, the way traced out by Christ himself, the way that leads invariably through the mystery of the Incarnation and the Redemption.

Therefore, for John Paul II it is the concrete human person in all his dimensions and in his whole context that is the path of the Church, the object of the Church. This means that the activity of the Church is to care for that human person. He continues, in the same paragraph, highlighting that

Since this man is the way for the Church, the way for her daily life and experience, for her mission and toil, the Church of today must be aware in an always new manner of man’s “situation”. That means that she must be aware of his possibilities, which keep returning to their proper bearings and thus revealing themselves. She must likewise be aware of the threats to man and of all that seems to oppose the endeavour “to make human life ever more human” and make every element of this life correspond to man’s true dignity-in a word, she must be aware of all that is opposed to that process.

These words of John Paul II are in line with Gaudium et Spes 38 and with the teaching of Paul VI in his encyclical Populorum Progressio 21. This very doctrine was once again reiterated and echoed in Pope Francis’ Message to the 34th Edition of the Rimini Meeting for Friendship between Peoples in August 2013. For in the message one can read:

Man is the way for the Church: Blessed John Paul II wrote this in his first Encyclical Redemptor Hominis (cf. n. 14). This truth continues to apply also especially in our time when the Church, in an ever more globalized and virtual world and an increasingly secularized society devoid of permanent reference points, is called to rediscover her mission, focusing on the essential and seeking new ways for evangelization.

Biblical-theological foundations of the Church’s action
Old Testament
Pope Francis asks a rhetorical question in his message mentioned above: “But what does it mean that man is “the way of the Church”? And above all, what does it mean for us to walk this path today? He responds, in the same message, from the Old Testament stating that

Man is the way for the Church because he is the way that God himself took. From the dawn of humanity, after original sin, God has been seeking man. “Where are you?” he asked Adam who was hiding in the garden (Gen. 3:9). This question appears at the beginning of the Book of Genesis. It does not cease to resonate throughout the Bible — and at every moment of the history that God has woven with humanity in the course of the millennia — and reaches its loftiest expression in the Incarnation of the Son.

The Scriptures testify very clearly to God’s concern for the human being. During the suffering of the people of Israel in Egypt, the Lord was not indifferent. He raised up Moses for the liberation of his people. When the people, during the Exodus, felt hungry, he sent quails and manna, and when they suffered from snake bites, he ordered Moses to make the bronze serpent.

In addition to these actions showing God’s concern for his people, there are passages that express God’s suffering in the face of the difficult life of his people, as we can read:

Then the LORD said, “I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters; I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites. And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them (Exodus 3:7-11).

The suffering of the people was so great that it obliged God to come down and reverse the situation himself. Therefore, as the Church is the work of God which perpetuates his saving action in the world, she cannot remain indifferent to the suffering of human beings if she wants to be faithful to the mission for which she was founded.

New Testament
The Incarnation of the Word is God who comes down so that humanity can enter the world of God. The Incarnation of the Word is the culmination of God’s concern for humanity. When God decided to take on human flesh it was for the benefit of humanity itself.

The Church is the body of Christ. Christ is the head of his body the Church. The Church has no other mission than to continue the work of Christ, her founder. Jesus’ mission was essentially focused on the liberation of the whole human person, on fighting structures of oppression to promote human dignity. His own words in Holy Scripture bear witness to this, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He sent me to proclaim that the captives will be released, the blind will see, the oppressed will be freed, and that the time of the Lord’s favour has come” (Luke 4:18-22). He did not spare the structures of his time, as he made harsh criticisms thereof, always in favour of the human person, particularly the marginalized poor and the voiceless. Why? To protect human dignity.

Jesus healed, cast out unclean spirits and gave food for the nourishment of those who came to listen to him. He multiplied loaves and fishes when he realized that they were hungry. He was aware that “one does not preach on an empty stomach or to empty stomachs”. And he raised the dead. These facts illustrate that he was never indifferent to the suffering of his contemporaries and that the focus of his mission was the good of the human person. When he taught them to pray, giving them an example of prayer, he was taking care of the spiritual. Therefore, his ministry was to care for the human person as a whole.

On the pyramid Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, spiritual needs, the stuff of the Church’s primary mission are at the top. Lowest are the physiological or basic needs. Only when these are satisfied can other needs be met. Therefore, where provision for spiritual needs lacks the satisfaction of what is at the base, the Church has to get involved if the spiritual dimension is really to be met. She does this by insisting that the lowest needs of all people be met.

The Fathers of Vatican II best express what is being stated here in the opening words of the Pastoral Constitution, Gaudium et Spes:

The joys and hopes, the sadness and anguish of today’s people, especially of the poor and of all those who suffer, are also the joys and hopes, the sadness and anguish of Christ’s disciples; and there is no truly human reality that does not find an echo in your heart. Because your community is made up of men, who, gathered in Christ. Therefore, they are guided by the Holy Spirit on their pilgrimage in search of the Father’s kingdom, and have received the message of salvation to communicate it to everyone. For this reason, the Church feels real and intimately linked to the human race and its history (GS 1).

Ultimately, what we intend to demonstrate here is in line with the vision of Bishop Felix of the Diocese of Governador Valadares, Brazil, who states that “The Church feels it is its duty and right to be present in the field of politics, because Christianity must evangelize the entirety of human existence. And it assumes its mission in the political field, aiming to form the awareness of Christians that there is an intrinsic and inseparable relationship between life and faith, human promotion and religious mission» (

Are there biblical-theological foundations that justify the Church’s interest in socio-political matters? Yes, indeed. God wants the good of the whole human person. The Church is the continuation of God’s saving action, and therefore she can have no other mission than to take care of the whole human person and his needs. As Pope Francis said, the task of the Church, which is the task of every Christian is to serve humanity, going in search of him in the most hidden social and spiritual places. It is clear, therefore, that when the Church is interested and concerned about socio-political issues, she is not interfering in politics, she is simply seeking to fully fulfil her mission. If she did not do so, she would be omitting part of her mission.

Bibliographic reference

VATICAN COUNCIL II, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium.

VATICAN COUNCIL II, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes.

JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Letter Redemptor Hominis.

Message from Pope Francis, signed by the Cardinal Secretary of State, on the occasion of the XXXIV Edition of the Rimini Meeting for Friendship between Peoples (Rimini, 18-24 August 2013).

PAUL VI, Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio.