Thursday, May 10, 2012

Should Christians Vote? (Part 2)

Others, such as Cal Thomas[1] and John MacArthur[2], argue that Christians ought not to worry about politics and instead focus on evangelism.  Thomas states this position well:

No matter how hard they try to protect the gospel from corruption, ministers who focus on politics and politicians as a means of redemption must minimize their ultimate calling and message.  The road to redemption does not run through Washington, D.C.  Politicians can’t redeem themselves from the temptations of Washington.  What makes anyone think they can redeem the rest of us?[3]

Whether the law [concerning government restrictions on political statements from the pulpit] is repealed, or not, churches and ministers would do better to keep their attention focused on the things above, rather than the things below, because politics can be the ultimate temptation and pollute a far superior and life-changing message.[4]

For adherents to this position, while there is no active prohibition on Christians voting or participating in politics, the real focus of Christians should be on evangelism and gospel-preaching.  Ministers are not first and foremost political theorists, and Christians should not be first and foremost political advocates but preachers and servants of transformative gospel.  The world will not be changed by political rallies, they argue, but by the spread of Christianity to all the earth.

Grudem contends that this position is too disparaging of Christian political involvement because it demonstrates too narrow a view of the gospel and of Biblical teaching.  He argues that the gospel is not limited to salvation but is rather “God’s good news about all of life!”[5]  Since the whole Bible is part of God’s good news, it follows that the entire Bible must be considered as part of what Jesus charged the church to go forth and teach.  Thus, we must consider Christian political activism to be worthwhile “if it is part of what God teaches us in Scripture, then of course it does spiritual good, because it is something that pleases God.”[6]  Grudem also says that this “do evangelism, not politics” view is wrong because the gospel includes life transformation as a fundamental aspect of it.  If the gospel changes individual lives, it ought to change them throughout and entirely, including their social and political lives.  It is not as though God only cares about spiritual things, Grudem writes, but also their physical lives.  Christians ought to let the gospel inform their voting just at is it informs the way they do business, maintain friendships, and serve in their communities.

Scripture has powerful words on the subject of stewardship.  Perhaps the most relevant are 1 Peter 4:10-11 which read, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”  These verses tell us that God has given us all gifts—and not just in the context of money as stewardship is usually discussed—for edifying each other and glorifying God.  Peter says that those who speak should talk like God.  Those who serve should serve through God’s power and in God’s name.  All that man has God has given him and he should use it all to glorify God.  As people who live in a historically-unique situation, one in which the average person has at least some level of political choice and voice, shouldn’t Christians use the political gift they have been given to glorify God?  Can Christians who abstain from voting really be said to have “made the most of every opportunity because the days are evil”?[7]  Instead, those who take a hard-separation view seem to believe that Christians ought to abstain from some opportunities because the days are evil.  This kind of attitude reminds one of the ostrich that sticks its head in the ground, keeping its conscience unsullied while the world may be crumbling around it.  Christians should vote, keeping in mind the God they must account unto for their vote, while they still have a chance.  Universal suffrage is, as aforementioned, a historical anomaly which may not last forever.

The paper ended here but let me supplement some additional thoughts.

I do not intend to advocate for some sort of kingdom of Heaven here on earth.  In fact, the early Evangelicals of the 1950s and 1960s were very much against political involvement.  In their day the mainline denominations had wed themselves fully to the social gospel and progressivism.  Thus, men like Martin Lloyd-Jones or Karl Barth denounced political advocacy and political philosophy as aberrant distractions from preaching and teaching the Bible (though granted Barth had Nazism AND liberalism in mind).  It wasn't until Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority in 1979 that Evangelicalism began its passionate love affair with the Republican Party.  Jimmy Carter still hasn't recovered from that bitter divorce, given that he announces his departure the Southern Baptist Convention every year.

Now we young Evangelicals can blog our hearts out about how cranky we are at our parents for engaging in culture wars that left us and all our gay friends jaded and disillusioned.  There's actually quite a lot to be said for this sentiment.  At some point the Reagan-Falwell wedding spawned a generation of dysfunction, some being the Ron-Paul-leaning Neo-Reformed, some obedient and stalwart Republicans, some compassionate-if-naive moderates, and more than a couple rebellious, "look-how-NOT-my-conservative-parents-I-am!" political liberals.  And of these simplistic yet all-too-common archetypes, all would seize upon the label "Evangelical", even if not always the heritage.  All these reactions are understandable, particularly as Christians became a bit too wed to the Republican platforms of the '90s and '00s.  I remember hearing more about welfare and terrorism in church than I did about predestination.  Regeneration and a solid doctrine of the Kingdom (both Here and Not-Here-Yet) were things I missed until college!  That's a damning thing to realize; all three of those have more biblical basis than civic marriage policy or national defense.  No really.

It would be easy at this point to conclude that we Christians should leave our religion out of voting.  After all, we don't want other people forcing their religion on us (like sharia law, a legal code universally bad if you believe in individual rights).  And yet I, being a reckless and self-important bloggerist, have chosen to navigate a rockier, nuance, and I believe ultimately truer course.

If we Christians truly believe what we say we do, namely that the Bible offers a true account of the universal human condition, then we cannot pretend it doesn't exist in civic life.  Our politics must be informed by the narrative we espouse.  It's for this reason that I openly reject John Locke and Thomas Jefferson's assertion that politics is a necessary evil.  I reject wholesale the notion that government is a contractual agreement between citizens.  I reject that a law is just simply because the parties under contractual obligation have assented to the terms of the agreement.  Instead, I affirm that our laws must match a natural standard, something which exists beyond all legislation and predates it.  All our laws are a reflection of this Natural Law, an unwritten, decidedly unscientific account of our souls.  The fulfillment of Natural Law is human flourishing, namely when man begins to live corporately in such a way that he finds his deepest longings and desires satisfied according to his individual and communal nature.  Is the Bible right when it teaches Imago Dei and the Fall?  Is that true even for people who don't believe it?  And--most importantly--can we construct our laws in such a way to counter or even roll back the Fall?  If the gospel of Jesus Christ brings life to all things it touches, why do we regard secular law as the exception?

Or I'll put it plainly: to leave religion out of our voting is to make relative the truest account of our mortal condition.  This is not to say that we should institute Levitical law or ban gay marriage.  It is to say that we oughtn't check our faith at the door just because we don't want to be perceived as fighting the culture war.  I agree with Aristotle that the end goal of all legislation is justice.  Further, the end goal of earthly justice is human flourishing, not fairness or equality (as though all men were the same in faculty or virtue).  So the question on a given issue--like gay marriage, to chose a timely example--is not "Is this fair to homosexuals as compared with heterosexuals?" but rather is "Which leads to greater human fulfillment?  What is best for men individually and corporately (aka 'the state')?  What best fits the purposes of man and the longings of his soul?"  The answer to the flourishing question may be the same as to the equality question, or it may be entirely different.  Such is the nature of particular justice.

[1] Cal Thomas, “Pulpit Bullies,” Tribute Media Services (October 2, 2008). Accessed May 7, 2012.
[2] John MacArthur, Why Government Can’t Save You: An Alternative to Political Activism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000).
[3] Thomas, “Pulpit Bullies”.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Grudem, Politics According to the Bible, 45, (italics original).
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ephesians 5:16.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Should Christians Vote? (Part 1)

The church and the state have had a convoluted relationship throughout Christian history.  Jesus himself was killed by the authority of a secular political governor.  This same Roman Empire which crucified him as a disruptive threat would eventually give his church official sanction.  In the medieval period, the head of this Roman church would intervene in political affairs both between nations and within their borders.  Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin entwined their reform movements with their local governments.  The Anabaptists took a radically different tack, preaching hard pacifism and eschewing any political involvement.  Even “Christian” governments persecuted other religions and denominations throughout this time, from the Jews in medieval Europe to the Baptists in colonial Massachusetts.  In the twenty-first century, many Christians live in liberal democracies which have universal suffrage.  They have the option to vote for Christian candidates and choose their own leaders from among the regular populace and not the ruling elite.  But is a Christian engaging in political life entwining the church and the state?  Worse still, is Christian political involvement distracting them from the Great Commission to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth?  Not at all; rather, Christians ought to engage in politics with no burden of conscience because they are stewards of the vote and political voice God has given them in modern democracies.

Some believe that Christians should have nothing at all to do with civil government—including voting—because government is evil and demonic.  They argue that Satan is the god of this world and governments are wicked, fallen manifestations of his power.  Therefore, Christians should have nothing to do with them.  Is he not after all the ruler of the powers and principalities of this world?  This is essentially the argument Greg Boyd makes in Myth of a Christian Nation.  There he argues from Luke 4:5-6[1] that Satan is the authority over the dark powers of the world.  In this verse, Satan is tempting Jesus to bow down and worship him.  He entices him by claiming that the kingdoms of the world have been given over to him; if Jesus will worship, Satan will give him authority over the world.  Thus, Boyd concludes that Satan is the ruler of the governments of the world.[2]  Christians should have nothing to do with government because it is fundamentally wicked and destructive.

Wayne Grudem addresses this argument in his book God and Politics.  He writes that the mistake of this proof-text is that Satan is probably lying to Jesus.  First, he notes that Jesus calls Satan “the father of lies”.  Christians are falling into Satan’s deception when they give him more credit than they actually should.  Second, he notes that there are specific verses which say that civil government is a gift from God and is subject to his authority, not Satan’s.  He gives the examples of Daniel 4:17, Romans 13:1-6, and 1 Peter 2:13-14 and notes that they all indicate that God is sovereign over all creation.  Even further, Grudem notes that these verses teach that worldly governments are tools of God to further his ends on earth.[3]

Daniel 4:17 teaches that God is the ultimate source of all political authority and therefore Christians should not be shy about political involvement.  The verse reads, “‘The sentence is by the decree of the watchers, the decision by the word of the holy ones, to the end that the living may know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men.’”  In context, the speaker is God in a vision to King Nebuchadnezzar.  Nebuchadnezzar saw a great tree which shaded the animals, provided nests for the birds, and fed all men on the earth.  Then a watchman from heaven orders that the tree be cut down and his mind reduced to madness.  The prophet Daniel interprets this dream to mean that the great Nebuchadnezzar will be brought low and driven to madness for a time by the King of Kings.  Thus, this verse clearly teaches that God is sovereign over all civil government.

Romans 13 is an even more explicit text on the relationship of Christians and political life.  Verses 1 through 5 read, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience.” 

From these verses it may be seen first that God establishes and grants authority to governments.  This means that all governments have their authority ultimately derived from God.  Therefore executive decisions are carried out using power delegated to them by God.  Governments cannot be fundamentally Satanic because they were created by God.  They act to execute his will.  Second, governments rule for the sake of punishing wrong behavior and promoting good behavior.  These verses indicate that it is not wrong for the government to punish its own citizens, even using violent means (“for he does not bear the sword in vain”) to do so.  In fact, since the governor is God’s servant and is avenging God’s wrath, it would be wrong for him not to do so.  Since he is bearing the sword for God and God has given it to him to execute judgment, a pacifist official who would refuse to punish lawbreakers would be a sinner himself!  Third, the government official is God’s servant for the good of the citizens.  Therefore, Christians should have minimal conflict with governors or government officials under normal circumstances.  Both Christians and governors, even if they are wicked governors, are servants of God and have more in common in their duties than distinct.  This concept also informs how Christians should view governing.  Good government exists to serve God and the citizens, not the stated ends of a superior or the self-interest of the governor himself or the interests of a particular faction within in the state.  The good governor must regard the good of all within the political community.

Peter agrees with Paul that government is not Satanic but divine.  1 Peter 2:13-14 reads, “Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.”  At the end of this paragraph Peter notes one thing which Paul already did in Romans—governors are sent by God to punish evil and praise good on his behalf.  The first part of this verse is instructive; Christians must submit to the government for the sake of the Lord.  Here obedience to governmental officials is commended as obedience to God.  If those who equate government with Satanic authority are correct, how can they explain this passage?  How can a Christian be obedient to God while also being obedient to Satan?

[1] These verses read, “And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will.”  This and all subsequent Scripture quotations are taken from The ESV Study Bible, (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2008).
[2] Greg Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Nation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 21-22.
[3] Wayne Grudem, Politics According to the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 37-38.