Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Christian and Politics Part 2

What do we look for in a President, Senator, Governor, etc?
I don’t know why I feel like I have to state the obvious, but I do: there is always an objectively true answer to the question of who should I vote for. In some cases the answer could be unconventional such as: the right thing to do is to stay home and protest this election-- or, write in someone in an attempt to make a statement to your party. But there is a right answer. Until we can agree on that, we are a house divided—useless. All Christians in a perfect world, would be all voting for the same person (or not voting, or whatever). (I’m not leading you down a trail to endorse someone, I’m just trying to lay some ground work for discussion.)

Now who is the right person and how do I recognize him? To state the obvious again, we are always going to be deciding between the lesser of two or more evils, even when one candidate is a true Christian. This is something we can all rally around: politics has always been and will always be full of sin and dirt. So when we ask: how do we vote according to truth, we’re really asking is: Who is the least corrupt candidate? Another way of stating it is: Who exhibits the most fear of God? Although many politicians claim some sort of Christianity, it is obvious from their lifestyles that few are actually true Christians. And yet, among non Christians there are varying degrees of the fear of God or lack thereof—i.e. varying levels of depravity. If I have to choose between two presidential candidates, both of whom I believe are not Christians in the true sense of word, I am going to look for the one with the most fear of God. Although non Christians are not born again, they are created in the image of God and they have consciences and the law written on their hearts. They can have consciences that are so seared and the law of God so suppressed that they will step on anyone and do anything in their lust for power. Or, it is possible, though not being alive spiritually, their conscience can still be somewhat alive and the law of God not totally suppressed. If such were the case they would have a sense of justice and of protecting the weak, etc. Discernment is always necessary as a candidate can of course feign a sort of fear of God to win himself votes. And the ever-popular tactic of falsely appearing concerned for the underdog is alive and well and ever shall be. Still, it often does not take too much digging to discover who are genuine.

This probably sounds like I am saying that if McCain gets the Republican nomination (as it appears is very likely), we should without question vote for him as the lesser of two evils. But actually, that’s not what I’m necessarily trying to say. I don’t know enough about him. I do know that Dobson said he could never, never cast a ballot for McCain because of life issues (mainly stem cell research) and that this may be the first election in his life that he sits out (article here). I’m never one to think in terms of Christian=republican and republican=Christian. So just because someone gets the republican nomination, isn’t enough for me to deem the candidate a man with a conscience, set on protecting the weak, with some understanding of the inherent law of God. Maybe he doesn’t give a whip about unborn babies but knows that a lot of republicans do so he’s pulling out his pro-life banner to win votes. I don’t know yet. I do know that Obama voted in Illinois against protecting babies that were born alive from failed abortions. Instead, Obama was in favor of letting the babies die alone on a cold table (article here). That tells me a lot about the man. So couldn’t anyone be better than that? Well...there’s the issue of one’s conscience, which is where I believe Dobson is coming from. And also the issue of shaping one’s party and making a statement. So this is where I don’t have an answer right now. Though I am trying to emphasize that there is a right thing to do, I will always have grace for those who do differently than I. I only believe that as we seek wisdom from the Lord about how to best act, we should do it acknowledging that these questions are not inscrutable and beyond searching out. If enough people are seeking the Lord, there will be a consensus worth reckoning with.

What about putting our hope in politics and governments?
There was a time where I would have mocked such an idea. Who in their right mind would put their hope in something that history has proven over and over to be fallen? But then I realized that nonbelievers have no other options to put their hope in? What other force is there in the world to restrain evil and mete justice than the government for nonbelievers? And I also eventually realized that even as believers, knowing and understanding both that the world needs a savior and his name is Jesus not Democracy, we are by no means immune to confusing the roles. In a way, it’s almost like the golden-calf temptation: This Moses guy has been up on that mountain for who knows how long, we need something here! now! that we can see, not some intangible. Aaron makes the calf and says, “Here is your god who delivered you from Egypt.” Now this is something the people can relate to because they can see and touch it! Likewise, we will always struggle with wanting a person to rally around, a political figure, who’s going to fix it all. And yet...

Government, politics, it is all not only permitted by God, but instituted by Him:

Romans 13:1-7 ESV 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. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 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, 4 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. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed
.

This is an amazing passage! A pagan, a heathen, a politician as corrupt as the infamous Nero, is actually God’s servant for our good. John Piper once said in a sermon that the Bible commands us to respect Caesar and we should. But in this country, Piper said, we are all Caesar, in a sense. And being Caesar carries certain responsibilities. Through our voting and the other means available to us (writing and calling our senator’s etc.), we are all called to be God’s political servant who carries out justice against the wrongdoes to the best of our ability.


What is the primary purpose of government?
Since we are all Caesar, we better get our role straight. For starters, at least the above verse gives us a partial answer: an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. We need to be picking out candidates who are interested in establishing laws that punish wrong. Some candidates have whole platforms unabashedly revolving around protecting those who do wrong and giving them special rights. We need to be clear here on the difference between the gospel and the government. Only the gospel can transform hearts and lives. The government is simply a restrainer and God has willed it to be so. We can fall into two extremes at times. On one hand we can say, “They’re going to do it anyway, why outlaw it?” Or on the other hand say, “If only we could pass such and such a law, everything would be better.” For instance, the sin of homosexuality: Some Christians don’t get hung up on opposing same-sex “marriages” because they believe that whether or not there is a law forbidding it, homosexuals are still going to live together. In other words, the law cannot cure the root of the problem, only the gospel can, so what good is it going to do to deny them legal rights. Other Christians act as if only we could amend the constitution to properly define marriage, this would greatly restrain the evil of homosexuality. As I think, study, read about this over time, I want to come to an understanding of restraining evil that can address such issues without putting more hope in government than the Bible allows.

What’s the difference between a sin and a crime?
All Christians believe it is a sin for children to lie to parents. However, no one believes it is a crime that the government should get involved in. But, certain types of lying become crimes under certain circumstances. So what makes something a crime instead of just a sin, is a generally recognized infringement upon someone else’s right and the good of society as a whole, such as lying in a court of law. Where Christians start to diverge and the waters start to get murky are in cases such as same-sex couples adopting kids. Is that a sin or a crime? Should we fight for laws that protect innocent children from such perversions or should that be an issue where government does not legislate morality? There’s a principle here that I can’t put my finger on.

What about when the world cries theocracy?

We need to have clear thinking in this area. If we do not, we will end up shrinking away and letting the intolerant religion of secular humanism outlaw our right to practice our religion. Secular humanism would gladly set up its own religious-based rule where Christian thoughts and ideas are not welcomed. The religion of tolerance is actually a very intolerant religion; it has absolutely no tolerance for Christianity. So when we as Christians insist that justice be the rule of the land and some cry “theocracy” we must be prepared to articulate the difference.

The separation of church and state was to keep the government from interfering in religion, not to keep religion from being a part of government. Having government devoid of religion is like having food without calories. Whether it is an atheistic religion, a universalist religion, or the religion of tolerance, religion will always be in government. When we as Christians support laws that uphold human dignity and punish those who refuse to value others, we are not instituting a religion. When we insist that wrongdoers are brought to justice, both for the sake of their own soul and for the sake of those contemplating a similar crime, we are not promoting any particular religion. A theocracy is saying that the only religion allowed in this land is Christianity, and that the government will appoint who serves as the leaders in this church. I’ve personally never met anyone who actually wanted that, or even heard of anyone who wanted that. So why do we hear over and over about “making sure there is a separation of church and state?” One reason is that I think we’ve had unclear thinking and when given that line, we’ve said to ourselves, “Oh, I guess you’re right. I guess I shouldn’t try to push my morality on you.” Instead of, “No, this is not a matter of religion, but of rightly defining the correct role of government.”

Note: I am not a post-millenialist and do not believe that if only we as Christians can get this politics thing right, we can unite, and usher in the kingdom of God on earth. Instead, unless we Christians get this politics right, we are failing to be the salt of the earth and preserve this generation from the judgement that it is so certainly incurring.

This is too long for now, so I'm pretty sure I'm going to do a part 3.

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