Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Christian's role in the political process

A friend and I have recently been debating the role that Christians should play in the political process, particularly American politics. Both of us see ourselves as committed Christians of an evangelical bent, and both of us affirm classical, orthodox Christianity as embodied by the Apostles and Nicene Creeds. My friend's position, broadly speaking, is that the Christian believer's primary role is to fulfill the Great Commission; as such, he sees a Christian's involvement in trying to pass laws, or "legislate morality," as a less-than-profitable enterprise.

His argument goes something like this: since Christians are called to be on mission with God in expanding God's kingdom into the hearts of all people, and since that can only be done through the individual choice of each person to accept Christ and become his disciple, it is almost a waste of time to attempt to pass a law that would burden a non-Christian with the responsibilities and principles of Christian ethics.

But it is those same Christian ethics, particularly Christ's emphases on his disciples still being in the world, being salt and light, that causes me to reconsider whether abandoning the secular, political process -- particularly when that process is a democratic one.

Certainly, God had no problem with his Chosen People's desire to mix belief with politics. It was God who called judges like Deborah to be his temporal agents; it was God who appointed Samuel to annoint Saul king over Israel, and it was God who put David in Saul's place. In the Mosaic Covenant, at least, God did not mind his faithful getting their hands into the nitty-gritty of politics.

Of course, Christians are not called to follow the Mosaic law, and it has been some time since a prophet of the Lord has gone forth to annoit a ruler over his people (despite what some televangelists might say next year). What, then, is the Christian's role in a democratic republic?

FEELING: Pensive
LISTENING TO: Some music


At 4:11 PM, Blogger David said...

With all due respect to your friend, I cannot disagree more. Folks that subscribe to that argument also tend to be the ones who complain about "how this country is going to hell in a handbasket."

One could argue that many of the justifications behind the modern penal code are based in morality. Take larceny, for example: surely there are some economic justifications for punishing those who steal, but also at the heart of that prohibition is the idea that taking something that doesn't belong to you is just ... wrong. Civilized societies depend on to "legislated morality" to survive. The Eighth Commandment happens to prohibit stealing. Surely your friend would agree that a Christian legislator should pass laws that protect citizens' personal property. What does that have to do with the Great Commission?

Beyond all that, I think your friend's position (again, all due respect) breeds laziness and irresponsibility in the Christian community. Christian pulpits have advancing this position for some time now. As a result, most Christians would rather incubate themselves in Christian movies, Christian music, church events, and sunday school company than get involved in anything "of the world." Meanwhile, they are missing important opportunities to ensure the protection of life, religion, and the earth with which God entrusted us.

On a lighthearted note, I'll leave you with this story about Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln never made a clear profession of standard Christian belief, but he also never denied the truth of the Scriptures. Biographer Carl Sandburg tells this story:

Lincoln attended one of noted evangelist Peter Cartwright's revival meetings. At the conclusion of the service, the fiery pulpiteer called for all who intended to go to heaven to please rise. Naturally, the response was heartening. Then he called for all those who wished to go to hell to stand. Not many takers. Lincoln had responded to neither option. Cartwright closed in. "Mr. Lincoln, you have not expressed an interest in going to either heaven or hell. May I inquire as to where you do plan to go?" Lincoln replied: "I did not come here with the idea of being singled out, but since you ask, I will reply with equal candor. I intend to go to Congress."


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