Monday, April 5, 2010

A Christian’s Place in Politics

It was Abraham Lincoln who claimed the Civil War was God’s judgment on America for its sins, namely the brutal enslavement of some 9 million Africans. No other American war was so bloody. Historians report more than 620,000 deaths in this one war – a death count so high that only the number of fatalities from all the other American wars combined rivals it. Even though only 1.5 percent of the population were actually slaveholders, all America was guilty. Lincoln’s hypothesis is consistent with God’s justice. For example, the entire nation of Israel was punished for Achan’s sin in Joshua 7. Likewise, God often held the entire nation of Israel accountable for the sins of its leadership. Ezekiel and Jeremiah are examples of righteous men who were exiled along with other Judeans for Judah’s national guilt. Yet these two men were not guilty of the apostasy that led to Judah’s exile. Although righteous men of the Old Testament didn’t favor the idea of exile, their allegiance to God gave them a zeal for justice over Israel’s prosperity (Hab. 1:3-4).

Where the Church Errs

It seems, however, among the American church many Christians are more concerned with their country’s prosperity than with the justice and glory of God. Much of the church has identified itself with the Republican Party because that happens to be the party with more conservative ideals. One problem with this is the church has made itself unapproachable to people who hold contrary political views. Another is that the church (by default) endorses unjust policies of Republicans. (It would be equal and opposite folly for the church to identify with Democrats.) For this reason, I’m convinced Christians should avoid being identified with a political party. Some Christians might argue Republicans are the lesser of two evils by claiming Democratic ideals contrast traditional conservative values. The Obama administration is an example, they would say. Here is an administration that supports abortion and gays marriage. It is also pushing a controversial health-care policy that might threaten the stability of the economy and potentially deny or delay certain kinds of care to elderly people. The Republicans believe these policies will damage America’s prosperity and leave our grandchildren to deal with the consequences -- the church jumps on board in opposition. Many Christians believe Obama's liberal policies will result in a less prosperous and morally inferior United States. They may or may not be right be right, but they have invested concern in the wrong place. I believe America’s prosperity has become an idol for many in the church and recommend a different approach to politics and national loyalty.

God Voted for Obama

Consider this: God appoints a nation’s leaders. Despite our popular vote, God ultimately claims control. In the words of Saint Paul, “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” (English Standard Version, Rom. 13:1). This is not an isolated idea in the Bible; Saint Peter also wrote, “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” (1 Pet. 2:13-14). In plain words, this means God has appointed President Obama and Congress to represent America, and he expects Christians to honor them. It’s not as if God planned to put John McCain in office and the American people usurped his will with a vote. God “voted” for Obama, and that's what landed him in the Oval Office. With that we are to be subject to his policies.

Mercy in Ruin

I’m not claiming all authorities reflect God’s righteousness. There were 19 kings God appointed over Israel's Northern Kingdom and all of them were evil. (God often uses evil to bring about good for his glory.) Incidentally, the Northern Kingdom collapsed under the Assyrian army in 722 B.C., and Judah, who also harbored evil kings, was crushed under Babylon in 586 B.C. God had a calculated purpose for the exile of Israel. The whole world benefited. This is one reason why I’m convinced God is less concerned with a nation’s welfare than he his with the spiritual health of its people. All nations are temporal, but individual souls are eternal. The Bible claims that riches can frustrate spiritual progress. When it becomes a person’s ultimate goal to build wealth (a typical Republican idea), that person might find himself in direct opposition to God’s will.

Fear God. Honor the Emperor.

To be sure, there are biblical examples where resisting leadership is an obligation. These, however, are limited to situations where a leader commands an individual to commit a specific act of evil. This hardly applies to the masses in America. None of us will find ourselves being commanded by Obama to abort our children. Regarding America’s leaders, God’s expectations for the people are simple: obey the laws and be respectful. None of our laws command evil. Peter concludes the matter this way: “Fear God. Honor the emperor” (1 Pet. 17b). This doesn’t mean we are expected to endorse every policy, but obedience in quiet humility goes a long way.

Taxes Funding Abortion?

Some Christians will object, saying for example, if their tax dollars fund abortions it is tantamount to aiding and abetting. But whose money is it? The widely accepted idea is that taxes belong to the people and the government is only a steward. Jesus offered a different perspective when he said of taxes, “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Matt. 22:21a). In other words, currency printed by government belongs to government. In context, this could mean all of one’s income belongs to their country. The money is not their own. Therefore, the Christian position should be that taxes never belonged to us anyway. Government officials will give an account to God on how they spend tax dollars, not the tax payers. The point is this: a submissive approach to government (regardless of the party in power) is expected of Christians. That attitude is what makes Christians beyond reproach.

Give to God the Things that are God's

Conversely, when a Christian devotes his life energy to a political cause, the implicit goal is usually to further the prosperity of the nation. (And that is best-case scenario; often people do it for personal gain.) A life commitment to a political party is dangerously close to idolatry. Jesus qualified his statement on paying taxes to Caesar by saying, “[give] to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21b). What then are the things we render to God? Well, Jesus’ justification for paying taxes was this: Caesar’s likeness is imprinted on the currency. Therefore, things that belong to God are things that have his likeness imprinted on them; namely, oneself. In the words of C. S. Lewis, “He who surrenders himself without reservation to the temporal claims of a nation, or party, or a class is rendering to Caesar that which, of all things, most emphatically belongs to God” (53). It is God who deserves our faithful service and undivided allegiance, not a political party. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans should be given what belongs to God.

Disaster as a Doorway

So if, like in 1865, America’s destruction is necessary to bring about God’s justice and glory, then may every city be razed to the ground. I do not want to be misunderstood; America is my native land and I love my country and people. I want us to prosper. But my patriotism takes a decided back seat to God’s will – and he knows best. Perhaps hardship and widespread hunger is exactly what Americans need to be awakened from a greedy slumber. Perhaps he will use a leader as his rod. Perhaps that discipline would be a doorway to a better future for our children. Perhaps.

National calamity may or may not be God’s agenda for America; I hope it is not. But since we cannot know for sure what God is doing, our opposition to a political party should be limited to a vote. When leadership is appointed, the best thing a Christian can do is pray for just governing. But if that governing is unjust and results in disaster, so be it. That might be the very thing America needs.

1 comment:

skip white said...

russell, again you amaze me with your insight and reverance. continue to do this is needed.