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 Chapter 17

The Christian and Politics

 

EVER since the emergence of the Christian Coalition and its forerunner, The Moral Majority, the Christian community has been sharply divided upon the role, if any, Christians might appropriately play in the political process. Many see involvement in political action as a God-given responsibility; others believe that they have an individual responsibility to vote for the best candidate, and upon issues of significance, while yet hesitating to join in an orchestrated political thrust by a united Christian organization. On the other hand, others avoid political involvement of any kind, declining to register and vote, perceiving the political process as of the world, not productive to the hastening of the spread of the gospel.

In some church communities, the political debate has become as intense as the debate on doctrinal and social issues. Rarely is this debate raised without generating much heat and emotive dialogue. In some of the English speaking countries, including our homeland of Australia, many citizens avoid dialogue on religion and politics, frequently responding to those who would initiate such a conversation with blunt words such as, "Listen, Mate, there are two things I donít talk about, religion and politics. They only get you into fights." Generally speaking, however, Americans see free speech as especially enshrined in their inalienable right to share their religious and political views.

The Christian Coalition has energized the political debate by what were seen as spectacular successes of those candidates it endorsed for the 1994 mid-term congressional elections. Many candidates of both major political parties hastened to align themselves with the moral values espoused by the Christian Coalition, in order to enhance their election prospects. Even in the 1996 elections, the Christian Coalition was credited with holding both houses of Congress for the Republicans in spite of the failure of Republicans to recapture the White House.

But the Christian Coalition has faced much opposition. Its welding of conservative Protestants and Roman Catholics has not stood well with many Protestants, who, following the sixteenth century Reformers, identify the Roman Catholic system with the antichrist of biblical prophecy or the beast power of Revelation 13. The development of the manifesto, "Evangelicals and Protestants Together," brought swift condemnation from other evangelical leaders, who began a relentless attack on what they perceived as the unholy union of Protestants with Catholics, irrespective of the validity of their cause.

Here we want to explore a few of the issues which may assist to ensure a more valid and less emotive response to the Christian political debate. We turn to the Holy Scriptures to help us discover the appropriate response of Christians to the political process. But before we do this, we must acknowledge that all Christians do not regard moral issues in the same light. No issue more highlights this division than the abortion debate. Christians are on both sides of this issue. Many see abortion as the most intolerable form of murderómurder of the most defenseless of all human beings, the embryo or fetus. Other Christians see the freedom of women to choose, as fundamental to Christianity. We stand firmly with the opposers of permissive abortion, basing our decision on the evidence of Scripture. The Psalmist makes it plain that God has a record of the blueprint of every prenate.

For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my motherís womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them. Psalm 139:13Ė16

It is also evident that God places special calls upon human beings in the prenatal period.

Listen, O isles, unto me; and hearken, ye people, from far; The Lord hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name. Isaiah 49:1

Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations. Jeremiah l:5

For he [John the Baptist] shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his motherís womb. Luke 1:15

Whereas we also stand firmly against euthanasia, Christians are divided on the issue. Russell, as a physician, is especially interested in this matter. There is much less division over the need to greatly reduce violence and crime in society, yet debate continues on how to effect that result; should it be by teaching, or by legislation, or a combination of both?

Societyís Moral Decline

Few Christians would argue against the evidence of dramatic moral decline in society. This is supported by many factors, including the appalling increase in premarital sexual relations; the rise in teen pregnancies; the abortion carnage; the flaunting of homosexual and lesbian relationships; the breakdown of marriage, largely due to the high level of adultery; the rapid increase in single parent families, and the consequent rise in psychological problems, violent crime, and antisocial behavior. Students of history recognize that dramatic moral decline is the forerunner of national chaos. No society of the past, which continued in moral depravity, survived for long. Western society, not only American society, is surely in the balance.

It is not insignificant that this moral decline parallels the rapid reduction in the influence of Christianity upon society. This is not only evidenced by the lack of church attendance, it is evidenced by the divestment of Judeo-Christian values. But most alarmingly, this moral bankruptcy is often reflected in the church community itself. Ironically, the problem of greatest concern to the Christian Coalitionóthe increase of violence and immorality in societyóhas been significantly augmented by the contemporary teachings of the very churches of Christendom who form the Christian Coalition, and the responsibility may be, in part, validly laid at their feet. Most of the represented Churches are presenting an impotent God who does not provide the power to overcome temptation, whereas the Bible presents a powerful gospel in which God promises the power of Christ to resist successfully the temptations of Satan. Thus many are taught salvation for those living a life of sin, thus denying the power of the gospel.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. Romans 1:16, 17

Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. Hebrews 7:25

Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy . . . Jude 24

There is only one true answer to this crisis, and that is the reestablishment of the true principles of morality and human stability enshrined in the words of Holy Scripture. Therefore, Christians have a proper, and indeed, a critical role to play in seeking to redress the evils of modern society. They must preach the Bible principle of victory through Christ over sin, and encourage parents to uphold this principle to their children.

The Moral Role of Government

An increasing cry of opponents to the Christian Coalition has been, "Government has no right to legislate morality." Presumably, the concept behind such a statement is that morality is a result of education, and the transformation of life. God is not a God of coercion, therefore our efforts must be placed in education, training, modeling, and in establishing moral values in the home and society. The response of the Christian Coalition has been to support the need for rigorous education and the reestablishing of the moral high ground that the church should hold in society, but to achieve these aims, it argues that government must establish laws that would encourage morality, and appropriately punish those who would violate decent standards of society.

We would caution those who proclaim that government has no right to legislate morality (see chapter 16 entitled, "The Bible in the Public Schools"). It is true that only the power of Christ can transform the carnal sinner into a converted saint, but if we deny government the right to legislate against immorality, we would have to oppose laws against murder, rape, perjury, robbery, and other such crimes clearly related to the violation of the Ten Commandments. Most important, we would have to deny the pointed testimony of Paul to the Roman believers. The language of Paul is extraordinary, considering the fact that he was talking of a pagan power, erratic and not infrequently ruthless in the administration of justice. In the thirteenth chapter of Romans, Paul defines the appropriate role of government in maintaining moral conduct, and dispensing justice in the breach of that conduct.

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: for he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are Godís ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. Romans 13:1Ė7

Reviewing the above counsel, we observe the following scriptural principles in relation to the Christianís responsibilities to government:

1) Christians have a responsibility to be subject to the powers in rulership, even when they are not motivated by Christian ideals or principles.

2) Rulers are ordained of God.

3) If Christians resist the authority of the rulers, they in effect are resisting God.

4) Resisting the rulership of earthly powers will lead to damnation.

5) When a Christian does evil, he should rightly fear the civil powers.

6) Tribute (tax) is due to the governmental authorities. Such scriptural testimony indicates that those Christians who have felt compelled to refuse to return tax to the government are out of step with the testimony of Scripture, as are those who take a decidedly anti-government approach. Rather, the role of a faithful Christian is to help government reflect the best values for the maintenance of a secure, but free society.

 

The Limits of Governmental Authority

We might well ask, Are there any limits to government legislation and authority in matters related to the Ten Commandments? No human institution has absolute rights. The response of Peter and the apostles to the Jewish leaders, when commanded to cease preaching in the name of Jesus, was uncompromising.

Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. Acts 5:29

As stated in chapter 14 entitled "The Ten Commandments and Civil Law," rarely have modern-day Christians made the appropriate distinction in terms of the Ten Commandments. We emphasize the thought that the Ten Commandments are divided into two sections. The first four Commandments deal with manís relationship and responsibility to God, and the last six with manís relationship to his fellow humans. We have asserted that government has every right to legislate fair and just laws in relationship to the last six Commandments, but has no right to legislate in the sacred relationship of man to his God.

The framers of the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights made no mistake upon this issue. They thoroughly protected citizens against the intrusion of legislation against their right to worship according to the dictates of their consciences. They also did everything they could to limit the power of government to develop autocracy. However, the Constitution in no wise limited the role of government in crafting safe laws for the security of its citizens. Here is the great divide. It is our responsibility to convince those fellow Christians, determined to encourage and pressure the government to frame laws that will address the moral issues of today, to define clearly between those areas that reflect the inter-relationship of human beings from those areas addressing manís relationship with God. On the other hand, it is important to convince other Christians that within the parameters of the last six Commandments, Christians do have a right, indeed a responsibility, to influence the moral laws of the land.

There are many examples in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries where Christians actively united to fight a moral evil. Christians in the United States were in the vanguard of the battle to outlaw permissive abortion in the 1860s and 1870s. So successful was their crusade, that national legislation was enacted against permissive abortion, that formed the foundation of law for the next 100 years, until such laws were voided by the Supreme Court decision in 1973, Rowe v. Wade.

Another classical example was the fight against alcohol. The temperance theme became a banner held high by many Christians. It was Christians who spearheaded the prohibition movement. The Womenís Christian Temperance Union fought relentlessly on this issue for many decades, exposing the devastating impact of alcohol upon family life and societal stability. Theirs was a noble work. Ironically, it is likely that most Christians today would vigorously oppose prohibition, yet alcohol consumption still leads to the greatest family and societal problems of the age. As a medical student at secular Sydney University thirty-five years ago, Russell was taught that alcohol causes more crimes of violence, marital disharmony, mental deterioration, and psychological illness, than heroin, morphine, barbiturates, amphetamine, cocaine, and all other drugs combined. So much attention has been placed upon illegal drugs, that the dangers of alcohol often are almost ignored.

The present day assault on legal drugs is focused upon tobacco. Certainly nicotine is a pernicious drug, and all laws enacted against its production, manufacture, and use, are worthy of support. But its effect upon family life, social relationships, work productivity, and crime rates, pales into insignificance when measured with the baleful consequence of alcohol in all its forms.

The Christian and Political Activism

The proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ must ever be the first and foremost objective of every faithful Christian. This is the commission of Jesus. Nothing else can supersede this goal.

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Matthew 28:19

This gospel will reach every human being before the return of Jesus Christ.

And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. Matthew 24:14

This gospel of salvation includes the forgiveness of God, which brings justification,

Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. Romans 5:9

Important as salvation is, it is essential that we acknowledge that the gospel commission also includes Godís call to sanctification, which is holiness of character.

But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth. 2 Thessalonians 2:13

This call provides the reason why, frequently, justification and sanctification are married together in the gospel statements. Below are cited just two examples.

Paul reported Jesus as stating,

To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins [justification], and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. Acts 26:18

Paul also wrote,

For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh [justification]: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit [sanctification]. Romans 8:3, 4

Indeed, the Lordís prayer joins together both justification and sanctification.

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors [justification]. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil [sanctification]: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Matthew 6:12, 13

It is within the principle of sanctification, which is often ignored by modern-day Christians, that our answer must be evaluated. Faithful Christians must not only work to bring men and women to forgiveness, but also to restoration and the power of the Holy Spirit. This is first and foremost the work of teaching and example. But this does not exclude the political process. It is understandable that many Christians see the danger in party politics, in fierce loyalty to a partyís platform, and therefore avoid either joining a political party, or voting along political lines. We, ourselves, would never join or promote a political party. We believe that no political party fully promotes godly interests, so the gospel commission would be weakened by aligning ourselves to worldly minded political parties. However, Christians do have a responsibility to vote on moral issues. How far they intrude into the political process is a matter of judgment. Yet, it is within the Christian responsibility to do all that is possible to help in these troublous times. Surely government has a responsibility to do all in its power to protect children and youth from the perils of gangs terrorizing communities, from pornography and other evils that truly destroy the moral fiber of young people. Many live in drug-infested societies in which it has become almost impossible for drug users to respond to the gospel.

The governmentís responsibility is not to dictate religion. However, it has a responsibility to provide an environment that does not destroy the capacity of children and youth to choose the way of righteousness. Christians concerned for the salvation of all souls have a responsibility to both encourage and uphold governments in this vital role. Neither is it wrong for Christians to band together for a common cause as they did in the temperance movement of the last century and early this century.

One principle worthy of adoption is the practice that the Christian should vote in each referendum or for each proposition which presents clear options on moral issues. A Christian would, however, be well advised to refrain from aligning himself with a political party even if it professed some moral issue of merit, since virtually all political parties promote a decidedly mixed agenda, in order to appeal to the unconverted as well as the converted, and to please the money sources for their political campaigns. While many argue that it is essential for them to join a party so that they may thus influence the political agenda from within, they will soon discover that they are surrounded by individuals of self-serving influence and unholy ambition. Some are ruthless in their pursuit of their own political preferment, or the promotion of political platforms which will benefit, not the good of mankind, but their own financial goals. A Christian has no business using his God-given talents of time and speech to promote such a conglomeration of self interest. He is a servant of God, and it is the Lordís work which must occupy his endeavors. We must ever keep in mind the fact that no political party will ever solve the problems of society. Only the Second Coming of our Lord will achieve that aim, and it is the hastening of that great day which merits the use of our energies and time.

Mistakes of the Past

We must learn from the mistakes of the past. There is evidence that the politically active Christians of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries also failed to define clearly between their role in the issues relevant to the obligations to God, and the obligations to man. For example, the Womenís Christian Temperance Union, which did such a mighty work on behalf of families and society, became embroiled in the proposed Sunday legislation of the 1890s, which led to the jailing of some citizens for working on Sunday. Such a law, regarding manís relationship to God, falls entirely outside the prerogative of government, for it is a matter of personal conscience. It violates the convictions of Jews, Sabbath-keeping Christians, and Moslems, and the choices of those who do not espouse any religion.

It is of no little significance that Paul in his definition of the responsibility of Christians to government actually quoted the last five Commandments, but referred to none of the first four.

For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Romans 13:9.

The highest moral battle is for the preservation of religious liberty, which, while not supporting libertarian and laissez faire concepts, does permit each individual, within the framework of othersí freedom, to worship according to the dictates of conscience. It would seem that there is cause for concern regarding the Christian Coalition, which does not yet appear to have forged the clear line of demarcation between laws relating to the protection of life, property, and integrity, and laws that fail to respect the sacred choices regarding religious life and practices. Now is the time to do so, for often it is too late once momentum has been generated for harmful legislation.

It must never be forgotten that biblical prophecy clearly states that we are nearing a time when religious coercion will be thrust upon the world. It is our responsibility to educate those Christian activists in the political arena to divide asunder the two areas of moral obligation. Government, too, must be educated upon this theme, and perceptive, dedicated Christians have a responsibility so to do.

Just as there is concern for those Christians who will tend to move the moral agenda into the first four Commandments, so there is a concern for those Christians who believe they have no responsibility to cast their vote or to use their influence upon government for the establishment of just and moral laws. There is no basis in Scripture to justify the claims that government has no right to legislate morality, nor can we support those who refuse to render taxes to the chosen government. If Christ and Paul could call for Christians to render taxes to the totalitarian government of their days, there is no case for Christians to take a stand against taxation in the environment of today. Christians surely must set the standard in responsible citizenship.

Those Christians who oppose the government enacting laws related to protecting the moral fiber of society and securing the citizens of the nation, need to be careful lest they be categorized with the anarchists and libertarians. Christians do have a responsibility to proclaim by voice, pen, and vote, the great principles of human morality. There is a God-given responsibility, not only to seek the best for earthly society, but to know, believe, live, and proclaim the matchless love of God.

The political process has no vehicle for the transformation of the heart. At the best, it can provide a stable environment that aims to protect its citizens against anarchy, chaos, and mayhem. In its rightful sphere, every Christian should be supportive and active in seeking to promote the best principles of society. But always this will be subservient to the higher goal of leading men and women to Christ and to His salvation.

 

 


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