Speculative Politics 2: Perspectives From Marc Schooley
(Author Marc Schooley explains why he believes the Church has over-entangled itself in politics. Yet he agrees much with his fellow Marcher Lord Press author Kerry Nietz’s perspective about how stories and authors touch on politics.)
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, not nations of all disciples…
Many Christians live in America, but America is not a Christian nation. I know this theologically: Old Testament Israel was the only theocracy instituted by God, and Christ declared that his kingdom was not of this world. Nevertheless, all one need do is glance in the direction of the historical evidence to know this.
A Christian nation — assuming there could be one, for argument — does not found itself upon continental-scale genocide of indigenous peoples, indulge itself in slavery, expand its territory through conquest, fling its armies to the four corners of the earth, abort fifty million unborn, stockpile enough nuclear weapons to kill everyone on the planet, spend trillions more than it can pay, consume twenty-five percent of the world’s resources while half the world starves, or wantonly desecrate the environment.
More could be added, but consider our culture. Can we really be said to be a Christian nation based on what we produce for movies, music, TV, and comedy? Is the philosophy we produce Christian? Our universities?
(Don’t yell at me … I realize that America has good things about it as well. For instance, Texas.)
It is the Christian church that has largely promulgated Christian Nation Mythology. I have spent a good portion of my word count thus far criticizing it, because it is this myth that has enticed vast portions of the church to entangle itself in politics under the false premise that thereby the church may legislate America into virtue. Immeasurable resources have been donated by Christians to this cause: immense stores of time, talent, and treasure.
Take a look around … it has not worked. Nor shall it, for the church does not belong in the political realm. Instead, the church should return to its mission: the worship of God, the proclamation of the gospel, the teaching and preaching of the Word, the training of disciples, administration of sacraments, and care for the poor, widowed, orphaned, the alien, and all those in need.
Moreover, it seems to me that the apostle Paul clearly teaches that all authorities have been established by God:
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.
A vote has secondary causal power, but it will not override the sovereign will of God in choice of leadership and authority.
Of course, this makes sense … just think of the schizophrenia involved with half the church praying for Obama’s election and the other half praying for Romney. In the case of Christians, what voting most accomplishes is division, discord, strife, and distraction within the body of Christ. We have better things do to, especially in light of Paul’s insistence that our citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20).
But, the argument goes, the church’s abdication of politics will lead to a debased society. I argue, instead, that we’re already there, and the church’s entanglement in politics is a significant cause, as its forfeits its moral voice.
Secondly, there’s a warning: if the church loses political power, it will be persecuted. However, Paul in Romans 13 goes on to say that we ought have no fear of the authorities that God has instituted:
For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good.
Romans 13: 3-4
It’s a matter of faith; the church should leave the politics to God — after all, He knows better, right? — and return to its mission. Is it just possible that one reason we are in the fix we’re in is this very reason? That the church is entangled in politics, rather than its true mission? That appears to be what Paul says: Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
I’m not your Holy Spirit, and I won’t presume to determine your conscience for you. Nevertheless, it seems to me Scripture is clear on this issue, and on a personal note, I have not voted this century, and have never felt better spiritually or accomplished more with my faith. I encourage the reader to try it out … no better time than now, with the looming election.
Politics in speculative stories?
I agree with Kerry. Politics are an element of any fiction world-creation. Are there possible worlds that do not contain politics? Yes, but very few are likely to make a good story. Try pitching a premise where everyone’s perfect, or there are no people. Michener can get away with chapters about rocks and the land before people, but I wouldn’t recommend the aspiring author to try it right off. 🙂 Anarchist stories come the closest, perhaps, but even there politics arise in a rash, barbaric, or sort of proto-political sense. (For what it’s worth, I’m currently studying anarcho-syndicalist communes. 🙂 )
So, yes, I concur with Kerry in keeping the author’s personal politics out of the story, as a general rule. I say general rule, because some of my favorite novels are undeniably one big authorial political intrusion. For instance, I dearly love Animal Farm. But, as Kerry indicates, nothing kills story faster than authorial intrusion of political views … unless the reader agrees with it! Ayn Rand and Alan Drury (not saying these are favorites of mine) seemed to do well, as does Stephen King, among others.
Frankly, I’m just not that deeply versed with Christian fiction to speak authoritatively on it, but I will die with the words A Star Curiously Singing is a fabulous book on my lips, and it’s plenty political. I’m not even sure I agree with its politics — maybe I do, maybe I don’t — but it makes me think. Along with a great story, that’s a winner.
Nonetheless, I suspect that the Left Behind series is highly politicized. Though I’ve not read it, what I do know about it suggests to me that it would be impossible to write without certain political views, envisioned as forthcoming political realities extant within our (and the world’s) system today. I fail to see how this is a problem. It is important to note that a highly controversial eschatology is required as well, and Left Behind eschatology seems inextricable from political views inherent to the series’ plot. Based on its sales and reception, I can only conclude that its authors made the correct choice to write it. 🙂
Refraining from inserting my personal political views — yes, as a human (yes, I’m human, I think), I have them — in my own novels is fairly easy, since I preach an apolitical stance for the church. As far as I’m aware, I’ve never, nor shall I intentionally, advocate any position along the political spectrum.1 What you will detect in my stories is the struggle by the kingdom of man to assert itself in defiance against the kingdom of God, roughly equivalent to the thought set forth by Augustine in De Civitate Dei, or that of the Garden of Eden, Tower of Babel, Romans 1, and all points between and after, which is yet another data point that argues for the church to divorce itself from like behavior.
Roughly, this translates to my fiction as follows. It can be seen in König’s Fire as Hayner — the villain — defiant in the face of the judgment of God: “This is the day of men. Hold fast meine Brüder!”… The kingdom of men had refused the final offer of harmony from nature. Or, poignantly, I hope, in Charles Graves’s struggle to make sense of his sudden conversion in The Dark Man.
Ironically, now that E. Stephen Burnett’s insightful and probing questions goad me, Charles’s father is a U.S. Senator, whose Ill-fated compromise of spirituality and politics has disastrous effects for his entire family. This theme undergirds The Night Riders (July 2013 from Marcher Lord Press), in which a cast of cowboy vigilantes attempt to right wrongs in the name of God through less than godly means. There just seems to be an unquenchable lust of humanity to either set ourselves up as God, or oppose evil in a manner other than God has instructed us. Rare are those who walk through the world as Christ: surrounded by evil, accosted by it, but only about his Father’s business.
Notably, Christ is the only one of us who has the ultimate power to do something about it, and apparently, he thought the will of the Father more important. Every ill that we face and assault politically was there at the time of Christ. After all, they wanted him to be a political messiah.
Politics in an author’s profile?
I hope I have Kerry’s heart on this. Respect. No shouting. No buffoon name-calling! I could not agree more; as always, “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1).
I should be good to go on this one. As far as I can see, no one knows my political views publically, nor shall I make them known, except to suggest quietly that I suspect none of us has all the right answers, at least not in any of the standard political ideologies. To the best of my knowledge, I do not recall advocating for or against political positions, politically. Moral positions, as Kerry rightly insists, are another thing altogether.
However, with regard to the church, for better or for worse, I’m on record publically, exhorting the church to disentangle itself from politics.
Is this a bad or ill-conceived path for an author to walk? Perhaps. But I do it for love of the church and the gospel, despite the personal or authorial repercussions, if any. The cynic may here choose to call me a martyr, or fool, or misguided, or attention seeking … well, okay, so be it. But nearly every Christian author I know of takes stands such as these as they see fit. This is simply one of many—one that in my judgment is one of two or three issues that threatens the church more than any other foe, inside or outside its walls.
Feel free to educate me out of this madness. 🙂
Or, perhaps, join your voice with mine … I’m just getting started in this and I’d love to have your support.
At any rate, a hearty thanks to E. Stephen Burnett for this opportunity. I look forward to a healthy and Christ like discussion. Ain’t it just like us to mix religion and politics!
Soli Deo Gloria
- Please understand this is not equivalent to saying I will never criticize a moral issue. It is the church’s and our duty to clearly proclaim right and wrong. ↩
My gut reaction:
The church should disengage from politics.
Christians should remain active.
I realize that’s an incredibly fine line to walk, but I’d like to offer it as a discussion point.
That’s what I was thinking, too.
I see no reason, for example, why a Christian shouldn’t vote. But the church should not be telling Christians who to vote for.
Thanks, Kirsty, for moving Galadriel’s discussion forward a bit. Let me see if I can move it up some more.
It’s important to see that having no reason that a Christian shouldn’t vote does give us a reason that we should. At best, it leaves us in a neutral stance toward the proposition. However, since there is good Scriptural data–I’ve shared some above–that the church should avoid politics, it appears clear to me that, prima facie, at least, in the absence of good reason(s) to vote, we ought not. So, the pro-vote side owes us a reason, I think. 🙂
Because we have to live in this world, and we have to function within our society. I don’t think democracy is as sacred as the modern consensus holds, but like it or not, something like democracy is what we have.
Because we have democracy, voting could be seen as any other public action, like going to work, getting a driver’s license, or even going to a movie theater. Or reading a novel, or writing a novel. How far removed from “the world” do we have to be? If we shouldn’t vote, what else shouldn’t we do? On the contrary, I think the burden of proof is on the part of the person saying that we shouldn’t vote, rather than on the person who says that we should, because voting is a normal part of our society, and we are called to be faithful in our lives.
If what you are condemning is the tendency to mindlessly vote for the big-name candidate that media portrays as the one that all the Christians and the Conservatives and the Moralists are all excited about, then I agree with the condemnation. It would be wrong to vote for Mitt Romney because he’s against abortion, and Pastor says we need to vote against abortion. In my opinion, the responsible and right thing to do is to spend a little time researching every candidate, taking nothing for granted, giving equal consideration to the 3rd-party candidates ignored by the media, even though they have absolutely no chance of winning. After honestly evaluating every candidate with consideration given to the possibility of voting, I can understand deciding not to vote at all. I feel a responsibility to at least evaluate, though.
“If what you are condemning”
I’d like to pause here and reinforce that I’m not in the condemnation business….not that I read that into your words, either. You’re a good sort from what I’ve seen on here, Baines, and I thank you for the conversation. You’re affording me–along with everyone else here, especially ESB–a gracious opportunity to express an unpopular view…and no one is calling me names. Much appreciated…
“Because we have to live in this world, and we have to function within our society”
If it helps, I’m living and functioning just fine in this world. But function is a good word, so I’m glad you invoked it. Ultimately, what I’m going to argue is that the church, and individual Christians, will function much more effectively in the world if they disentangle themselves from politics. It’s difficult to provide a genuine and effective voice when you’re one of the gang, so to speak.
“How far removed from “the world” do we have to be?”
Close enough so that you can be heard, but far enough that you’re distinct.
“If we shouldn’t vote, what else shouldn’t we do?”
How about not erecting stumbling blocks? I can speak and live peaceably with any group in this country because they know I’m apolitical. (perhaps certain groups of evangelicals may be the only exception 🙂
“I think the burden of proof is on the part of the person saying that we shouldn’t vote, rather than on the person who says that we should”
It’s on both, in this case (two positive claims), unless someone claims not to know. So, I still think a positive case for Christian voting is owed, especially from Scripture.
Your instincts are excellent. I’m professedly not anyone’s Holy Spirit, and I won’t presume to determine the dictates of any christian’s conscience. It’s a fine line, no doubt; if the 11th commandment were “thou shalt not involve yourself in politics,” we wouldn’t be having this conversation. I only know what I think are the deliverances of Scripture with regard to this subject and the demonstrated, historical natural and logical consequences of political involvement. I’d like to see the conversation you mention unfold as well…
Church involvement in politics seems roughly comparable to church involvement in culture. The church may try to influence culture by criticizing works of entertainment or literature that it think are evil, and the church may likewise criticize legislation that it thinks is evil.
I’m not personally ready to say that church should never have a voice in anything of the world, and I think that if the church can never say anything about politics, then it probably can’t say much about culture or anything else, either. I know that Christian critics make fools of themselves and of our faith more often then not, but I’m not sure if that means that we should never criticize anything.
Granted, it’s certainly true that whenever the church has tried to dictate politics, the church becomes corrupt and worldly. I think one of the things we have learned as American Christians is that the church is too holy to be sullied with government. The idea of separation of church and state was original a Christian concept, I think, a Separatist Puritan one. I feel that this concept is strongly ingrained in American culture, even American Christian culture. I don’t think we have too much of a problem with the church trying to take over government.
“I’m not personally ready to say that church should never have a voice in anything of the world, and I think that if the church can never say anything about politics, then it probably can’t say much about culture or anything else, either. ”
This is a good distinction, and if I didn’t make myself clear, thanks for the note. Yes, of course the church should speak up about all moral issues. What I’m suggesting is that the church–and parachurch Christian organizations–should not be involved directly in politics: registering voters and telling them how to vote, funding political campaigns, organizing rallies and demonstrations, having candidates speak in the pulpit, distributing political literature, funding lawyers to fight legislation in the courts, and preachers abandoning the call to preach and saying things like “God is going to raise up a Christian army to vote me in as President.” Stuff like that and more.
“Granted, it’s certainly true that whenever the church has tried to dictate politics, the church becomes corrupt and worldly. I think one of the things we have learned as American Christians is that the church is too holy to be sullied with government.”
Thank you for the first sentence…much appreciated. With regard to the second, may I ask what state you live in? In Texas, this is certainly not the case. Maybe I’m on more of a geographical rant? 🙂
New York. And I’m nowhere near the city. 😉
The issue raised by Romans 13 has been a tough one for me. It’s hard not to conclude that our American Revolution was evil, at least by the way the passage is often applied, but a lot of the Patriots were Christians who believed that the British Empire had usurped the authority of God. (At least, that’s rough and probably ignorant understanding.)
Do you think the church has ever been or could ever be right to support a social reform movement or a revolution?
I think there are times when the Church should support social reform/revolution, especially in cases where Christians specifically are being persecuted, or on issues like abolishing slavery or abortion, where the Church (in my opinion) has a clearer view of the issues at stake than the secular portion of society. For the Church as a whole to take a stance, I think the issue would have to broad, and not terribly open for a right or wrong debate.
I think individual Christians can be right in supporting much more local social reforms/ revolutions. Yes, God has ultimate control over who is in authority. So in light of the American Revolution, King George was in authority. But it could it not be also argued that God chose George Washington as an authority?
I guess I tend to take Romans 13 as a caution (don’t plot revolutions lightly 🙂 ) and as a comfort (God has ultimate control over what happens in government; whatever occurs in this election cycle is ultimately part of His plan), but not as an edict to follow authority that is wrong.
For me, if there is a conflict between following God, and following earthly authority, I know which I would choose. If we’re to “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s” the question becomes determining what is Caesars.
I’ll approach by way of analogy. John the Baptist’s approach seems right to me, providing a clear moral voice toward Herod, without direct political activity, as far as I can tell. The Sanhedrin, conversely, was a fomentive political body, though religious at core. The general tenor of Scripture seems to indicate they would have embraced Christ had he been a political messiah. In my view, one’s right, the other’s wrong.
Or, take a more modern example…there were plenty of abolitionist preachers who spoke against slavery as a moral abomination without becoming involved politically. But take John Brown for an extreme example: clearly the wrong approach, I think. The salient question for me–outside of the Scriptural data–is how successful a Wilberforce or a Lincoln could have been without a sizeable segment of the populace and political leadership whose hearts weren’t already inclined toward what is right. That seems to me to be the area where the church can work effectively and work appropriately.
At bottom, what I would argue is that the best, and only proper way, for the church to support or effect societal change is to change hearts and minds with the Word. It’s an offshoot or good consequence to the church’s mission, and what we’re lacking somewhat today, I think. The culture is in the john, and we’re trying to flush it with legislation, so to speak. As for revolutions, I’m pretty sure we should leave those to kings, though I freely admit that Washington turned out a bit more pleasant than Robespierre. Make of that what you will. 🙂
Beautiful state, NY. Loved the time I’ve spent there…the city as well. Thanks for the data…keeping tabs on it.
Well, as far as geography goes, the case of too much church involvement in the government certainly isn’t an issue here in Illinois (even nowhere near Chicago!), as you can probably imagine, a little more moral compass in our politicians would be appreciated.
If you’d like to send some Texans this way, it would be appreciated! 🙂 (Ron Paul, maybe?)
Ha! Lauren, if you just knew how rare that comment is! I usually have to duck when acknowledging my Texan-ness. Gave me a smile…
Ron Paul is retiring, I believe, but as it turns out, I met his likely successor last Friday. Thanks for the second geographical data point. Could be a trend developing 🙂
For me, my faith is central part of my identity, and I can’t distance that from my involvement in the secular world, including politics.
So I definitely believe that there is a place for the Christian in politics. However, as you say, America is not a Christian (in a legal sense) nation. (I do take slight issue with the examples you provided, as being Christian does not preclude errors, and Israel did not live up to the standard you prescribe, either.) If we were going to be a Christian nation, we would have settle on a certain “brand” of Christianity, and as I understand it, that is something the founding fathers did not want to see happen. We are not a Christian nation, in the sense that we are not a Baptist nation, or a Lutheran nation. But we are a “Christian nation” in the sense that we accept some of the broader notions of Christianity — that human life is sacred, that justice must be done, etc.
I agree with Galadriel, there is a fine line between what the Church should do and what the individual Christian can do. I think another line the Christian needs to consider is what belongs in the sphere of government (legislation) and what should be left to individual choice (Christian influence). When is it the place of government to step in, and when should we, as Christians, merely show the way and share the gospel? When is it personal, and when should it be law?
My personal gut reaction is that we need to keep government as small and uninvolved as we can. While the it may not always be the best choice for churches to get involved in backing candidates or funding legislation, I feel it is important that they retain the right to do so.
“For me, my faith is central part of my identity, and I can’t distance that from my involvement in the secular world, including politics.”
I understand, but I will just comment briefly and say my faith is central to me as well, but my experience has turned out quite differently. I’m involved in the secular world, but have isolated my faith from politics, and it’s made all the difference for me. Ironically, Kerry has pointed out to me that I’m still involved in politics through my criticism of it! 🙂 But, just keep an open mind to it as you go along. I’m certainly not here drawing judgments on disputable matters or presuming to be your Holy Spirit. With that in mind, thank you (and thank everyone here) for your charitable responses in the midst of this deeply personal and contentious subject.
” (I do take slight issue with the examples you provided, as being Christian does not preclude errors, and Israel did not live up to the standard you prescribe, either.) ”
Fair enough, you’re more than welcome to take non-slight issues. 🙂 I’m not sure I would characterize continental genocide as a mere error, and it seems to me that Israel was sent into exile for their dalliance with kings. Maybe there’s a correlation to our present predicament?
” But we are a “Christian nation” in the sense that we accept some of the broader notions of Christianity — that human life is sacred, that justice must be done, etc.”
Yes, we have a Judeo-Christian heritage, just as all the West does (for now, anyway), and several extra-western cultures have shared some of the broader notions of Christianity. But, it seems to me that our founding documents clearly intimate that “some” human life is sacred; others were sacred on a one-third ratio of human-ness, for instance. Others were merely savages in the way of a Manifest Destiny. Justice has always been common for the franchised, no matter the culture. Same here, I’d argue. What I’d say is that we’re reading back into our heritage values that we (some of us–it’s true that 40% of the country does not see human life as sacred in the way some of us do) share as a mythologized path to politicization. (NOTE: I’m certainly not accusing anyone here of this!) It’s what societal blocs have always done in various ways as a matter of cohesion.
Recall, for a moment that within my lifetime we had segregated schools in my hometown and segregated facilities. I don’t know…the Christian nation myth just rings hollow for so many.
” When is it personal, and when should it be law?”
Thank you for raising the question. I won’t pretend to make up your mind for you. 🙂
” My personal gut reaction is that we need to keep government as small and uninvolved as we can. While the it may not always be the best choice for churches to get involved in backing candidates or funding legislation, I feel it is important that they retain the right to do so.”
Yes, ma’am…I respect your opinion. But it seems to me, this battle is lost. What now?
Thanks for the good spirit, Lauren…
Thanks for replying to my comment!
Oh, I agree that the US has not always followed the principles that we claim to have. And I agree that our founding documents weren’t perfect. I also agree with the idea that the Church as an institution should not allow politics to take precedence over the salvation message, and we need to be very careful about allowing politics to divide the church.
Part of what I was reacting to in my post was the conception that many of my college professors (and even other students) have that religious convictions ought to be completely separate from any political action. I can’t make those divisions myself. My faith is bound to determine how I think and act, including in the political spectrum. And as a minor in Political Studies, I get into these fights a lot. Sorry if I came off as rude or defensive.
As far as the “What now?” goes, I guess at 21 I’m still an idealist. I like to believe that we can at least get the government onto a track to slowly shrink it’s influence/intrusion. Maybe not.
“I can’t make those divisions myself. My faith is bound to determine how I think and act, including in the political spectrum. And as a minor in Political Studies, I get into these fights a lot. Sorry if I came off as rude or defensive.”
If it’s any consolation, none of us can make those divisions, and that includes your college professors and fellow students. 🙂 I can just imagine how that environment must be for you! I once received not just an F, but an *F minus* for infusing a political paper with my faith, and when the prof offered to let me re-write it, I declined 🙂 I know exactly what you must be confronted with, so God bless you in your studies and don’t let anyone bully you out of your faith.
Far from rude and defensive…I’m enjoying this quite a bit. 21…glad to see there are still young folk out there with some sense. Your “what now” is a good cultural marker for you. Be sure to revisit it at 31 and 41…
But kings are humans, and humans make decisions based on their ultimate beliefs. What if the king is a Christian? But I think a better question is, what if you were the king? What if this country were not a democracy, but a monarchy, and you were born as the Crown Prince? You would then be both destined and duty-bound to participate in politics, and that duty does not go away when you profess faith in Christ. As a Christian king, you would have to be involved in politics.
We don’t have a monarchy. Instead of kings, for us, there is “We the People.” Maybe we would be better off with a less progressivist political system, but because we have democracy, the fact is that we are all essentially born with the duty to keep an eye on our government.
That’s surely true. We haven’t lived up to the idealism of our founding documents. But that doesn’t change the universality of the ideas expressed in those documents. Our Fathers said that all men were created equally, and more importantly, that the source of all human right and dignity is God. Those are powerful truths, and they don’t change just because we have failed. Christians who participated in politics helped to set that lofty ideological standard. The standard may be too high to reach, but so is God’s perfect and holy Law.
Also, the framers of our government knew that we would fail, that the government would be corrupt. The government is made of people, and all people are sinful and failable. Christians fail just as much as everyone else, but I think God’s grace can help Christians make a positive impact by participating in politics.
Love that post Bainespal! That’s exactly what I was trying to express, but you phrased so much more clearly.
I know that as Christians we were called to be “in the world and not of it” and I think that participating in politics (as long as we don’t allow it tempt/corrupt us) is a part of “being in the world”, while retaining higher principles/faith would be part of not being “of” the world.
It’s confusing, and even feels conflicting sometimes, but don’t feel that as Christians we should simply abandon the world (and our nation) to it’s own devices.
“What if this country were not a democracy, but a monarchy, and you were born as the Crown Prince? You would then be both destined and duty-bound to participate in politics, and that duty does not go away when you profess faith in Christ. As a Christian king, you would have to be involved in politics.”
That’s a good point, Baines…my compliments. Given these conditions, it seems to me that such a king would have been established by God, for as Romans 13 states, all authorities are established by God. That still leaves us with no scriptural or reasoned warrant to drag the church into politics along with such a king, and with—in my view—plenty of scriptural reasons not to. Moreover, it’s nowhere remotely in the vicinity of a Christian actively seeking political office. Perhaps Daniel and Joseph are good examples to your point, or even Esther now that I think about it. At any rate, back to the other 99.9999999999% of the population.
“the fact is that we are all essentially born with the duty to keep an eye on our government.”
I don’t see that this is an established fact at all. It is ironic to me, though, in the sense that the American church has completely abandoned an eye upon church government, which is the type of government it is clearly mandated to in Scripture.
“We haven’t lived up to the idealism of our founding documents. But that doesn’t change the universality of the ideas expressed in those documents. Our Fathers said that all men were created equally”
My point was that those ideas were not expressed in those documents to the extent we mythologize them. What our fathers said, and lived, was that all white/western European, land-owning (or some variant thereof) men were created equal. The documents further make no claim that women were equal. Here’s a snippet from the U.S. constitution that demonstrates this:
(Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.)
Ask any non-white, non-franchised male about the universality of this founding document. Other documents are no better. Try these from the TX declaration and constitution, respectively:
It has, through its emissaries, incited the merciless savage, with the tomahawk and scalping knife, to massacre the inhabitants of our defenseless frontiers.
SEC. 7. The Senators shall be chosen by districts, as nearly equal in free population (free negroes and Indians excepted,) as practicable; and the number of Senators shall never be less than one third nor more than one half the number of Representatives, and each district shall be entitled to one member and no more.
Clearly, we improved our founding documents much later, but the question remains: why does the church keep pointing back to these as evidence of its goodness in political activity? And, more pointedly, why would we want to sign the church—and ourselves—on to current political documents and activities that will look just as heinous to future generations? (Why they don’t seem that way to us now is another question)
I argue simply that we shouldn’t; the church should provide the moral voice of any nation, not it’s legislative, executive, judicial, monarchial, dictatorial, or any other political voice. The distressing thing is, when the church entangles itself in the latter, it loses all credibility for the former.
“why does the church keep pointing back to these as evidence of its goodness in political activity?”
I see this all the time among American Christian homeschoolers, where Dominionism and Reconstructionism are major (though obviously not universal) theological problems. Here in Canada, as in the USA, we got around the “Our Fathers said that all men were created equally” by simply declaring some people not to be persons. Our founding documents bluntly lumped the coloured, the insane, and women into the category of legal non-persons.
I believe you folks brought that into your thinking from Jolly Olde England (and Europe in general), not the Bible, same as we did. What an important distinction, since there was a recent time when another Empire and its colonial ambitions considered itself God’s answer to the heathen world. That played out disastrously on the Canadian frontier, so I have an extra dose of skepticism for the whole idea that any nation can successfully intervene to guide the world from a righteous moral stance.
From the non-American perspective, the concern is this: Villains always believe they have the moral high ground, justifying all means to their ends; and politicized religion/spiritualized politics tend to assume an absolute moral stance. We smaller nations look around the world stage and frame our hopes in terms of lesser evils, not greater goods.
Well said, CD…and that’s why we always get the glorious Villain’s monologue in fiction and movies! 🙂
…And televised debates. ‘Struth, MS, our politicians monologue too. 😀
“And, more pointedly, why would we want to sign the church—and ourselves—on to current political documents and activities that will look just as heinous to future generations?”
I’ll attempt to answer this question. I don’t think anyone here is suggesting that the Church (as an institution) ought to be more than a moral voice of the nation, as you say. As to why we would want to involve ourselves in current politics that the future generations may find “heinous”, I wonder what, specifically you are referring to?
That aside, with the kind of moral relativism we’re seeing in this country, I’m not convinced that just because future generations think we were wrong, that means our actions were heinous. We can’t know what the future will think of us. We have to act as we believe (based on Bible study and prayer) that we must. No one can be perfect, and we all make mistakes.
You say that the Church, and Christians, by extension, ought to be only the “moral voice of the nation” and not act in any other role. But I would argue that there can come a time when being the “moral voice” is not enough, and some action on the part of Christians and the Church is required. (I could use abortion as an example of this.)
” I don’t think anyone here is suggesting that the Church (as an institution) ought to be more than a moral voice of the nation, as you say. ”
I concur, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised on that note…
“I wonder what, specifically you are referring to? ”
Well, you mentioned abortion as an example. The Christian church is certainly complicit in those politics from the left, correct? If I vote for a candidate, I lend my support to their entire platform. And that’s just what we know about our pols and what they do! There is no shortage of similar examples on the right as well…citations available upon request.
“That aside, with the kind of moral relativism we’re seeing in this country, I’m not convinced that just because future generations think we were wrong, that means our actions were heinous.”
I can’t agree strongly enough with this. However, it doesn’t mean they will be wrong, either. Just keep in mind that you’re drawing–rightly so–judgments on the past within the very same context of societal relativism you’re criticizing. I can’t help but think there will at minimum be a “Lauren and Baines” around centuries from now to make a sober judgment. 🙂
“But I would argue that there can come a time when being the “moral voice” is not enough, and some action on the part of Christians and the Church is required. (I could use abortion as an example of this.)”
Perfect example. The church–in my view–has lost its moral voice on abortion, precisely *because* of its involvement in politics. Half of it votes for it (even if they don’t believe in it), the other half is caught in the politicization of it through their entanglement in politics. And, of course, pragmatically, the political fight seems settled, as a loss for the Right wing.
What now? I suggest that if the church would withdraw from its political involvement (just think of how many unwanted children could be cared for with all those political donations from the church), it would be far more effective in changing views and hearts, thus reducing the extent of the problem organically. Unless (and I do not think you are), you’re suggesting this rises to the level where the church ought foment a second civil war over an issue like this.
“I’ll attempt to answer this question. ”
BTW- you’ve represented yourself well also. What I said to Baines goes for you too. Thanks…
I’m honored to be able to hold this exchange, sir. I’m a Dark Man fan. 😉 I am both unable and unworthy to compete with your wisdom, but I feel that our disagreement — which I don’t think is ultimately very big — is somewhat significant, and I feel compelled to debate. I hope that I have not been impolite or disrespectful, and I apologize if I’ve gotten a little bit heated.
I believe that the church should not try to control government. I agree with you that the church shouldn’t be directly involved in politics. Maybe even churches’ attempts to indirectly influence their congregations to vote for certain policies is wrong. What I disagree with strongly is the secondary topic about Christians and voting.
Not all citizens have to vote, nor to run for office, and it’s definitely fine for some Christians to abstain from voting altogether. I’ve heard several people preach about every citizen’s civic duty to vote — including from a perfectly secular and general non-religious audience perspective — and I disagree with them. Society doesn’t need everyone to vote, and Christians who don’t believe in voting should not be pressured to do so by other Christians, just as much as pacifist Christians should not be pressured to fight in war.
If God might hypothetically choose to establish a Christian king, might He also establish a Christian voter? A Christian Congressman or a Christian President? We should not try to force God’s will by voting for Christian politicians just because they are Christians — I am not implying that. I’m just saying that just as the hypothetical king might be a Christian, why can’t people in government sometimes be Christians? And since electing officials through various voting processes is part of our government, why can’t the people who vote sometimes be Christians?
I believe that it is a very natural fact, maybe so natural that it doesn’t need to be established. In my thinking, it is almost axiomatic. Only ancient Israel was every directly ruled by God, and even in ancient Israel, the ruining or exalting of the nation was caused by the deeds of humans. The fact is that everything about any government is controlled by humans — normal people.
Even though all humans are fallen sinners, I think we still have a calling to try to make things right when we see evil. Because government is made of normal people — who are inherently sinful but still able to seek God and, by grace, to discern between good and evil — any governmental problem is the people’s problem. If the government is corrupt, it is corrupt because people are corrupt. When the normal mortals who are involved in government — including voters in our system — seek ultimate truth instead of their own ends, all the people benefit. Politics can’t be wholly separated from morality, and morality is connected to “religion,” at least in the sense of humanity seeking ultimate meaning outside of themselves.
This is also where I believe that a rightful authority for the people to overthrow a truly evil government lies. If the normal human people in government are bad people and do severe injustice to other people, then I think those who have an ability to do something to stop the injustice ought to do so. (Certainly, revolution should not be their first choice, but I think even revolution could, on very rare occasions, be warrented.) Let’s say the evil government is randomly ordering unjust executions, a crime that corrupt Church-run governments may have done in the past. In that case, the Rule of Law demands that these murderers be brought to justice, even if what they are doing is perfectly “legal” according to the corrupt laws that they wrote. The Law is a more transcendent principle than human laws. Truly evil governments may not be illegal because they make their own “laws,” but I believe that they are ultimately unlawful.
“I’m honored to be able to hold this exchange, sir. I’m a Dark Man fan. I am both unable and unworthy to compete with your wisdom, but I feel that our disagreement — which I don’t think is ultimately very big — is somewhat significant, and I feel compelled to debate. I hope that I have not been impolite or disrespectful, and I apologize if I’ve gotten a little bit heated.”
First, thank you for the TDM compliment. Much obliged…I received very strong reactions in both directions on that book, and it’s heartwarming to hear your words. BTW-Julia sends her regards…she just lit up strategic lights in two skyscrapers across from Farris’s loft through her laptop magic; one says “Graves lives” and the other says “Cleveland Rocks!”
I feel our disagreement is ultimately small as well, though significant. Nicely put. Let me focus on two parts of it here. Unworthy–not in the least, my friend. We are all members of the same body and God shows no partiality between any of us. Frankly, I’m humbled by your spirit here and encouraged to try and do better myself. Sounds sappy, I know, but I’ll just lay it out there for better or worse.
Unable: not so fast. In my view, and I’m a wily old veteran with lots of miles of debate, you’ve spoken well for yourself here, Baines. I will be more than happy to address your further argumentation if you wish, so as not to leave your work slighted or unattended (your call), but let me pause just to clarify.
The intent–mine anyway–behind this discussion is not to prove oneself correct, demolish other’s arguments, be another’s judge or Holy Spirit, rule the roost, force my conscience on another, etc. My sole purpose for being here is to lay out a case (as I see it) that is often unheard, largely unbelieved, and seldom followed. It now no longer has anything to do with me–as time goes on, anyone who’s read this conversation can meditate on it as they hear sermons, read their Bibles, and watch the news. Time is a worthy foe of the paradigm…
You’ve helped me to achieve that, and now it’s out there where it wasn’t previously. And likewise, I read all the above comments intently for my own benefit. So, a large tip of the Texan Stetson to you, pard. Much obliged. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Well done…
1 Tim 1:15-17
Well, I think I got off topic quite a bit with the whole “rule of law” thing in my lost comment, so I don’t think it’s necessary to continue on that.
Instead, maybe I’ll just to try to restate my argument as briefly and clearly as possible:
The government, although instituted by God, is made up of people. Some people in our culture are Christians, even though it may not be a Christian culture or a Christian nation. Christians are called to be faithful in whatever station they find themselves in their lives. In a democracy, everyone has the potential to be in a station in which they can participate in government to some degree. Therefore, Christians who are politically minded should faithfully and dutifully participate in politics.
I’m 21, so I haven’t voted in a big election before. There is a sense of significance about the idea of voting that I find compelling, but other than that, I also dislike politics. My parents are staunch Republicans, but I refused to register in any party. I’ve been taught that voting is a “sacred” duty; even an American Government teacher in a secular, public community college impressed upon the class the importance of citizens fulfilling their duty to vote. Maybe I just haven’t experienced enough to make me disillusioned with the big American Myth, yet.
I’m glad that Julia’s been finding productive things to do with all her free time, these days. 🙂
We are not not have we ever been a Christian nation in the same sense of Divine fiat creating a modern theocracy, but there was a general sense of the United States being a nation of Christians.
Regardless whether the founders were desists or relatively orthodox Christians, they almost uniformly agreed that without a moral and ethical code derived from Biblical principles, this new republic would fail. I happen to agree.
We cannot change the hearts and minds of men through legislation, but we can, by positively influencing the political realm and our civil magistrates, restrain evil.
That being said, politics are not the normative means of transforming a society. We are to be salt and light in the place God has placed us, making disciples as we go along this narrow path. We have wasted untold wealth and resources speaking about the polling place instead of speaking the Truth in love from the pulpit and the pew.
Hey Luther Wesley,
That’s one of the more interesting names I’ve seen. Real or screen name?
“Regardless whether the founders were desists or relatively orthodox Christians, they almost uniformly agreed that without a moral and ethical code derived from Biblical principles, this new republic would fail. I happen to agree.”
I must have said this a million times in the past, and it’s difficult to let go of even now for me. But, and I’m not accusing you of this, I decided once upon a time to read the primary source documents for myself (copies of them, actually), rather than just the quotes I had been exposed to. What I found was that-as is most always the case-the world is much more complex than I thought it was.
In fact, not only did the founders not uniformly agree on the Bible as a foundation for a moral and ethical code, some of them dismissed it as a foundation. It’s easy to play the quote game on either side, but for me it was good to just spend a little time reading the full writings in their contexts…sort of like studying the Bible. As just one short example, Jefferson seems to me to be an enlightenment thinker, one who thought science and education were indispensable for the new republic not to fail.
“That being said, politics are not the normative means of transforming a society. We are to be salt and light in the place God has placed us, making disciples as we go along this narrow path. We have wasted untold wealth and resources speaking about the polling place instead of speaking the Truth in love from the pulpit and the pew”
Let me apologize up front by saying that I have not read the comments and so may be repeating what others have already stated.
In large part, Marc, I agree with you, except for the fact that I vote.
I vote because I pay taxes. The government takes my money and offers me a small say in how that money will be spent. I think it only right to offer my input in that regard.
I vote because this is a democracy, a government (ostensibly) run by the people for the people. My vote is my contribution to a (hopefully) well-run society.
I vote because I feel a responsibility as one who reaps the benefits of government to do my part in sustaining it.
I vote because, sometimes, my vote might contribute to positive change, or halt a very negative trend. (I shudder to think where we would be now had Christians remained silent on the matter of slavery, for instance. I am inspired by the work of a dedicated Christian man like Wilberforce, who used his role in government to change the opinion and practice of a nation.)
I vote when my conscience permits it. It may not this time around. Which means this may be the first time in my adult life I have not voted (at least for president – I will vote for other matters).
I vote “with my stuff out the window”, meaning, I don’t invest my hope for the future in the outcome.
I vote – and that’s it – mostly. I avoid engagement in other political activities and do not donate to political parties. I don’t want whatever political leanings I have to become barriers between myself (and the Christ I represent) and others. This is especially challenging in times like these when things are politicized that need not be. These days pretty much everything the government touches is fair game for politicization. This means that my support for this or that agency’s work can easily be interpreted as a political stance – which it is not.
All that said, when I added the words (and the Christ I represent) in the above paragraph, I gave myself quite a pause.
I vote because: Romans 13.
No longer do I feel a need to prove the founding fathers were deists, Christians, or whatever. Regardless of their personal beliefs, theirs is the government we live under now, and it happens to have some very good and Biblical-echoing principles.
Paul felt no need to claim the Caesars, or their civic forebears, were Christians. He assured his readers they were nonetheless servants of God’s justice in a fallen world.
“All that said, when I added the words (and the Christ I represent) in the above paragraph, I gave myself quite a pause.”
Thank you, Laurie, and God bless you. (in the interest of full disclosure, Laurie is a fellow author with me and others in a rather interesting quarterly magazine, Scienda Quarterly, edited by CL Dyck, above) That pause you’re talking about is the one I have in mind, here, I think…
Having read and mulled Kerry’s Part 3, Marc, I feel compelled to point something out:
This is not actually an object lesson against personal involvement in governance. It’s an object lesson (and an excellent one) against compromising one’s spirituality for one’s job, peers, or earthly security…an issue which can arise in any vocation or avocation.