God and Government

I am currently engaged in a personal sorting out process concerning the role of the church as it interacts with the American political process. I have never quite been comfortable with what I perceive as the meshing of the two by high powered Christian-oriented political pressure groups. I have never appreciated the subtle pressure to vote a certain way as a test of my faithfulness. More and more I question the idea of America as “God’s country” in that it is essential to the future health and existence of God’s church. 


Now, please do not misunderstand. I am thankful to be a citizen of the United States. I am grateful to all who have paid the price for the freedoms and opportunities we enjoy. This is not a bash the good-ole USA rant. As governments go, ours have served us well. I do believe that America is one of God’s countries, but only as long as we exalt his values (Proverbs 13:24) and his revelation. (Proverbs 29:18) But, as a Christian, how involved should I be in the governmental process? Is voting my Christian duty? Should I be out there on the picket line protesting for “Christian” issues? Is the very future of the church dependent upon the future of America? 


When I look to my religious heritage for answers I find a mixed bag. Some of our earliest restoration fathers viewed America’s birth and growth as ordained by God and put great hope into the American way. Others were not quite as optimistic and one prominent leader, David Lipscomb, believed in absolute non-involvement in the government. His book, Civil Government, influenced generations within the Churches of Christ to not become involved in any way in government and politics. Patriotism fostered by the World Wars eventually pushed this thinking aside. George S. Benson would lead Harding College to be a model for Christian patriotism and the lines between church, government and politics have been crossing ever since. 


When I look to Scripture I do find a clearer picture. Jesus interacted with the political realities of his day, but never became directly involved in them. He affirmed the practice of paying taxes. (Matthew 22:15-22) He encouraged reform for dishonest government officials, (Luke 19:1-9) but did not demand of them to leave their jobs. He never engaged in overt political protests, but his teachings did have a subversive quality in protesting the injustices of his culture. He submitted to Roman law even when it meant his life. 


The example of the apostles is interesting. Occasionally they refused to obey a form of law (Acts 4:19-20; 5:29), but later Paul would appeal to his rights under the Roman government as a citizen to seek a trail before Caesar himself, in Rome. (Acts 25:12) Peter would teach and convert a Roman centurion, (Acts 10) but never asked him to resign that position. 


Further, we have statements by the apostles as to why governments exist and our responsibility to them as Christians. These texts in Romans 13:1-7, Titus 3:1-2, and 1st Peter 2:13-17 all make it clear that as Christians we are to submit to the governments under which we live, obey laws and be good, peaceful citizens. We are taught to even view our government as God’s agents of justice, equating rebellion against these powers to rebellion against God. (Quite a statement considering the brutal nature of the Roman Empire which was the government at the time this was written.) 


Then there is the matter of slavery. It was rampant during New Testament times. But never does Scripture call for its abolishment. Instead Scripture instructs slaves and their masters to conduct themselves as Christians in their perspective roles. (Titus 2:9-10; 1st Peter 2:18-20) If ever there was an inhumane practice for Christians to become politically active in overthrowing- slavery would be it. But even in his letter about a runaway slave, the book of Philemon, the apostle Paul never offered a word of protest against this practice. (Although it can be argued that by instructing both slaves and masters to treat each other justly- that this was a form of protest which would ultimately subvert and overthrow slavery) 


So where does all of this leave me now? With the presidential election now heating up, what position do I take as part of the “aliens and strangers in the world”? (1st Peter 2:11) As a part of a people “not of this world” but “from another place” (John 18:36) should I jump in the political arena with both feet fighting for Christian values to become part of a party platform and therefore decided in the ballot box? Or should I simply model these values in my life and allow God to work through me in this way to strengthen my country through strengthening his kingdom? Or is there room for both? 


Help me out.


8 Responses to God and Government

  1. Al Sturgeon says:

    I had hoped others would engage this argument so I could simply make snide remarks to stir the pot, but alas, no one has opened play. I’ve spent a significant amount of time struggling with this issue as well as debating it with folks on both sides of the spectrum, so it makes me a bit tired to try to get things started. And besides, I may not be checking back in much this weekend, and usually this issue involves long dialogue. So if someone does respond, and I do not, don’t take it personally.

    First of all, a well-written article, Danny, and provocative questioning…

    Let me begin with potentially the most controversial statement: the letter to the Romans was written to the Romans and not the Americans. That having been said, it is still our place to sort out the principles and apply them to our situation, but the “how to interact with government” section was written to a people under a very different type of government than ours, and to a people with a very different place within it.

    You see, I think we are still struggling to get beyond reading the Bible as a set of rules to a place where we’re taught how to reason differently – to have the mind of Christ.

    So what does that look like?

    Jesus, etc. didn’t seem overly interested in the government structure. He/they seemed most interested in reaching out to the harrassed & helpless, and often government itself stood in the place of oppressor. So the government(s) (Jewish religious + Roman political) killed Jesus. And others.

    One other point: Jesus’ weapon of choice was love. Love does not practice violence.

    So… where I currently stand on this topic of discussion:

    We don’t live in a society where we are without power. We can vote, lobby, discuss, cry out prophetically, etc. on behalf of the harrassed & helpless of this world (the people Jesus had compassion on & prayed for workers to send to…). We can also go to prison, face persecution, etc. FROM the government for this same reason.

    It is my stance that – because we love people – we should be willing to do all of the above for our life’s purpose.

    I think the biggest problem in understanding this issue lies in the fact that we all (me at head of the class) have a different life purpose than rescuing the helpless. Which is why we’re most concerned with political issues like taxes & terrorism & sexuality (taxes = we want to have more money; terrorism = we want to be safe; sexuality = we want to dictate the morals of others).

    If our dominant purpose in life was others-centered instead of me-centered, then our dominant concerns would be different (if taxes = concerned for the poor; terrorism = love for our enemies; sexuality = compassion for those searching for intimacy).

    I don’t know if I’m officially rambling, but I’m close…

  2. Danny,

    What has happened in recent Christian/political activism seems to me to be backwards. I do not support groups that want to put pressure on politians to change laws, write new ones,or take moral stands. Most modern politicians are fickle at best, whores at worse. It is obvious that for the majority of Congressmen,keeping their job is the first prioroty, which means their allegiance lies with the party line and the money behind their continual re-election campaigns.

    The only way Christians can change the social/political climate is starting at the bottom — changing the electorate. It has always been that way. Elected officials merely reflect who we are as a nation. They simply want what the people back home want — that includes us!

    Since our communities elect these guys, it is our communities that have to be influenced by God’s moral, social, economic, and spiritual law. Recent history demonstrates this perfectly. The Republicans were thrown out of office in large part becasue they gacelip service to the concerns of conservative Christians, but never delivered. Instead, they fell into the trap of greed, money,and power. I think it speakswell of Christians that many of them were sent home.

    It is my conviction that societies cannotbe changed by trying to influence thoseat the top, but by changing the minds, hearts, and eternal destinies of those at the bottom. That’s our job!

  3. Al Sturgeon says:

    And then there’s Martin Luther King, Jr.

    General agreement with Gary, with the caveat that there do seem to be times to cry out to those at the top, as in the Civil Rights Movement. Take Church of Christ colleges for instance: it took legislation to force them to integrate.

  4. dannydodd says:

    Interesting takes from both Al and Gary. Thanks for engaging the discussion.

    First up is Al. You are hitting somewhat at the heart of my struggle- that is, sorting through the cultural context of Scripture to figure out how it all shakes down to my context. For me it is about that kingdom perspective you mentioned.

    Gary’s point is well taken too. That is why I vote and encourage others to do so too.

    But beyond going to the ballot, the entire current political process turns me off. No matter the candidate it just seems more of the same pandering to me. I wish that would change, would like to see it change, but again really do not know what I should do about it or what God would have me do about it.

  5. johndobbs says:

    Run, Danny, Run. For President.

  6. brian says:

    no politician or govt is going to get anyone into heaven or condemn anyone to hell.

    no amount of voting will save a soul.

    God not only told us what to do but how to go about it, we have spiritual weapons (prayer, the Gospel) to wage a spiritual war..

    churches in China are thriving without democracy or much freedom, while religion in “land of the free, home of the brave” is shallow at best. yes, I am generalizing but it’s still scary.

    God bless America! and maybe some of those other countries, too

  7. brian says:

    one more thought just for fun…

    who do you want to vote for…
    the war-mongerers or the baby-killers???

  8. Does not compute says:

    >> If ever there was an inhumane practice for
    >> Christians to become politically active in
    >> overthrowing- slavery would be it.

    You make several errors in logic in your recent blog posting. First, you assume that slavery in the first century was the same form of slavery that existed here in the 19th century. That’s an error. Second, even if it was the same form of slavery, which it wasn’t, a Christian does not try to atone for or stop one type of sin by committing another type of sin. In the case of the American Civil War, the act of Northern Methodists killing Southern BaptistS, and Northern Congregationalists bayoneting Southern Episcopalians was a greater sin than the sin of slavery (assuming slavery was a sin, which is debatable). You would not believe how complicit Christians were in starting the Civil war, and then once started for filling the ranks of its armies, and for keeping the war going for 4 bloody years. Christians fail to recognize how their worldly ties, patriotism and political entanglements can eventually lead them into wars. This is why Christians should abstain from politics. You corrupt your witness for Christ. Adulterous Christians today cry and whine for their “God given” democratic rights, and are armed to the teeth, and teem the armed forces, but Christians in the first century were willing to follow the example of their master, and allow themselves to be persecuted for righteousness sake, and to give their blood in witness to their Lord rather than partake in the shedding of others’ blood.

    Another error in logic you make is that you assume that the converted Roman centurion never resigned his position. Using that same logic, you can rightly conclude that the Mary Magdalene never gave up her prostitution job because Jesus never told her to stop. Regardless, a converted centurion would soon find himself working under Nero, and very likely rounding up Christians to feed to the lions. Do you want to convince me that a Christian would round up his brethren for eventual slaughter simply because you and Paul teach that we must “obey rulers”?

    I could go on, and on, but I’ll stop here.

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