[This is a repost of the last in a 4-part series of articles I wrote about a year-and-a-half ago (here’s Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3) exploring my struggles with the idea of America as a “Christian Nation” and how my Christian faith should influence my politics. Where I ended up is a very helpful place, I believe, for us Christians struggling with these things.
In the first post, I show how America has many similarities with Ancient Rome that lend itself to helping us in this discussion. In the second, I discuss the motivations and limits of imposing a Christian worldview on a post-Christian society. In the third, I laid out the wrong motives that seem to drive most of Evangelicalism’s attempts to take over the country, and their historical and philosophical roots. In the post below, I pick up right where the third one ends and give a biblical foundation for a possible framework we can use to discern our political action as Christians.
My exploration of motives for Christian involvement in politics began to shift when I realized that the same Paul and Peter that preached a political worldview of simply obeying the laws were the same Paul and Peter that when told by authorities not to preach, they refused to obey. What’s going on? Apparently there’s some other principle at work that creates a depth, complexity, and dynamism within this issue: God and His Nature, Christ and His Glory. More on this in the next post.
I then started looking not just for Paul’s statements about politics but also how he politically viewed himself in a political world. Paul was a Roman citizen, the ancient equivalent of being an American citizen. It came with the same privileges, rights, and disdain we as Americans experience today. So when did Paul pull the “Roman Citizen” card? In short, when it furthered his preaching of the Gospel. He pulled the card a few times in the latter part of Acts, each time to talk to a successively higher authority in the Roman government. Acts ends with Paul waiting in prison to talk to Caesar himself after using his citizenship to appeal his charges to the emperor.
So, as for conclusions, here’s where I’ve landed (at least for the time being). God’s concern for the political actions of His People does not ultimately rest upon what is done. Rather, He is concerned that His Bride act from transformed hearts that effect why they are doing, voting, advocating as they are. Paul used the rights and privileges offered him by his nation to further enable his continuing work and service of the Gospel. Not to create external structures that do this work for him. So, I’m all for advocating and seeking legislation that furthers our freedom to do the work of the Church. I think there’s an absolute Biblical precedent for seeking the support and freedom for the individual to do the work of a Christian. Our defiance to the laws of this land begin where this freedom ends. Where the laws and statutes in place hinder us from doing the work that Christ has called us to, that is when our defiance starts.
Jesus said that his Kingdom was not of this world, and that if it was, then his followers would fight to free Him from Pilate. His Kingdom is a spiritual, not temporal reality, hence our weapons to usher this Kingdom are spiritual and not temporal. Laws, states, and politics don’t do it; rather love, service, and preaching do. This being the case, all our political maneuverings should be to free us to do those things. We will do them regardless, mind you, but it is (or is meant to be) in the interest of the prosperity and stability of a country to support and free Christians to act like Christians – not push them or even create incentives for them to, but create the welcoming environment in which they can serve, love, preach, and suffer for the benefit of those around them with no hindrances.
So what frees us to do the service of the Gospel? I think this is where personal leadings, preferences, discussion, and discourse come in. Perhaps making gay marriage unconstitutional will actually ultimately hinder our work as Christians rather than facilitate it. So what if it “made a statement”? At what cost? Perhaps being in favor of the war would hinder your evangelism to Muslims. Perhaps being against the war would not free you to take advantage of the new open environment there now is for missions work in Iraq. Perhaps (and I really stress the “perhaps” on this one) making abortion illegal would hinder our freedom to act like Christians. I will unpack all this in my last post. Don’t freak out over that statement. I just want the conversation opened up and founded upon the biblical basis for our activism: putting the weight on ourselves to be the Church rather than on the country to reflect the ideals of the Church, because Christ’s Kingdom is not of this world.
I know I have overstated my case. I have repeated myself and rephrased myself in more ways than perhaps necessary. Some of that stems from all this being fairly fresh in my mind, and it probably comes out in my writing. The rest of it though comes from my conviction that this worldview is essential for so many reasons. The American Church is impotent today and has little impact on the culture it finds itself in. Much of this comes from the recent fanaticism of Fundamentalism in light of post-modernity becoming the reigning philosophy of the day. Fundamentalism just doesn’t work anymore. The rest of the watching world has already filed Evangelicals away as completely out of touch and irrelevant in today’s modern world. Historically, the Church has been a small movement that has toppled nations. Now it is a massive creature with absolutely no impact whatsoever on the people, communities, and cultures around it. Remove the Church in America and very little would change.
Our goal in our legislation should be this: we should seek and advocate for any legislation that give us the Church more freedom to do what the Church was always meant to do (heal the sick, feed the poor, clothe the needy, teach the uneducated, love the outcast, and accept the foreigner). We should strive to free ourselves to be and act like real Christians that in doing so we serve the people, communities, cities, and nations around us to such an extent that they would suffer without us. We don’t try and make them act like Christians or have a Christian worldview when they’re not, in fact, Christians. We must fight for the freedom to be the Church. And it is in this that the watching world will see a Gospel that proclaims that there is a God through Whom all things were made and find their sustaining life so that this God has a just and rightful claim on the lives of His creatures. They will then see that this God has moved upon individuals on the basis of this claim to change them radically to love those around them in a way that no one else does. And it is by seeing this that they will behold our Beautiful Christ and Savior who loves His Bride to love His world so that His world might love Him as it was always intended, and will surely be. And the country will change.
I hope this helps.
What are your thoughts? Is this helpful? What do you think this looks like in practice?