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Christians and the State

The Bible is skeptical about states and rulers; Christians should be too.

by James Leroy Wilson
February 5, 2009

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Christians and the State

Last week, I wondered how people who don't believe in God could possibly believe in Democracy. After all, reason tells us that the Deity's existence is unprovable either way, whereas reason also tells us that Democracy's premises are self-refuting.

This week, I question why people who do believe in God, specifically Christians, attach so much importance to the State. I don't question why they would obey the State, but I do question why they are so emotionally committed to it.

Consider that neither Jesus nor the Epistle authors call on Christians to take or assume any sort of earthly political power, which is the control of land and domination of its people through a monopoly of force. Jesus says his kingdom is "not of this world."

It is true that, writing during the reign of the mad Emperor Nero, the Apostle Paul urges Timothy "that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity."  But this does not suggest anything more than a prayer that those in authority will leave us alone.

During the same reign, in Romans 13, Paul urges humility and peace before the civil rulers, not violence and strife. Don't buck the system. But Jesus, several apostles including Paul, and many other Christians were executed by these very same rulers! The message, then, is not one of "patriotism" defined as unconditional love for the government and support for all its works, but rather of choosing a path of non-resistance. For if the ruler is more-or-less "Godly," then Christians won't have a problem; if the ruler is evil, then "turn the other cheek," because Jesus's kingdom is not of this world.

But what of morality? What of sin?

This might be the core of the controversy regarding Christianity and politics. The problem is two-fold:

First, some Christians feel the faith as a force of the unconditional love of God which they express to others; other Christians view life as a war against their own flesh, and as a defense mechanism they become more doctrinaire and insistent that everyone else be at least as miserable as they are.

Second, even some Christians belonging to the first camp (or who think they do) will make an abstraction of their love for others as "compassion" for people they don't even know. Indoctrination about Democracy from schools and the media will make them feel they have the right to express this "compassion" through State action. They are either ignorant of the economic consequences, or believe they are justified in preemptively punishing suspected "greed" and "prejudice."

Instead of heeding the Gospel's call of non-resistence, Christians of either camp will claim they are applying Biblical "principles" to our "culture" and political system. They will also hearken back to the Old Testament, and selectively point out when God seemed more coercive, moralistic, and/or warlike to illustrate that their urge to dominate others is justified.

But even in the Old Testament, God gave a Law, not a State. God left it up to the people to obey it and enforce it. Throughout the Book of Judges, when the people obeyed the Law, they fared pretty well even though there was no formal government in Israel. When the people demanded a King in 1 Samuel 8: 10-22, God predicts oppression and doom. The desire to form a State was just another form of idolatry.

Furthermore:

  • Where the Law does authorize punishments, they are to be meted out by the people, not by hired hands paid for by taxation. And even so, Jesus says "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."
  • God's Law commands the prosperous to give the poor the freedom and opportunity to work for their own food; it does not call for forced unemployment and dependence on bureaucratic systems.
  • The Bible nowhere criminalizes or condemns abortion. At most, the Law says inadvertently causing a miscarriage would warrant a fine upon demand of the husband with agreement by judges (Exodus 21:22-25). Nothing is said of destruction of the fetus with the mother's consent.
  • The Bible often condemns drunkenness, but nowhere criminalizes it.
  • Likewise, the Bible says nothing about criminalizing drug use.
  • The Bible says nothing directly against gambling, and it certainly does not call for criminalizing it.
  • The Bible doesn't suggest polygamy is ideal, but it is certainly tolerated.

And most significantly, the Bible doesn't tell us we have the authority, through direct actions or votes, to restrict freedom because we fear the consequences of other people's behavior. The Gospel does not call for force, coercion, regulation, or redistribution. We may be called to be responsible stewards of creation, but we are not called to control what can not be controlled.  And the Bible nowhere teaches that any person has the authority, ability, or obligation to control the will or actions of another. The very attempt to do so is to declare war on human nature, which is a war on nature itself - the very opposite of responsible stewardship.

Finally, there is the problem that "all have fallen short of the glory of God." James Madison famously wrote that if men were angels, no government would be necessary. The problem is that it is men, not angels, who govern men. But I would ask if government is even necessary. Man may need law, but does he need the ravenous branches of a power-hungry State? The power, fame, and wealth the State provides will in general attract the most wicked, ambitious, and arrogant of men, who will try to make it even more powerful.

And what of the Christians who do get involved, and advocate prohibitions and punishments unheard of in the Bible? They, too, have fallen short of the glory of God; what credibility do they have in running other people's lives?

Christians would be wise to walk in love and humility, using quiet persuasion, and to let God take care of the "social consequences" of other people's sins. Their kingdom is not of this world, so Christians should quit pretending that it is.

Comments (1)


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elm from 98801 writes:
February 10, 2009
Yes, Christians do get involved, advocate prohibitions and punishments unheard of in the Bible. They feel they are somewhat obligated to make everyone follow their beliefs and can't wrap their heads around the idea of separation of religion from laws of the Land. There is a way to separate church and state. By minding your own business!!! Like you said Mr Wilson --"let God take care of the social consequences of other people's sins". Religion discriminates against free thinkers. If the Immortal and Omnipotent Creator they serve is omniscent, then the Creator knows the facts about the past, present and future. If the Creator is all knowing, then humans can do nothing other that what the Creator already knows they will do or believe. Thus, we must conclude there is no "free will" or we have a huge dilemma. If there is no "free will" why do Christian zealots keep passing out those Jesus Saves tracks to strangers, leaving them in phone booths and tucking them behind the toilet rolls in restroom stalls? Seems a waste of time to me cause everyone other than those zealots are already burnt toast.


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