Foundations: Why Should Christians Be Involved in Government?
There’s a pretty simple reason Christians should be involved in government. “Because we love God and love our neighbor.”
We could drop the subject there and leave the reader to think through the implications. Because so many of them are obvious. But let’s tease them out, shall we? Then we’ll move to the less straightforward reasons.
Government Is Good
Government is a good thing intended by God. It would have existed even if mankind hadn’t fallen. We see a hint of this in God’s decision to appoint Adam “steward” of Eden, and all the animals. Presumably Adam would have stewarded his descendants, even absent the corruption, death, and darkening of man’s reason and will that sin introduced.
Why do we say this? Because God made man a social, not solitary, animal. Certain reptiles and fish make their way in virtual solitude, coming together only to mate and quickly abandoning their offspring. No higher mammals live that way, least of all the most intelligent, like elephants, whales, dolphins or apes.
And every species of social animal has a hierarchy, to organize the activities of individual groups. We’ve no reason to think that unfallen man would be any different. It seems from our created nature that God meant us to live in society, and that means with leaders.
Governors Can Be Evil
But sin distorted our nature. It took the good thing that is freedom and twisted it into license. Likewise it perverted the good thing that is leadership and corrupted it into tyranny. The earliest large societies of which we have extensive documentation are Egypt and Mesopotamia. Each showed radical inequality enforced by kings with nearly absolute power.
Surrounding such islands of order were nomads of warlike invaders, bandits and pirates. In the less developed, hunter-gatherer societies which endured long enough for us study them, we see smaller, less-centralized polities. But we find each one predicated on violence toward alien, “foreign” peoples … like the next tribe down the river.
Ant-like obedience to a distant queen or king on the one hand. Head-hunting, constant warfare, and ritual torture at the other. It seems like whichever way we turn when discussing government, we hit our heads on one of the bitter constraints of our fallen nature.
Escapists and Cynics
That tempts some to throw up their hands and abandon practical politics as tainted, hopeless, “worldly” or otherwise unavailing for serious Christians. They seek solitary bunkers or tiny enclaves. They imagine that these cul de sacs would be apolitical, and protected somehow from persecution by larger society.
Or, if they don’t embrace some form of the “Benedict Option,” they react to the other extreme. They imagine politics as so fallen and perverse that to engage in it we must leave behind all Christian conviction. Instead, we simply play hard ball in our own self-interests. Do that either as ethnic or religious subcultures or as a powerful nation-state on the global stage. They might cite St. Paul’s line about “Caesar’s sword,” while silently assuming that Caesar must always remain a pagan, impervious to the new truths revealed by the Gospel.
We cannot take any of these roads, as responsible Christian Americans. We are not helpless, persecuted believers in a pagan empire. Nor are we subjugated citizens of modern totalitarian states who must pursue passive resistance, as Russian Christians did and Chinese Christians do.
We Are Sovereign Citizens
Instead, we find ourselves privileged and burdened in a very different way. We are citizens of a nation built on profound Christian roots. The founders of the United States drew on centuries of English, Christian civilization and common law. They looked to the complex edifice of ancient Rome, and the insights of Greek philosophy. And most of all they looked to the Bible, and the stories of faithful leaders of the Israelites going astray when they fell in love with power, wealth and glory.
Our founders crafted an almost unique political system designed to frustrate any attempts to impose a tyranny, even at the cost of slowing down government action. They distributed power widely to states and localities, to allow communities to choose (within sane limits) the mores they would live by, and let dissenters vote with their feet.
The Law Carved on the Human Heart
Our founders took it for granted that the natural law carved on the human heart, and Christian mores, would do the good work that an established church always promised. That is, inform the abstract laws with the tangible practice of justice, prudence and charity. Respect for natural law would accomplish this without the intolerance, corruption, and hypocrisy that established churches seem to generate like inevitable waste products.
We have the right, the power, and the duty to take part in politics. God’s providence put us in the position where we can make a difference. We have the priceless gift of the Gospel — which, rightly interpreted, offers the soundest guidance to government, in accord with our nature as God made us and redeemed us. Without imposing on others the answers we know only by faith, we can and must insist on defending the natural law, which any rational person can know by his God-given reason.
We Wear the Crown
What’s more, we know from the bloody footprints of history that the State, with its monopoly of lawful violence, is a very dangerous thing. In just 90 years, as historian R.J. Rummel documents, the modern State intentionally murdered some 170 million civilians. That does not include accidental casualties of war.
If we refuse to make our best efforts to control the runaway train that is the modern central, secular State, others will gladly do so. And they will inflict injustice, violence, and even chaos on us, our children, and the most vulnerable citizens. That is, the “least among our brethren” — whom Christ warned us we’d have to answer for on judgment day, as if we’d done the same unto Christ Himself.
It’s a sobering thought that we as free citizens bear this weighty responsibility. Passivity, ignorance, cynicism, utopianism and avoidance aren’t options. We live in a fallen world which still bears the scars of the Fall. It’s our task as followers of Christ to champion His justice and practice His mercy with every action we take. That includes what we say and do politically, and even how we vote.
Christians who live in republics are involved in government whether we like it or not. Every election day, we are the government. We can govern well on election day or we can govern poorly. What we can’t do is escape the fact that we have responsibility on that day. So should we be involved in government? In a real sense, we are the government. Not just on election day, but all throughout our civic life. In church we are sheep, but of this state we are the shepherds. And we shouldn’t act like hirelings and flee in the face of danger.
This article is part of a new Stream series called Foundations. As we approach this year’s election, it appears that the most fundamental principles upon which the American republic was founded are being called into question. Foundations is a tool for pastors, teachers, leaders and all people of faith to learn why, from a Biblical view, we should continue to support the Constitution — with an emphasis on the First and Second Amendments, and wise policies that promote freedom. Visit the Foundations page to see all the articles in this series.