Christians and the Sphere of the State

Reprinted from The Iowa Family Policy Center Blog, with permission.

Hugh Hewitt recently interviewed theologian J.P. Moreland on the evangelical understanding (or lack there of) of being a responsible Christian citizen in our democratic republic.

Moreland, who has written extensively on Christian truth in the public square, had this to say:

“Being involved in politics is not unchristian. In fact, it’s a part of our calling as Christians. Why? Because we are supposed to do good to all people including the household of faith. And to do good to all people means establishing just laws and a just and a stable social order. And that’s the job of the state. It’s political. So the first thing a pastor should do and the Church should do is to enlist people like the dickens to be involved in the political process and vote. It is unconscionable that we have these rights, and that we have an obligation as disciples of Jesus to try to bring goodness and truth to society, that we don’t use all means available to promote just laws and a just and stable social order through the political process. And so voting is absolutely critical.”

In addition to encouraging civic participation through voting, Moreland also advised Christian leaders to teach on four topics, drawn out from scripture:

  1. The culture of life
  2. A minimal view of government, understanding the difference between negative rights and positive rights
  3. Promotion of government that maintains control over crime
  4. Equipping the local church and other charities to be the willing providers of aid to the poor and needy, instead of the coercive machinery of the state

This conversation is sorely needed within the church; the whole transcript is worth reading and can be found here.

There is a sober thought here regarding the responsibility of the Church to be “salt and light” to the world.  We have a number of confounding challenges, however:

  1. The Church, at least as it lives and breathes in America, is heavily coerced by a social order that insists that people engage in every aspect of life and society that they can possibly squeeze into each day.  The Church is just one espect of the lives of Christians (and those of other faiths) that tends to be severely shortchanged, along with the Family.
  2. The Church, as a formal entity (your local house of worship), is constrained by 501(c)3 rules that prohibit political activities.  Some religious organizations have had their tax-free status removed because of promoting specific politicians, and as a result many pastors are extremely hesitant to promote more than engaging in one’s civic duty to vote.  Clearly, there are opportunities to work through this in a more effective manner.
  3. The involvement of Christians in the political sphere as an open bloc is becoming more and more problematic as the impression, both within political parties and in the halls of government, is that the religious agenda is to force a religious belief on the public, or a stranglehold on a party.

I agree with the IFPC.  The conversation is both appropriate and necessary.  And it needs to start now, not 18 months from now (campaign time for mid-term elections).

About the Author

Mr. Smith is the Publisher of The Conservative Reader. He is Partner/Owner of Ambrosia Web Technology as well as a Systems Architect for Wells Fargo. Art hold a degree in Computer Science from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, and is a political blogger at the Des Moines Register. Art's views are purely his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wells Fargo.

 

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