Tag Archives: church and state

PODCAST: Fight the Powers – What the Bible Says About the Relationship Between Demonic and Political Power

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Download:
http://www.cantus-firmus.com/Audio/20170920-FightthePowers.mp3

Notes:

In a recent podcast which I titled “Make Christianity Weak Again,” I talked about the approaches which the church in the United States has used in interacting with the political realm. The place where I landed is that the church should look at the state with suspicion, view its relationship to it as an uneasy one, and not seek to consolidate political power but to emphasize its spiritual power.

In this podcast, I want to give the biblical theory behind my practical application. Why should the church not seek to align itself with the state?
Continue reading PODCAST: Fight the Powers – What the Bible Says About the Relationship Between Demonic and Political Power

PODCAST: Cantus Firmus At the Movies Ep. 4 – The Mission (w/ Keith Giles)

cantusfirmusatthemovies

In this episode we talked about the 1986 film The Mission, and particularly dissected its themes of love, forgiveness, violence, and the corrupting entanglement of church and state. Audio can be downloaded below or found on iTunes if you search “Cantus Firmus.”

Keith Giles was my special guest and can be found at www.KeithGiles.com. His new book, Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics to Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb can be purchased on Amazon. Audio can be downloaded below or found on iTunes by searching “Cantus Firmus.”

Audio:
http://www.cantus-firmus.com/Audio/20170527-CFATM-Ep4-TheMission(wKeithGiles).mp3

Music:
“Octagon Pt 2” by Polyrhythmics. Licensed under CC BY 3.0
http://www.needledrop.co/wp/artists/polyrhythmics/

How Shall We Then Vote?

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There seem to be two basic attitudes in the church in regard to the question of how Christians should vote. The first is that politics is a complicated issue and that each Christian should lean purely on his or her conscience to reach a conclusion. The other is that there is one particular party that strongly represents the Christian viewpoint and it belongs to whoever is speaking at the time.

I think that we can take a more thoughtful perspective. There are certain biblical principles that tell Christians which kind of state they should prefer and which issues are central to its proper functioning. And in a country like the United States where citizens can participate in guiding the direction of government, these principles might also inform us on how we should vote.

To begin with, we ought to distinguish ancient Israel from those physical nations which have not been chosen by God to issue laws based on theocratic principles. Though the laws of Israel might at times inform us as to how secular states should work, Jesus’ claim in John 18:36 that the Kingdom of God must be distinguished from geopolitical powers ought to give us pause when it comes to direct application of the laws of theocratic Israel to our present nation’s laws. However, the following principles seem to be applied to all nations universally when the Bible speaks about the role of the state:

1. The state should punish evildoers and reward those who do good.

“For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:3-4).

This passage raises a lot of questions about the relationship between church and state, following as it does after a passage wherein Paul tells Christians that they should not seek to punish the wicked but allow God to avenge either now (perhaps through the state) or in the age to come. Whether or not we assume that it forbids Christians from participation in the state, we must at least conclude that it tells us that a state which functions most properly will punish not those who do good, but those who are doing evil. Indeed, those who do good should have nothing to fear in a state which is living up to its purpose.

2. The state should allow for freedom on matters of conscience.

“I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

Paul here encourages Christians living in a pagan state which did not allow open participation in directing its political aims to pray that those in power would allow for Christians to have the freedom to follow their Christians convictions. He follows this up by noting that Christianity can flourish in a state which allows for religious freedom to either accept or reject its doctrines and practices. Christians should therefore desire religious freedom for both Christians as well as non-Christians.

3. The state should be concerned that peace is pursued and justice is done, particularly for the poor and oppressed.

“For three transgressions of Edom, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because he pursued his brother with the sword and cast off all pity, and his anger tore perpetually, and he kept his wrath forever” (Amos 1:11).

In Amos we see the moral standards that God holds pagan nations–those who do not follow Him and perhaps have not even heard of Him–to. We find that God will execute judgment on nations that preferring war and taking advantage of the weak and poor as a means to become prosperous. This tells us that even a secular nation should prefer peace and justice for the oppressed and seek it out whenever possible.

How shall we then vote?

With these principles in mind, what should we expect the biblically minded Christian to do on election day? As many Christians find themselves unable to comfortably support either Trump or Clinton, we find ourselves in a trilemma: do we vote for the lesser of two evils, abstain from voting, or seek out a third party which more closely reflects the core Christians values as to the role of the state? If we choose the lesser of two evils, we have acted in support of evil. If we vote third party or abstain, we may be enabling the candidate which we fear could do the most evil to win the popular vote and perhaps the election itself.

For the Christian, obedience to God and to doing right should be our chief concern. The rest is up to God. However, there is still room for Christian conscience–do you believe that any one candidate is close enough to these core values to earn your support? Alternatively, do you feel that none of them do, or perhaps that the act of a Christian voting in and of itself conflicts with citizenship in the Kingdom of God. Then you must act on whichever conclusion–biblically and politically informed–that you reach.

Christian Involvement in Politics Is Not a Zero-Sum Game

When Christianity became the official state religion of the Roman Empire in 380 (after being granted the status of an approved religion by Emperor Constantine in 313 A.D), believers found themselves responding in one of two ways. Some basked in their new found power and luxury, holding it over the now disenfranchised class of pagans. We’ll call them the Constantinians. Others, the monastics, sought to check out of this new institutionally supported Christianity which they saw as sensual and double-minded. These extremes ignored a third option–to simply participate in society as one group among many and allow evangelization to happen through freely established relationships instead of coercion which mitigates against sincerity on the part of the coerced. This model was at least implicitly affirmed by the New Testament writers who demanded no revolution but only asked for toleration and freedom to worship and evangelize.

This false dilemma was recapitulated at the time of the Protestant Reformation, during which time the Roman Catholics and Magisterial Protestants sought to crush religious dissent via the power of the state while the Anabaptists went into hiding and designated Christian participation within the larger society, and particularly in politics, as sinful.

Fast forward to the summer of 2015 in the United States. The U.S. Supreme Court has decided that same sex marriage is a civil right. Prior to (and precipitating) this ruling, the majority of confessing evangelicals and Roman Catholics had demanded that their government maintain in the law a Christian value judgment on marriage which they were not willing to replace with a more pluralistic non-religious entitlement such as civil unions. After the ruling, with one new view of marriage backed by the force of the state, Christians are increasingly anxious that this new entitlement will lead to government discrimination against Christians.

For these Constantinian Christians, politics is a zero-sum game. If a non-Christian group gains something, this means Christians have lost something. The debate over gay marriage was set up intentionally to be this kind of arrangement, but the risk of becoming a displaced special class was considered worth it if it meant that their side might prevail.

That the debate over gay marriage was nothing more than a power play can be demonstrated by comparing how conservative Christians compare this ruling with other, more egregious ones. For instance, the Dred Scott Decision which came down from the U.S. Supreme Court in 1857, declaring that slaves did not have the same rights as free persons and thus undermining the Christian belief in human equality before God, is not generally considered to be a loss for Christianity because Christians as a group lost no political power. But as power has now been wrested from the hands of Constantinian Christianity, American Christians are saying, as one evangelical writer did, “I am horribly grieved that a lifestyle that is so contrary to Christian morality is being celebrated in a country that once honored Christian values.”

It is, of course, not Christian values which America has honored, but Christian hegemony, even if it comes at the risk of sacrificing Christian values. As such, American Christians generally believe that there are two options open to them in the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision–fight for the return of their political power or remove themselves from society.

May I humbly suggest that we still have a third option?

The Defeat of American Constantianism and the Resurrection of Grace

I once heard Phil Burress, head of the religiously and politically conservative organization Citizens for Community Values, talk about the political work that his group had done. While most of it was pretty standard religious right stuff like campaigning against pornography and gambling, one issue stuck out. He spoke of legislation they supported which protected exotic dancers from being groped by customers.

What made this cause unique was that instead of simply working to shut down strip clubs (which CCV would no doubt be in favor of), they were seeking to protect women who found themselves working in jobs which were morally objectionable. They were essentially saying to these women, “what makes you valuable isn’t whether or not you refrain from engaging in behavior I find to be morally wrong, but that you are made in the image of God. As such, I want to show honor to you as a child of God that He loves.”

While Christians who have the freedom to participate in the political process need to take this responsibility seriously, we often imbue it with too much importance. We forget that the world and its people are fallen, and we are shocked and dismayed when it behaves accordingly. If American Christianity has lost the battle against legally recognized gay marriage, what does this loss teach us that we didn’t already know? We live in a country where people who are willing to live and let live can do more or less anything else they choose to. The benefit of such an arrangement is that as Christians we have the freedom to explore our faith without fear of reprisal. The corollary to this is that others are also free to reject Christian belief and behavior.

Is our key responsibility to these people to consolidate political power and treat them as our opponents in order to remind them who’s in charge; or is it to treat them as human beings made in God’s image? June 26, 2015 may stand as American Constantinianism’s Waterloo, but it need not be Christianity’s. God’s grace has and will conquer. If we respond with love and humility toward those whom Christ died for, it can be our Milvian Bridge.