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In my last column, I jumped right into the usually taboo subject of the intersection of church and state, suggesting that because governing is first and foremost a moral enterprise (making laws that determine right and wrong), trying to separate politics and religion is not only undesirable, it is impossible.
I then went on to say that because the Bible spoke directly to most of our social and political issues, and because followers of Jesus should be governed by what the Bible says, all Christians should have similar positions on those issues.
Because that is quite obviously not the case, as demonstrated by the nearly 50/50 split among self-described Christians in the last presidential election, I suggested three reasons that Christians don’t have more uniform positions on the key questions of the day. Those reasons were compartmentalization, confusion and non-commitment.
I addressed the first of those in the last column, today we’ll take a look at the second, and next time we’ll tackle the third and wrap up the discussion.
Perhaps the most common reason that Bible-believing followers of Jesus disagree on social and political issues is simply confusion about what the Bible actually says about a certain topic. In my experience, most of this confusion results from a misunderstanding of the different arenas of authority that God has established in the Bible.
The Bible spells out three separate and unique organizational spheres of authority: the family, the church and the state. On many issues, I believe many well-meaning Christians make the mistake of confusing what God has commanded us as individuals (either as families or as the church) to dowith what he has ordained government to do.
As individual Christians, our primary biblical duty is love and mercy, but for the government, the primary biblical concern is justice. An individual Christian’s response to an offense is to be different from the government’s – the former’s responsibility is love, the latter’s is punishing the offender.
This is why it is biblical for an individual Christian to “turn the other cheek” and forgive but unbiblical for the government to do the same.
A primary area where role-confusion comes in to play is in issues related to our response to the poor. Often Christians are taken in by positions that sound right, but under closer inspection don’t pass biblical muster.
Are we supposed to help the poor? Absolutely!
The Bible certainly is explicit in the importance of caring for the poor – particularly widows and orphans – but this directive is given to the church, not to the state. Again, the biblical mandate is that we are to help voluntarily as individuals and as the Church.
Nowhere does it say that the government is supposed to forcibly take money from one person in order to redistribute it to another.
One reason for the biblical command to private charity is personal – as individual Christians, we are to follow the example of Jesus and show love and compassion to our fellow man. Another reason is practical – private charity is discerning and discriminating; government welfare is not.
Regarding welfare, the Biblical principle is clear: If a man is unwilling to work, he won’t eat – again, with clear exceptions for widows and orphans.
Without going into specifics, another issue that many get wrong, because of failing to understand the sphere of authority that God has designed for it, is education – which is clearly to be in the realm of families and churches, not the federal government.
But even if well-meaning Christians disagree on economic issues or education issues or on the proper governmental response to the poor, I believe there are at least a couple of areas that God has spoken so clearly about that it is literally impossible for honest, Bible-believing followers of Jesus to disagree on them.
These issues are those surrounding the sanctity of life and the biblical definition of marriage. (For great resources on these issues as well as those defending religious freedom, go to www.manhattandeclaration.org.) For now, we’ll just look briefly at the issue of abortion.
Proverbs 6:17 says that God hates “hands that shed innocent blood,” and Proverbs 24:11-12 goes even further, saying, “Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not He who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not He who guards your life know it? Will He not repay each person according to what He has done?”
In case you missed it, God is saying that he will hold us personally responsible for our actions (and yes, our vote) in regard to this issue! Nowhere does He say that about the economy or health care or education or the environment.
Mother Teresasaid, “We cannot fight credibly against other social and moral evils, including poverty and violence, while we tolerate mass killings by abortion.”
She went on to say, “If we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people to not kill each other? Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want.”
Timothy George, founding dean of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University and chairman of the board of the Colson Center for Worldview, recently wrote,“What Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori said to Catholic voters applies to all Christians regardless of party affiliation: ‘The question to ask is this: Are any of the candidates of either party, or independents, standing for something that is intrinsically evil, evil no matter what the circumstances? If that’s the case, a Catholic, regardless of his party affiliation, shouldn’t be voting for such a person.’”
Indeed, there are some issues about which God has spoken so plainly that a Christian’s position must be clear. As Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge…”
It is my belief that if a candidate does not have the virtue and the wisdom to agree with God when he has clearly spoken, it cannot be reasonably assumed that the candidate can be trusted to think correctly about any of the other issues either. In other words, if someone can’t agree that the sky is blue, why should I care what color he thinks the grass is?
For further reading on what the Bible actually says about the common political and social issues of the day, allow me to recommend two excellent resources.
First, for a quick-reading overview, D. James Kennedy’s book How Would Jesus Vote?is a great place to begin. For a more comprehensive approach, Wayne Grudem’s Politics According to the Bibleis an incredible resource for anyone who takes the Bible seriously, offering thoughtful discussion on more than 50 different issues.
Both books are written not by journalists, politicians or pundits, but by doctorate level theologians who place a strong value on the authority of the Bible as God’s revealed truth.
Finally, although some self-described Christians don’t think biblically about social and political issues because of a false belief that somehow their religious views shouldn’t affect their political ones and others because of misunderstanding what the Bible teaches about the issues, still others don’t take a biblical stance because they simply aren’t committed to the Bible as being authoritative in their lives.
And that will be the topic of my next column.