Because life is a series of edits

Good Questions (Mostly Yours)

In Politics on July 5, 2007 at 8:08 am

I’d like to pick up on a few of the questions posed within several of your comments earlier in the week. What’s your response to any of these?

  • Why do American Christians seem to think that a democratic republic is the best system of government? Are there other alternatives (theonomy, for instance) we should consider this side of heaven?
  • What defines a “good citizen”? Can one be a good citizen and not vote? How would the first-century Christians have viewed their role in the govermental procedure?
  • When the New Testament refers to Christians as exiles, what (if anything) does this imply for our role in/within the state?
  • “Live like Democrats but vote like Republicans.” Is this helpful advice?

Any other questions you would ask? Give me something I can print.

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  1. 1.Democratic republic and alternative systems. I would say that God has given us freedom to organize ourselves in whatever way we desire. He expects us to be imaginative. However, we are not free, imo, to organize and structure our political systems in such a way as to build injustice into the very operating system. We are not free to reward immorality. Many thoughtful Christians in my experience think that a democratic republic is the best system because it seems to be based most fully on the enlightenment ideas of equality, justice, and non-coercion – all of which tend to be thought of by them as consistent (even if not explicitly taught) with Biblical teaching. I tend to agree.

    Theonomy is helpful in that it forces those who think through it to seriously consider the government system designed by God for His people at a given time with a given mission. Although I wouldn’t say we must model ourselves after OT Israel, I do think that we should think hard about why we may choose to differ with God’s model at different points. Modern real estate law is a nice case in point. Why is land ownership taken as some basic human right when God Himself devised a system were land could not be sold in perpetuity, it instead reverting to the founding family after 50 years? At this point God’s system looks much more like socialism than free market capitalism.

    2.Can one be a good citizen and not vote? I suppose not, but what’s the point about being a good citizen? Patriotism is not a Christian virtue, it’s a statist virtue. In my opinion, one’s patriotism should be proportional to the degree in which the state operates consistently with the fundamental principles of justice and equity. I would have been no patriot in communist Russia. I am 5/8th’s a patriot in America.

    I’ll comment on the last two questions later.

  2. I’m not convinced, Trevor, that our charge be salt– a moral and spiritual preservative to our culture– and light– revealing the dark places in culture– doesn’t require us to take our citizenship seriously. Could you expand on your statist claim?

    That said, citizenship and patriotism are not equal. Nor does citizenship require allegiance to current powers or fundamental structures of governmental philosophy.

    Perhaps your definition of citizenship is too heavily loaded?

  3. Good catch Ed. Too bad second drafts are not possible in comments :)

    You’re right, patriotism and citizenship are not equal – I was assuming they were in my pre-coffee state of mind this morning when I wrote the above comment. Please accept my apologies for that noticeable bit of intellectual sloppiness.

    As for Craig’s second question, I now realize that there really is more to it than I first imagined. I’ll be giving it a bit more thought later today.

  4. Ed, just a note. Our charge to be salt is not (biblically speaking, anyway) a preservative charge – as Christ mentions not the preservative aspect of salt but its flavouring aspect when he declares us to be the salt of the earth.

  5. I’ll answer a few (Kristen, PCA, 25, mother, white…)

    What defines a “good citizen”? — A good citizen obeys all laws that are just, and in a republic, good citizens vote. Good citizens also contribute to the good of the city, helping the poor, widows and the fatherless and making things beautiful. First century Christians would have understood the call to help others, and submit to the authority of the state, but as they didn’t live in a republic, their citizenship was different.

    As we are exiles, we shouldn’t look to the state to be our savior. I think that means that in times of crisis, we ought to help those in the church, providing for one another as much as we can. Of course, God can use the state to aid His people, but God saves, not the government.

  6. Kristen, I’m intrigued by your definition of a good citizen (…obeys all laws that are just…). Would you say, for example, that if a citizen believes taxation is unjust that he could still be a “good citizen” even though he does not pay up?

  7. I guess I never shared my pedigree.

    PCA, 26, father, white.

    I go to church with Craig.

  8. On the second question (take two):

    The good citizen is the one who seeks to participate in and reform the political structures such as to increase the general welfare. The good citizen does not blindly accept the dictums of those in political power but submits himself to them even while seeking to change them. It is generally true that a good citizen does, in fact, vote, but this is only true in so far as the act of voting promotes the general welfare. If, perchance, the act of not voting is the actual course by which the general welfare is increased than the good citizen, understanding this, should choose not to vote.

    On the third question:

    The early Christians, living in exile, lived in a state of circumstances vastly different than our own. Christians today being free to peacefully participate in and seek the reform of our political systems should do so as an expression of their love for man.

    On the fourth question:

    Democrat, republican, left, right, center – all these are very unhelpful terms due to the degree of misunderstanding and baggage attached to each. That being said, the point of the statement seems to be that one should personally live a compassionate and giving life but should not force others (or beckon the government) to live in a similar fashion. It’s a personal choice. If that is what is meant than I can agree in part. I am generally in favor of less government and more personal choice. On the other hand, a large problem, as I see it, is the massive structural maladjustments (read modern economic systems) that necessarily disadvantage certain groups of people. In so far as this disadvantage is not tied to big government or to nature (height, build, etc.) than making new, restorative, adjustments to the economic order is to bring about a state of greater justice and equality. These adjustments should be sought in whatever form is most expedient since they represent reformative action that brings to reality a more just state of being.

  9. I think that I am a better citizen for the fact that I don’t generally vote. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have a hard time believing that it is responsible for me to make an active decision on an issue that I haven’t spent uncounted hours researching, on whose outcome (either way) I cannot predict. How is it responsible for me to contribute to decisions that will affect the lives and welfare of others if I don’t understand how those people will be affected? How could that possibly make me a good citizen?

    A vote for George Bush is an easy example. Many voted for him solely for his ostensible stand against abortion. Yet his presidency has not (to my knowledge) diminished the rate of abortion or affected its legality and has ended the lives of hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children. How am I supposed to choose between the two: a possibility (some would say slim) of saving hundreds of thousand or perhaps millions of infant lives vs. the probable saving of hundreds of thousands of lives that we are ending in addition to abortion. Now, not being versed in politics, news, probability, and the realistic casualties attributable to a yea or a nay vote in regard to Bush, how can I be expected to decide? How dare somebody say that I have to choose who dies in order to be a “good” citizen?

    I am not competent to vote and neither are bulk of the teeming hordes that do.

  10. however, the ones who vote, get their votes counted and the people they vote for are elected to office. are you saying that christians are being good citizens by letting elections be decided by people who more than likely spend even less time than they did, thinking about the issues…and from a quite different perspective? i don’t see how we are being good citizens to do that. i know, i’m not in the 20-30 group. i just can’t see how our less than ideal amount of research makes us incompetent to vote! We can pray and use Godly wisdom (that may not agree with another christian’s) and i still think it is better than the average joe on the street.
    i’ll stop my emotional outburst:)

  11. Did you mean “theocracy” rather than theonomy? If so, there have been two examples of the former in America with limited success. First was the Puritan experiment that started in 1630 and ended at the end of that century with the loss of the Puritan charter when Massachusetts became a Royal Colony in 1691.

    The other example was the Mormon experiment with Utah. The attractiveness of making Utah a state caused some subtle changes in their doctrine which conflicted with current prevailing U.S. understanding of marital laws.

  12. There is just one I want to comment on right now. I agree that as an exile we should not look to the state as a savior. I have been around many in the past who seem to hint that America is a church or others hint that it is the new jerusalem. I think these views are very dangerous. This leads to thinking one party is “God’s party” or pastors from the pulpit telling the congregation who to vote for (which actually happens). This leads to a lack of a view of the Kingdom of God and it also leads to a lack of thinking with discernment.

    I do feel like an exile because the “American Dream” is not God’s will. The emphasis should be on the church and with community seeking to wisely submit to authority of the state.

  13. Trevor,

    I was referring to just according to God, maybe I should have said, “obeys all laws that don’t contradict biblical mandates” or something.

  14. Actually, no. I don’t trust myself to make a better choice than the equally uninformed person on the street (who also goes by the name, The Average Joe). You say that “the ones who vote, get their votes counted and the people they vote for are elected to office.” I completely agree and that is why I cannot in good conscience take part. By voting my ignorance, I am actively deciding on something I should not be deciding. It’s for this reason that the PCA isn’t congregational in its government. As a church, we recognize that some people aren’t qualified to be the deciding vote on matters of doctrine; doesn’t it make sense that there are people who are equally unqualified to be the deciding vote on matters of state?

    I am not, in fact, saying that “Christians are being good citizens by letting elections be decided by people who more than likely spend even less time than they did.” I am saying that two wrongs do not make right and that for me to vote out of my ignorance just because other people are doing so would fly in the face of that very cliche.

    Politics is the only realm of life I can think of in which the unknowledgeable are encouraged to act as experts—and chastised if they don’t. Chemistry? Auto repair? Financial management? Theology? Psychology? Medicine? In none of these areas is ignorance given a pass. And the political realm may be even more intricate and complicated than the majority of other fields, and yet we treat it as if its something in which anyone should engage. That just strikes me as irresponsible.

  15. 1. We’ll never have a perfect system of government this side of Heaven, for the simple reason that we are sinners who live in Arda Marred–the same fact that makes government necessary in the first place. James Madison said something similar himself (don’t have the quote handy, sorry). But given the size of the nation, its values, and its diversity, the system the Founders devised seems to be the best one to fit our needs and preserve our freedoms.
    2. I expect there’s lots of helpful discussion on this point in Augustine’s City of God, but I haven’t gotten to read it all yet, so I can’t point you to anything specific. And I can’t remember if Walter Hilton’s “On the Mixed Life” has anything useful (although that’s 14th-century English). Still, given the mandates we see in Scripture–“Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s,” “Fear God and honor the king,” etc.–I don’t think there’s any warrant for assuming that we *shouldn’t* be engaged in public affairs. And often your vote is your most powerful weapon in standing up for what’s right. This isn’t like Iran, where the votes are rigged and the *only* way people can safely express their displeasure is by not voting. And besides, “all that is needed for evil to triumph is for good people to stand by and do nothing.” (Don’t remember the source for that, sorry.)
    3. I don’t think it does imply anything. The Jews in the Diaspora remained active in their communities even as they longed to return to Israel, and Paul used his Roman citizenship to open doors for evangelism.
    4. “Go not to the Elves for advice, for they will answer both yes and no.” :P I think such a statement ascribes values to both sides that they may not actually hold.

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