Monday, October 01, 2012

Biblical Principles for the Ballot Box

The American political system is one of the more interesting of paradoxes in America.  On the one hand—the nation is proud, and rightly so, of its political heritage.  We Americans take pride in the system left to us by the founding fathers—we are a nation of a written law passed down generation to generation.   Yet, paradoxically, politicians and bureaucrats—the ministers of that legacy are lampooned on television, in the press, in books, and in casual conversation.   So why the disconnect?  Perhaps the most obvious of answers is that we see too stark a contrast between the brilliance of the Constitution and the corrupt, self-serving politicians and bureaucrats sworn to uphold it.  As John Adams, second President of the United States so famously said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
So if the Constitution is made for a moral people—dare I say, a Christian people—how ought we Christians think and act biblically as citizens of this earthly republic?  How ought a Christian vote?  Rather than deal in names or even specific issues, I want to offer principles to help answer this question.  These principles, when rightly applied, will assist the Christian in exercising the solemn duty of expressing his Christian convictions in the ballot box.
First, all law is derived from God—not man.  God is the law-giver; therefore all law is either an expression of God’s law, a distortion of God’s law, or atheistic man-made law.  This is evident from the beginning—in the Garden of Eden, God commands of Adam, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”  (Genesis 2:16-17).  Satan then distorts this law by saying, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”  (Genesis 3:1)  The Scriptures are clear—God is the law-giver, Satan the law-distorter.  All law is God’s law, and is therefore our law.
Voddie Baucham, in preaching on Romans 13 [1]argues that many in the church are “Political Pelagians.”  He argues that Christians admit the necessity of God’s law in salvation, but dismiss the necessity of God’s law in government.  This political Pelagianism says that apart from the Word of God, we can use reason to discover natural law.  This thoroughly unbiblical proposition undermines the Word of God and his Lordship over all of life. 
This first principle requires that Christian voters examine a candidate’s understanding of law, and necessarily his theological commitments.  This is not to say that Christians can only vote for Christians, but at the minimum, candidates that think like a Christian.  Does the candidate act as one under the authority of God?
Law, of course, is important in maintaining order in a society—but Christians believe that the law is not redemptive, that is to say, salvation comes through Christ alone.  This leads to the second principle—that no human institution can, or should, attempt to offer itself as redeemer.  While this is obvious at the outset, the American system has slowly transformed itself into a messianic nation state.  What this means, is that the American government has assumed to itself religious functions that make it a rival to the One True God.  Herbert Schlossberg argues in his book Idols for Destruction that the modern American system believes that, “Salvation is to be found in the messianic state, or it is to be found nowhere.  Therefore, the only branch of human endeavor that can save us is politics…[2]
The messianic nation state does not merely attempt to bring order and rule to its people, as it ought, but attempt to feed its people through welfare programs and food subsidies, educate them in public schools and universities, reform criminals, and spread democracy across the world.  The messianic nation-state works to create people in its own image—people who accept the materialist assumptions that all that life has to offer is before us—there is no life after death, that the there is no final appeal beyond the state.
The messianic nation-state is not a man-serving institution ordained by God, but instead turns itself into a god that demands the service of people.  This new god requires its own blood sacrifice, too—men and women willing to “die for their country” with promises for “eternal glory.”
Were the paradox of the American system more widely recognized, perhaps we would better understand that good government is not the result of good law, but of good people.  The third principle is that the American form of government—the representative republic—is prone to corruption like all forms of government.  To believe that a particular system of government can solve a society’s ills is to fall into the materialist trap—believing that the human condition is not the result of sin, but of a system failure.  Christians know that the human “heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick…” (Jeremiah 17:9).  At the root, all evil, oppression, and injustice are the result of sin ruling the human heart.
Yet it is true that certain types of government are more prone to corruption and injustice than others.  A good form of government will recognize that the greater the concentration of power, the greater the chance corruption and tyranny.  For example, King Rehoboam, after the death of his father Solomon, said, “My little finger is thicker than my father's thighs. And now, whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.’”(1 Kings 12:10-11)  The state in the hands of one man is at his mercy.
On the other hand, if power is spread to broadly, as in a democracy, the majority of a society can tyrannize a minority.  It is helpful to remember that nations like Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia all used the nation’s legal system to engage in the murder and oppression of their own people.  
It is no coincidence that the American Republic was founded with three branches of government (executive, legislative, and judicial) with a system of checks and balances to seek a balance of power and keep one branch from exercising too much power.  For a time this system worked, but history shows us that the American Republic is not immune to injustice.  There are countless examples in American history of people using the government to advantage themselves and oppress others.  Southern slavery, conscription, the mistreatment of American Indians, segregation, and abortion are some of the more notable scandals in American history. 
Christians know better than to place their faith in a system of government—do not be deceived into thinking America is immune to the same ailments as any other nation.  Americans were given a remarkable legacy, but like any inheritance, it may be squandered by a wicked and imprudent generation.
As the American system has evolved, it has become binary—a two-party political system of Democrats and Republicans.  Of course there have been, and still are successful third parties, but these are largely at the fringes and the exception in a political race.  This binary system results in the mournful refrain of voters deciding between “the lesser of two evils.”  The fourth principle is that the lesser of two evils is still evil.  The prophet Isaiah says, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20)
If all the choices on the ballot are evil, Christians must recognize that their responsibility to forsake the evil.  The Apostle Peter quotes Psalm 34, “For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.  For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer.  But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”  (1 Peter 3:11-12)
If voting for a particular candidate is to participate in evil, Christians must resist, and instead seek a different path.  This may mean voting for a different party than you are accustomed to.  It may mean voting for a third party candidate, it may mean not voting for a particular office. 
Christians must be careful in allying themselves with a particular political party.  Herbert Schlossberg writes,
It may be… that the only healthy relationship the church can have with the political parties is one of mutual suspicion, with a willingness to undertake short-term alliances of limited scope.  Since each side is marching to a different drummer, it is difficult to see how the relationship can be any firmer, unless one or the other capitulates…  If we are successful, no party could lightly legislate or enforce the law in ways that are repugnant to Christians.  They may finally do so, but only at political cost. [3] 
Ultimately, Christians must be “salt and light” in their culture.  Christians need to be cautious in the political realm—and must not get ahead of the moral and religious inclinations of the constituency.  Schlossberg cautions Christians:
One of the most serious dangers we face in seeking to influence the political sphere is that we, too, may succumb to the delusion that we possess the "solution" to the dilemmas of peace and justice, requiring only that we grasp the reins of power.  If that should happen, we are only a step away from seeking to bring into being our own version of the messianic state.  For it would imply that our salvation lies in yet another reformation of institutional arrangements.  This society will have peace and justice when it repents and overthrows the idols, and not before.[4]
                In voting, as in all of life, the Christian faces a moment of moral clarity—to be faithful to Christ or to conform to the world.  The decision is not always a simple one, as there are countless variables in weighing a decision, but the wisdom of Christ is ours, should we ask for it.  (James 1:5)  So as you approach the voting booth this fall, ask yourself these questions:
§  Does this candidate profess faith in Christ and act as one under his authority?
§  Does this candidate promise things that only God can do? 
§  Does this candidate have faith in America, or in God? 
§  Am I promoting evil by supporting this candidate?”
Do not despair when political candidates fail to meet these requirements.  As Herbert Schlossberg argues, “If we are to change the temporal in keeping with the eternal, then it will have to be done by changing the powers that control events.  This means that we must work toward bringing the political, economic, and cultural landscape into conformity with the divine intention.”  [5]  This is not something that will be done in a mere election cycle, but over generations as a small bit of leaven leavens a ball of dough.  (1 Corinthians 5:6)

[2] Herbert Schlossberg, Idols For Destruction p. 178
[3] Herbert Schlossberg, Idols For Destruction, p. 330
[4] Herbert Schlossberg, Idols For Destruction, p. 330
[5] Herbert Schlossberg, Idols For Destruction, p. 327-328