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Christianity and Politics in Modern America: How Might We Think About Our Roles?

Various

I)       Introduction

A)    News Article:

1)      Fox News, reporting on Sept. 29th:

For more than half a century, members of the clergy in the United States have been prevented by federal law from endorsing political candidates from the pulpit. But now, with five weeks to go until Election Day, some clergy are saying the 2008 presidential election is too important to remain publicly impartial, and they are openly breaking the ban.

On Sunday, the Rev. Wiley Drake, pastor of the First Southern Baptist Church in Buena Park, California, put his congregation at risk of losing its tax-exempt status by endorsing third-party candidate Alan Keyes for president.

"If I've been asked once, I've been asked a dozen or more times, why are you doing what you are doing," said Drake, who was once targeted by the IRS for supporting political candidates from the pulpit. 

"Well I'm doing what I'm doing because I'm angry, I'm mad.

He is not alone. Thirty-two other pastors across the country participated over the weekend in a campaign called "Pulpit Freedom Sunday," organized by the Alliance Defense Fund, a socially conservative legal consortium based in Arizona.

2)      Blogger, The Reformed Pastor:

Pastors who are getting into partisan politics in the pulpit are abusing their office and their calling. Preach about moral issues in light of Scripture and theology all you want, but when you get partisan you wind up portraying God as a mere politician….  [Choosing between political candidates is] something that all Christians are called to do as they live as citizens of a democratic polity, but it has no place in the proclamation of God’s eternal Word. By helping the ADF pursue their legal crusade, these pastors are doing an enormous disservice to their congregations, and the ADF is doing one to the churches that it is supposed to be dedicated to serve.

B)     Religion and Politics

1)      Two things we’re told that we are never to discuss in good company.  Convictions are often very strong in these areas and the likelihood of a conversation about either religion or politics, or especially about religion and politics – the likelihood of such a conversation becoming volatile is pretty good.

I know first hand. As some of you know, as I have somewhat jokingly told you recently, I thought my good friend Bill and I, who work together on a daily basis, were going to end up wrestling in the work truck on the way to the job site as we began discussing both politics and religion; He initially more politics and I more religion but eventually it became a manic menagerie of the two.

2)      Well, how should Christians think about religion and politics?

More specifically, how should we as Christians, in the United States of America, in 2008, with the presidential election coming in a little over a week, think about our rights or duties as they relate to our dual citizenship?  We, as born again believers in Jesus Christ, being citizens of the Kingdom of God, and also, by nature of the fact that we live in this world, being citizens the kingdom of man; specifically for us the particular kingdom, if you will, of the United States of America. 

C)    My approach this morning:

1)      There are several different ways in which I think we could consider this important topic and I considered pursuing several of them. 

(1)   It would be helpful to think in the categories of the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of man or as Augustine articulated it: the City of God and the City of Man.

(2)   We might also continue the discussion that’s been going on, formally over the last 50 years or so but practically since Christianity came into existence, of the relationship between Christ and culture.  To use some of the terms that H. Richard Niebuhr used when he published his enormously influential book Christ and Culture in 1951, is Christ against culture, of culture, or above culture

Are we to lookup on the world with animosity?  Should we withdrawal from the world and everything in it?  And if so, to what extent?  Should we, like the Anabaptists of old or the Amish of today, build our own communities and separate ourselves completely?

Or should we see one of our main purposes as Christians to bring Christ to bear on the culture, to transform culture for Christ’s sake, and if so, how ought we to do this?  Through the political process?  By legislating morality?  Do we want a Christian state, where the job of the state is to enforce the laws that we as Christians see as the biblically binding?  And if so, which ones do we agree are binding?

The question of Christ and culture is far from an easy one.  And in fact, as D. A. Carson has rightly pointed out, to reduce our thinking about our relationship to the world around us strictly to these categories that Niebuhr developed, though they are indeed helpful in many ways, is rather reductionisitic and simply incapable of fully addressing all of the issues.

2)      And so there are several ways I could have approached the subject this morning. And as I wrestled with it I decided, as I’m sure you’ll be glad to hear, to try and be as simple as possible; which unfortunately, necessarily means I will undoubtedly over-simplify many issues.

What I want to do this morning is simply address some principles we must keep in mind: both those that are derived from the Scriptures that we as Christians ought to live by, and those which are the foundations of the government in which we live; and in the process to point out what I see as some misunderstandings that I think many people have which then wrongly inform their thinking on these issues.

My goal, quite simply, is to aid you to think biblically, informedly, and logically, through the choices we must make as both Bible-believing followers of Jesus Christ and citizens of the United States of America.

II)     Main Body

A)    Main Point

America is not, nor has it ever been, a Christian nation.

1)      Expounded

(1)   Does that surprise you?  I fully understand if it does. For with all the historically ignorant rhetoric that flies about, especially out of the mouths of Christian leaders who should be deeply concerned with accuracy and truth but unfortunately aren’t always, it would be very easy to buy in to and indeed I think most have brought into the idea that America was founded upon Christianity and was a Christian nation. It was not.

(2)   Now it may be necessary here for me to be very specific about whom I call a Christian.  The Christian is not just someone who is moral; there are no doubt some very moral atheists.  A Christian is not just someone who believes in God; Muslims believe in god, Mormons believe in god, Jews believe in god, but none of them are Christians.  All kinds of people claim to believe in god who are not Christians.

Christians, quite simply, are those people, whom by God’s grace, have seen the sinfulness of their souls and their need for salvation, and have run to the only source of salvation: Jesus Christ; and through repentance and faith have embraced His gospel. 

They believe the fundamentals of the faith:

(a)    They believe that Jesus Christ was and is the Eternal Son of God.

(b)   They believe that he was born of a virgin.

(c)    They believe that he was crucified and that His death was the only source of atonement for sins and that after three days he rose bodily, physically from the grave and that He is now presently reigning in Heaven until that day in which He will return to judge the entirety of mankind according to His perfect unfailing righteousness and justice.

(3)   Many, if not most, of our founding fathers did not believe these things. Allow me to give you a couple of quotes that you might find disturbing:

(a)    Thomas Jefferson:

(i)      The attributes of the Jewish God are degrading and injurious to morality and not only imperfect but often irreconcilable with the sound dictates of reason.

(ii)    Because the disciples were the most unlettered and ignorant of men, Jesus’ teachings found in the Bible are mutilated, misstated, and often unintelligible.

(iii)    If by religion people mean doctrines this would be the best of all possible worlds if there were no religion in it, but if the moral precepts, innate in man, and made a part of his physical constitution as necessary for his social being, if the sublime doctrines of philanthropism and Deism, taught us by Jesus of Nazareth, in which we all agree constitute true religion, then without it, this would be, something indeed not even to be named, indeed a hell.

(iv)  He spoke of the miracles of Jesus, His claim to deity, salvation from sin and the like as “impious heresies.”

(b)    John Adams:

(i)      My adoration of the author of the universe is too profound and too sincere of the love of god and his creation, delight, joy, triumph, exultation, in my own existence, though but an atom, a molecule organic in the universe, are my religion.  Howl, snarl bite ye Calvinistic, ye Athanasian divines if ye will, ye say I am no Christian, I say ye are no Christians and there the account is balanced.

(c)    Benjamin Franklin:

(i)      Some books against Deism fell into my hands; they were said to be the substance of sermons preached at Boyle's lectures. It happened that they wrought an effect on me quite contrary to what was intended by them; for the arguments of the Deists, which were quoted to be refuted, appeared to me much stronger than the refutations; in short, I soon became a thorough Deist.

(d)   Other who gave evidence of being deists or heavily influenced by its tenants include: Cornelius Harnett, Gouverneur Morris, Hugh Williamson, James Madison, possibly Alexander Hamilton, Ethan Allen, Elihu Palmer, and undoubtedly Thomas Paine (who published The Age of Reason, a treatise that helped to popularize deism throughout America and Europe).

(4)   Now let me say, just give you briefly, in case you are wondering, a quick definition of a Deist.  According to Oxford’s dictionary they are those who belie[ve] in the existence of a supreme being, specifically of a creator who does not intervene in the universe.

They may borrow much of their language and morality from Christianity but they are not indeed Christians.

2)      Applied

(1)   To say that America was or – and you’ve got to be, almost willfully blind or honestly ignorant to espouse this – is a Christian nation is quite frankly wrong.  Were some of them Christians? Probably, my history is not good enough to tell you. But were all of them Christians or even the majority of the Christians? No. Deists? Yes.  Moralists? Yes.  Bible-believing born again followers of Jesus Christ? No.  And there intention, thankfully, never was to set up a Christian nation.  Did they borrow many of the morals that found within Christianity? Absolutely. But that does not make them Christians.

(2)   Now I say thankfully there desire never was to set up a “Christian Nation” because my friends, what it seems the majority of Christians in America have forgotten, is the horrible evils that have historically been associated with any nation that takes religion on as a function of the government; that has, a State Church.  

Ask the myriads of Protestants, like you and I, who were burned at the stake under the heavy hand of Queen Mary as she restored Roman Catholicism as the state church in England and Ireland.

We as Baptists, above all people, should understand the horrors of such a concept as we were heavily persecuted even by our protestant brothers, in places where Presbyterianism and the necessity of infant baptism remained a part of the governmental structure.

(3)   My friends, if the radical right wing Christian fundamentalists ever get their way and America becomes a “Christian Nation” then I’m making sure my passport is up to date and I’m leaving.

Who is going to decide which doctrines are right and which are wrong? Which ones just require prison time and which ones require the death penalty?

And so, let me suggest to you that the first thing we need to clear up, the first misunderstanding that needs to be rectified, is this idea that America ever was or is a Christian nation or even America becoming a “Christian Nation” is something that is desirable.  Our forefathers in this country may not have been Bible believing Christians by in large, but they were very wise men and they understood that one of the things that was going to be necessary if this experiment in democracy was ever going to work was that there be the freedom of all religions to worship as they see fit and believe me when I say that we want it no other way. 

B)     Main Point

1)      Public policy will not produce Christians and it is not our duty to impose our decidedly Christian beliefs on others.

(1)   Public policy will not produce Christians

(a)    Expounded

To use the simple words of Christ to Nicodemus in John 3, “You must be born again.” 

Understand dearly beloved no amount of social reform, no number of policies put in place to attempt to secure morality, will ever make anyone a Christian. That is the work of our Triune God alone.

You can go find a drunk sleeping in the alley way off of Broadway, and you can take him home and put him in the shower and clean him up, shave him up nicely, and send him out into the community and all that you have done is make a presentable drunk.  He must be changed from the inside and the same is true for our pagan and atheistic neighbors and friends.

(b)   Applied

You really want to change your coworker’s opinion about abortion or homosexual marriage or embryonic stem cell research? Then talk to them of there sin and the fact that they will stand before that judgment seat of Christ and that the they are presently under his wrath and condemnation and that they must flee to Him alone for salvation.  Preach to them the law and the gospel and pray that God would work that miraculous work of salvation upon their hearts which radically transforms them inwardly and then hopefully watch on as their worldview is radically transformed before your eyes.

Now I’m not suggesting that that is the only thing you can discuss with them. There is most definitely a place for reasoned, intelligent conversation about these issues, even with non-believers, but what I am saying is if you really want to see their opinions changed then there must be a fundamental change in their nature which can only come about through the Spirit’s work as the Word of God is proclaimed and their sinful heart is renewed.

                        Public policy will not produce Christians.

(2)   It is not our duty to impose our decidedly Christian beliefs on others.

(a)    Expounded

Here again is where we have to think specifically about the country in which we live and the freedoms that democracy has afforded us and our neighbors; Christian or otherwise.

The same freedom of religion that we enjoy which allows us to meet here today and to worship our Great God and Savior unhindered is also granted to our pagan, atheist, Muslim, and Zoroastrian neighbors.  There is good reason why the United States of America has been called the melting pot.  There is a wide diversity of religious beliefs in this country and to be consistent and right and just we must acknowledge our fellow citizens rights to believe what they want and worship how they want.

And where we have gotten this idea that somehow we, as Christians, have rights to this nation that others do not I haven’t got a clue. Actually, I do have a clue. It has probably come from those same uninformed people who tell us that this was, at one point, and needs to be again, a Christian nation.

(b)   Applied

(i)      Allow me to put it to you this way: arguing that abortion is wrong because the Bible says it is wrong has little to no place in the political sphere.  The Bible means nothing to the non-Christian and who are we to tell them, that in matters of public policy it must.

Now let me clarify what I am and am not saying here: 

1.      What I am not saying is that the Bible has no relevance as to how we look at politics, or that it should have no personal bearing upon how Christian politicians write and argue for policies even.  The Bible is unequivocally the Christians standard for all of life and practice.

2.      What I am saying, very specifically is, to argue in the political sphere that something is right or wrong or needs to be outlawed or allowed on the basis of “because the Bible says so” is untenable and inconsistent with how we expect to be treated by our government.

What if the old school Mormon was to say that polygamy should be legalized, that it should be allowed within our country for a man to have several wives legally because one of his prophets or the book of Mormon tells him it’s okay.  What would you think of that line of argumentation in the political process? Does that convince you?  That the book of Mormon tells him so and so you ought to submit to its teaching? 

What’s the difference between that and the Bible-believing Christian saying that abortion is wrong because the Bible tells us so?

And someone will say, “Well the difference is that the Bible is inerrantly true!”  That’s right, but the Mormon doesn’t think so, the secular humanist doesn’t think so, and their both members of this city of man with us and so there is a sense in which their views, or the agnostic’s views, or the Muslim’s views need to be respected and taken into account, specifically within the political sphere of this country.

(ii)    This is where this concept, first articulated by Augustine in the 4th century, but I think clearly able to be substantiated biblically (such as with Jesus’ words recorded for us in the gospels, …render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s) – this is where this concept of the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Man needs to be understood. 

We have a dual citizenship.  We have been sovereignly, graciously, transferred out of the Kingdom of Darkness into the Kingdom of His marvelous light; the City of God.   And we are also, every Christian on this globe, citizens of the City of Man. 

Now each specific locality of this City of Man has its differences which need to be taken into account.  We live, thankfully, in a democratic society and so our rules of engagement within the political sphere in which we live are vastly different from say, those in communist China.  But the fact remains that each Christian has what might be rightly referred to as a dual citizenship.

And to confuse the two can, at best simply make life difficult. At worst, to confuse the two and say equate the City of God with the City of Man, can be catastrophic and result, as history has proven, in such tragedies as religious persecution and oppression.

All this is to say that while our citizenship in the City of God will undoubtedly have significant implications on our thoughts and actions towards the City of Man there is also the need to be able to distinguish between the two and understand what is appropriate to each in order for them to function properly in the world in which God owns. 

Forcing your Mormon, or Buddhist, or Muslim neighbor to submit to the Bible’s teaching by way of public policy is not only setting a double standard but it is opposed to the very values and religious freedoms that we hold so dear ourselves as Christians in America.

Well then, what is a consistent way to approach these hot button issues, these necessary and deeply serious issues, in public sphere?  Let me suggest this:

C)    Main Point

What we can and ought to appeal to, specifically in the political sphere, is the natural law that God has endowed all men with.

1)      Expounded

You see, we do have an advantage.  Paul argues in the first few chapters of Romans that the law of God is written upon the heart of every man.  We understand, because God has revealed it to us, that written upon heart of every man, because every man is created in the image of God, is God’s moral law; which we find codified in the Ten Commandments.

2)      Applied

(1)   Men instinctively know that murder is wrong.  Why? Because they are created in the image of God and it is indelibly stamped upon the hearts by their Creator.

My friends, that’s why you don’t hear the majority of those who are pro-abortion speaking in terms of pro-abortion. What do they term it?  Pro-choice.  They transfer the whole locus of the discussion onto a women’s rights and almost wholly refuse to even discuss the little life within her.  Why?  Because who, with any kind of conscience at all is going to argue that it is okay to kill a baby?

You want to discuss the horrors of abortion and the need to cease allowing this horrific, catastrophic, murderous rampage going on in our nation within the political sphere with those who may not believe as you do religiously?  Speak about it in terms that you know the Creator has stamped on their heart. Every time the conversation goes to one of choice say you’re missing the point it’s not about a woman’s choice it’s about the baby’s life.  Murder is wrong.

The pro-abortion movement has had to make it an issue of the woman’s choice because their consciences will not let allow them to look at the real issue which is the life of the unborn.

(2)   Mankind instinctively knows that marriage is only to be between a man and a woman.  Honor your father and mother, presupposes that one has a father and a mother.  Not one of those arguing for marriage to be allowed to include by definition a man and a man or a women and a women was conceived and birthed by any such pair!  This isn’t fundamentally a matter of what the Bible says it is a fact of nature and inherently every human being knows it and almost every civilized sociality in history has recognized it, whether influenced by Christianity or not.  Two men can’t make a baby, nor can two women so to suggest that their can be some kind of profitable union for society in such a match is intellectually absurd.

D)    Main Point

Rather than being radicals we ought to attempt to live peaceably with all men.

1)      Expounded

1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 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, 4 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. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
Romans 13:1-7 (ESV)

13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
1 Peter 2:13-17 (ESV)

1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.
1 Timothy 2:1-2 (ESV)

9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Romans 12:9-21 (ESV)

2)      Applied

I don’t think the answer to the issues we face is necessarily political activism, not, at least, in what I would see as its radical forms. 

E)     Main Point

You are personally responsible for what you do with that ballot.

1)      Expounded

11 for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” 12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
Romans 14:11-12 (ESV)

2)      Applied

III)  Conclusion

Dear brothers and sisters, most, if not all of you, at one point in your lives, came out of churches that were horribly shallow in their theology.  And as you have, by God’s grace, come to a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the richness of growing in your knowledge of God and the truths proclaimed in His Word, not only have your lives been changed but you have grown to feel sorry for those brothers and sisters of ours who still languish under that shallow teaching.  Let me suggest to you that is that very same predominant shallow theology that is driving much of the conversation and proclamation that we hear presently in our country concerning politics.  Don’t buy it. Don’t just incognizantly drink in whatever Focus on the Family is feeding you.  Be a thinking Christian; not only in your doctrine but in it’s practical application to the world in which you live.

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