Here’s a paper that I wrote for my weekend class (Christian Ethics). Our assignment was to take a position (didn’t necessarily have to be ours) on the Christian’s relationship to the contemporary political sphere , and use our readings to support it. And all of this in 3 pages =). Here’s what I’ll be submitting on Friday. I won’t say if it is actually my position.
The Kingdom Comes a Different Way: Reflections on a Christian’s Role in Government
Today is election day. Many people from all over Jessamine County will be going out to vote for the best candidates for various political offices. Most of these citizens will be exercising this privilege because they believe that they have a responsibility to help elect someone who will work towards implementing a better, more just, society. Some voters will be motivated to vote because they feel like it is better than doing nothing. Still others will not be voting, mostly because they do not think their vote makes a difference, and a small portion of non-voters will be abstaining because of their religious convictions. For Christ-followers, deciding whether or not to vote is tightly interwoven with one’s perspective on the proper relationship between the Christian and the State. Ultimately, the real question comes down to, “how do we relate the kingdom of God to the kingdoms of this world?” (Hollinger 190). In this essay, I am proposing that the kingdom of God does not come through the kingdoms of this world, and that Christians should abstain from the political sphere altogether, directing their energies for Kingdom-building elsewhere.
Many Jews expected the Messiah to come as a political figure. They looked forward to His coming, desiring the Kingdom of God to be established through His political authority. In the Old Testament, we find God using the prophets to shake the Israelites to an awareness of the injustices going on in their communities. In Isaiah 1.16-17 (NLT), God says, “Wash yourselves and be clean! Get your sins out of my sight. Give up your evil ways. Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows.” The poor were being ignored. A deaf ear had been turned to the cries of the weak. Those who had much were not holding their possessions with open hands (Isaiah 56). We see that God had serious things to say about this to the people of God. He desired for them to repent and to come near to Him. But most of them did not.
Much injustice was still occurring when Jesus came on the scene hundreds of years later. Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for obeying the laws, but having ugly, unrighteous hearts. (Matthew 23.23-28). However, perhaps surprisingly to some, Jesus did not concern Himself with changing the way Rome governed. He did not try and establish a new government, and He did not attempt to enact justice through the creation of laws. In fact, His whole life and mission was to communicate the reality of the Kingdom and help people to understand their invitation to joining Him in that. This was not a Kingdom where people were forced to join. The invitation was one of love. He invited us to be in a relationship with God through a great act of love (John 15.13). He does not make us love Him. He does not make us participate. It is through these choices of love that the Kingdom of God comes to earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). So, when we are working to establish the Kingdom of God on earth and working for the justice of all people, we follow suite- knowing that justice is not going to be established through political authorities, making laws for people to follow.
By not participating in politics, one does not give up the responsibility to establish justice. God cares about the whole world, and we are to work with Him in redeeming it- culture and all. Some would suggest that political silence makes a person guilty of injustice because they are doing nothing to change a situation (Boulton 434). My response is that yes, doing nothing does make a person guilty of injustice, however, there are other ways of establishing justice outside of the political sphere. As Shane Claiborne said in a blog post on God’s Politics:
…if we do not vote, we had better be spending every day of our lives trying to create alternative solutions to the questions of how 48 million folks can have health care, how we can live without fuel, how we deal with violent people … and on and on.
Critics of the withdrawal position will highlight Romans 13 and will say the government officials are commissioned by God, have divine authority, and act on behalf of God (Calvin). I would respond by asking if Hitler was acting on behalf of God when he exterminated millions of Jews. If not, we may need to look at this chapter of Scripture through a different lens. Perhaps the role of the government is used by God to give order to society, and Paul is encouraging us here to submit to that order.
Finally, while some would see the stance of withdrawal as “Christ against culture” and point out its guilt of dualism, John Yoder rightly explains the heart behind it when he argues, as explained by Dennis Hollinger, “that the issue is not about being against culture but about devotion to the way of Christ, which at points conflicts with culture and society” (194). Christians are called to live in this world, but not be of this world. Withdrawing completely from society in attempts to create a Christian colony is unhelpful. God sent His son Jesus to walk and live amongst us, and we are called to walk and live among others. However, there are times when Christians can better bring the Kingdom of God to earth by working in ways counter to the world. It requires a sense of balance and an understanding of the nature of the Kingdom to discern when to do which.
Whatever a Christian decides on his or her role in the contemporary political sphere, it is important to remember the words of Dennis Hollinger when he talking about “Christ in but not of culture”:
Certainly the preposition ‘in’ can too easily portray a static role for Christians in culture and society, but it points us in the direction of an incarnational model that seeks to be faithful to both the paradigm of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation and the mode of Jesus himself (214).
Christians are to carry the light of Jesus to the world, being agents of reconciliation, defenders of the weak and oppressed, and establishing the Kingdom of God here on earth. May the Father guide us in imaginatively creating alternatives outside the political realm.
Boulton, Wayne G. and Thomas D. Kennedy, and Allen Verhey, eds. From Christ to the World:
Introductory Readings in Christian Ethics. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994.
Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. On Civil Government, Sections 1-7.
Claiborne, Shane. “Voting As Damage Control.” God’s Politics. Sojourners, 30 10 2008. Web. 2
Nov 2010. <http://blog.sojo.net/2008/10/30/voting-as-damage-control/>.
Hollinger, Dennis. Choosing the Good: Christian Ethics in a Complex World. Grand Rapids: