The Bible, Government, and American Politics 2012 Edition
I have been interested in politics since I was in my early teens. I really have no idea why that is and, as I grow older, I have come to believe that it is a waste of my time and a distraction from what is truly important in life. Voting is a responsibility that I have always taken seriously and probably always will but I do not think that politics is a solution to any of life’s problems. That is particularly true for Christians.
In March the Chafer Theological Seminary held its 2012 Pastors’ Conference the topic of which was “The Role of the Christian in the National Entity” (the videos can be found here and the papers presented here). I ordered the conference DVDs and am currentlyworking my way through them. What really comes through to me when viewing these presentations is how much at odds the biblical viewpoint of government is from the viewpoint now prevalent in the United States (this was not always the case).
What I am going to do today is comment on a trend that I have noticed in mainstream “conservative” political thought and then provide an extended quote from Charles Clough’s paper from the Pastors’ Conference. You should notice that there is a huge difference in worldview here. In fact that difference should almost stand up and slap you in the chops. It’s that big.
Before I go on I want to be up front and mention that I am comparing the Biblical view to what is considered “conservative” political thought in the United States today. I have come to the realization that my “conservative” worldview (I am labeled as a “social conservative”) has nothing to do with pretty much any other variety of modern American “conservative.” I no longer expect that any conservative group or political party in the United States will desire the membership of my kind of conservative. I don’t think that many other likeminded Christians have realized this yet but they should be getting the point over the next year or so.
I should probably point out that I use an example from a self described libertarian below. Libertarian thought and philosophy is becoming much more mainstream in so-called conservative circles and many Christians are being lured into it. I think that is a mistake.
What is Freedom?
Because of our founding the United States culture has always emphasized freedom. I firmly believe that the concept of freedom that existed at the time of our founding was based on the Ten Commandments. Many of my contemporaries have been taught that the Ten Commandments are bad things that don’t let you do what you want. I mean really, what’s wrong with a little adultery or the occasional white lie? I still hold that the freedom experienced in the United States has always been based on the Ten Commandments and that any other “freedom” is a pale imitation.
In the last few years I keep hearing with greater frequency that freedom is defined as the ability to do anything you want as long as it doesn’t harm anyone else. This idea sounds good up to a point but it isn’t biblical so I decided to find out who wrote that and what the philosophy behind it is.
“The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”
It really isn’t very hard to come up with an example where this definition clashes with the Ten Commandments. Most Christians should know that perjury is forbidden by the Ten Commandments. Do you know what the penalty for perjury was in the Mosaic Law? The punishment was the same punishment that the person on trial would have received if convicted based on the perjured testimony. So, if you committed perjury in a capital case (one whose penalty was death) you were to be put to death. That violates the harm principle.
There are many other examples that I could glean from today’s headlines. What about gay marriage, prostitution, and recreational drug use? Most Christians would oppose such things but the harm principle has no problem with them. Of course the truth of the matter is that those things have done tremendous damage to our society but no one wants to talk about that.
Before I move on I would like to mention that no Christian should latch on to any philosophy advocated by the likes of John Stewart Mill. He was an atheist and very antagonistic to Christianity. Here is just one quote from Positive Atheism’s John Stewart Mill quote page:
It can do truth no service to blind the fact, known to all who have the most ordinary acquaintance with literary history, that a large portion of the noblest and most valuable moral teaching has been the work not only of men who did not know, but of men who knew and rejected the Christian faith.
— John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, quoted from John E Remsberg, The Christ, p. 313
So fellow Christians, do you honestly believe that any good fruit can come from such a man?
A Contemporary Example of the Harm Principle at Work
This past week an amendment was approved by the voters of the State of North Carolina defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. This is most definitely in accordance with the Biblical definition of marriage and would not have been controversial at the time of our founding.
Unfortunately this violates the harm principle so it must not merely be ignored, it must be ridiculed. I found a fairly typical example by Neal Boortz who is a self-described libertarian and has a radio talk show in Atlanta. When the North Carolina Marriage Amendment passed he got up on his pagan high horse and went to town on the Christians who voted for the amendment.
Mr. Boortz appears to have put on a heavy, fake southern accent while making fun of those poor hicks in North Carolina. After the show some of his listeners sent him e-mail protesting his tantrum which he then posted on his web site (please see: Keep the hate mail coming!) in order to heap more disrespect on them. There is one letter clearly written by a Christian that I think crossed the line but mostly these listeners were complaining that his comments were uncalled for. Neal apparently couldn’t grasp that point. To disagree with Neal is to hate Neal. It must be good to be Neal.
The point that I am trying to make here is that Christians really shouldn’t become involved with people like Neal Boortz. There is no common ground here. People like him may sound good on some issues but they will end out betraying you. The reason for this is simple: they are of this world but we aren’t.
Many Christians will say that we need to make common cause with men like Neal Boortz in order to preserve our quickly fading freedoms. To that I respond:
5 This is what the Lord says:
The man who trusts in mankind,
who makes human flesh his strength
and turns his heart from the Lord is cursed.
For a bit more of a critique on what is wrong with Libertarianism from a Christian perspective please see What is Wrong with Libertarianism?
Everyone’s Favorite Constitutional Scholar: Thomas Jefferson
Before I move on to my Charles Clough quote I want to mention Thomas Jefferson and how he has been used to push Christianity out of the public square. In 1802 he responded to a letter from the Danbury Baptist Association (read Jefferson’s reply here) which asked him why he had stopped proclaiming national days of fasting and thanksgiving like his predecessors had. The letter is short and worth reading. It is from this letter that we get the modern constitutional standard of the “wall of separation between church and state.” This legal standard is now being used to push Christianity out of the public square by every political party.
It is my belief that the letter to the Danbury Baptist Association doesn’t support pushing Christianity out of the public square. Thomas Jefferson was speaking for himself as president. In addition to that, are you aware that Thomas Jefferson was not involved in drafting the United States Constitution? Here is a list of the framers of the Constitution and his name isn’t on there. So why does he get to the almost exclusive right to interpret the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment?
I will venture a guess: Thomas Jefferson was not a Christian so he is a very handy member of the founding fathers to use to help suppress any public expression of Christianity. Rather than bore you with details I would like to recommend a letter written in 1800 by Pastor John Mitchell Mason opposing the election of Thomas Jefferson as President of the United States. It is a long letter so I am only going to quote the first paragraph:
A crisis of no common magnitude awaits our country. The approaching election of a president is to decide a question not merely of preference to an eminent individual, or particular views of policy, but, what is infinitely more, of national regard or disregard to the religion of Jesus Christ. Had the choice been between two infidels or two professed Christians, the point of politics would be untouched by me. Nor, though opposed to Mr. Jefferson, am I to be regarded as a partizan; since the principles which I am about to develope, will be equally unacceptable to many on both sides of the question. I dread the election of Mr. Jefferson, because I believe him to be a confirmed infidel: you desire it, because, while he is politically acceptable, you either doubt this fact, or do not consider it essential. Let us, like brethren, reason this matter.
The Voice of Warning to Christians
John Mitchell Mason
Such a letter would really cause a stink nowadays. I wonder what Neal Boortz would say?
Quote from Charles Clough
Once upon a time ideas like the ones proposed by Charles Clough in his paper “The Basic Function, Limitations, and Dangers of Civil Power Revealed in the Old Testament” would have been deemed worthy of public discussion here in the United States. Any Christian who takes Clough’s premise seriously would have to agree that the government does not have Divine warrant to act against “traditional” concepts of marriage and family the way ours has. This is not a popular position to take even among Christians. None the less I am going to provide this excerpt and hopefully it will help foster some deep thought on these issues by anyone who reads it.
The ten commandments appear to have an implied commentary on the nature of a community. If one combines the first two commandments as a broad address of man’s relationship to God’s authority, a chiasm appears centering on life:
5:6-10 God alone is worthy of worship and service
**5:11 Accuracy in language about God
****5:12-15 Management of labor and property
******5:16 Society depends upon functional marriage & family
********5:17 Life is to be respected & preserved
******5:18 Marriage is to be protected
****5:19 Property is to be protected
**5:20 Accuracy in language of judicial proceedings
5:21 Self is not worthy of worship and service
Like the life-affirming purpose of the civil authority of capital punishment in Genesis 9:5-6, the supreme value of human life is here, too, emphasized.
Next, if one turns this chiasm a quarter turn to the left as in figure 3, there seems to be a depiction of the dynamics of the Hebrew community. At bottom is the spiritual orientation of the hearts of the people–are they submissive to Yahweh God, or do they reject Him and look elsewhere? Out from the heart comes words so the next layer addresses the people’s language. Does it express truth beginning with the supreme truth about God and then in social relations beginning with the most crucial matter of court proceedings? No society can function without integrity of language whether in business accounting, contracts, or engineering computations.
Above integrity of language comes labor and the resulting property (wealth). With integrity of language secure, business can proceed. Above labor and wealth comes marriage and family. Marriage and family can prosper only when there is adequate wealth to sustain them. Finally, the production of properly functioning marriage and family is life. Without, however, the foundational heart orientation toward the Lord, the entire overlying social structure is jeopardized.
If the purpose of all civil government is ultimately to preserve life, we would expect that theocratic Israel’s government included that end among its other special purposes. Some general wisdom principles derived from the Decalogue and its corollary laws would then follow concerning the great questions of government. Here is a sampling in the order of the areas in figure 3…