Week 1 of Religion and Politics at Regent University
Prompt: What do you think are the most important principles that should govern Christian engagement with politics? Did the early colonial settlers and revolutionary era Christians in the U.S. reflect these principles in their political engagements? Why or why not?
Christian engagement with politics should be governed by a proper understanding of, and subsequent orientation within, the spheres of authority, responsibility, and roles that govern life within the world.
As I see it Biblically, earthly authority exists within the spheres of the state, the church, and the family. (Credit to Voddie Bauchum for amazingly explaining this dynamic.) Each of these spheres overlaps the other to a certain degree, but each also has its own area of responsibility. The family and leaders are responsible for fostering and communicating virtue and right moral character. This understanding of virtue and right character is informed and clarified by the church as it promotes and fosters faith. Neither faith nor virtue are capable of flourishing absent the liberty that the state is responsible for securing and providing.
The church cannot and should not supplant the responsibility of a family leader to communicate character. The family cannot effectively foster faith without the church. The state has a horrible record of attempting to inspire faith or define character. (Credit to Os Guinness for his ‘Golden Triangle’ illustration.)
Each of these principles are under girded by a proper understanding of the Truth which governs our lives, Christian and non-Christian alike.
Truth informs us that we have been created for the glory of God and our duty and responsibility is to glorify and enjoy Him. While there is much more to say about this, I believe the right orientation to these fundamental principles is what defines and enables a civil society.
Exchanging the hub of Truth for anything else (currently equality), results in the shifting of responsibility around the spheres and ultimately, the imbalance of authority and/or outright distortion of the spheres themselves.
The early colonial settlers and revolutionary era Christians reflected these principles in their political engagements. Much of the disagreement surrounding their understanding of government’s role within the lives of man was not a disagreement about it’s primary function, that is, to secure freedom and liberty for the citizens living under its authority. The Founders were arguing over where the delineation of such spheres of authority should lie on the spectrum of responsibility. Whether consciously understanding where the truth of this model comes from, or riding off the intellectual laziness the Enlightenment philosophers engaged in (ie. Not recognizing their theories were built upon Christian presuppositions), is debatable, but the effectiveness of this model is not.
Where I see things going wrong then as now, is when leaders attempt to abdicate or shift the responsibilities each of the spheres are commanded to operate within. When government attempts to inspire and foster faith, when the family is primarily concerned with freedom instead of virtue, and when the church attempts to take over the transmission of virtue instead of leaving it to the family, problems are quick to arise and slow to be dispelled. I believe many in the early colonial governments got in spiritual and intellectual trouble in their attempts to swallow the sphere of government by extending the spheres of the church (primarily) and the family.
If Christians can operate within politics with a proper orientation and understanding, and communicate their understanding effectively while doing so, we might all be surprised at the profoundly good effect it can have on the ills currently plaguing society.
What are your thoughts on this dynamic and how do you think Christian’s might help to foster a more civil society?