With poll after poll revealing only half of those who self-identify as Christians voting, you’ve got to wonder why. Of all people, shouldn’t Christians know how precious and fragile this experiment in self-government is. Why is it that so many of them think “Christian Patriot” is an oxymoron?
Perhaps they know not because they’ve been taught not.
My own “political testimony” is a classic example…
A mutual friend had thought it a good idea to get me together with Dr. Larry Arnn, then the president of the Claremont Institute (today he’s the President of Hillsdale College). The idea was to brainstorm about doing some joint speaking events. I, the popular Christian apologist from Talbot School of Theology, would do the Christian thing. Dr. Arnn would do the conservative-political thing. The idea was to do some cross pollination: to get Christians to care about conservative politics, and to get conservatives to care about Christian theology. This was our first get-together–just the three of us over coffee.
I started the conversation after the initial round of polite greetings.
“Larry, I’m an evangelical Christian, and I really think we just need to help people–conservatives especially–understand that this was a Christian nation. The only real way to turn America around is to get the Church serious about walking with the Lord again. We’ve simply moved too far away from our Christian roots, that’s the whole problem.,” I said.
“Frank, I’m a Christian too. But, if–as you believe–all the answers are in the New Testament teachings of Jesus, then why do you think it took eighteen centuries for there to be an America? Why would Christians want to create a new government when both the Lord and Romans teach that we are to obey whomever is in power, even tyrants? Furthermore, how would Christians know how to do such a thing? After all, Jesus never raised an army, levied a tax, guided a policy debate in a legislature, or administered a government,” he said with quiet confidence.
I was stunned. I honestly had never considered any of these questions.
“I’ve got no clue,” I confessed.
For the next two hours, Dr. Arnn laid out the broad contours of an answer. I had never heard anything like it. It was the story of political philosophy, the story of Christianity, the story of Western Civilization, and the story of the American founding all rolled into one. He ranged with ease from Plato’s Republic to the Federalist Papers, with stops along the way at Jesus, Augustine, Aquinas, Machiavelli, Jefferson and others–all off the top of his head–often quoting from memory.
Why have I never heard any of this? And if I haven’t heard it–and I’m a professor at a Christian college–I guarantee a whole lot of Christians haven’t either.
You see, it isn’t that Americans have lost their Christian roots, it’s that Christians have lost their American roots. They don’t know that the American story, and the larger story of Western Civilization, is their story. No wonder they don’t vote. They don’t understand America was and is the greatest expression of Christian values in all of history.
They don’t understand politics is theology applied–it’s how we live out our faith.
Adequate answers to Dr. Arnn’s excellent questions range far beyond the scope of this limited column. But, for now, here’s a few humble suggestions to think about.
It took so long for there to be an America because so many things had to get worked out. In the ancient world, all laws came from the local gods, and the ruler was therefore both king and priest. As Rome expanded, they would attempt to accommodate all of these local religions into their Pantheon. Rome paved the way for the later acceptance of monotheism. A universal empire made it easier for a universal religion.
Yet, who should rule? The one, the few, or the many? It took many centuries for democracy to displace monarchy, aristocracy, and the divine right of kings. A king may be God’s man on earth, but what to do about succession?
Only equals can trust one another with the responsibilities, duties, and privileges of democracy. Equality is the precondition for democracy. For why would you allow someone not your equal to have a vote as valuable as yours? But who are one’s equals? If no man is born with a saddle on his back, can there be such a thing as a natural slave? If all men have equal standing before God, then why does one own the labor of another? There would be a Civil War over this.
Jesus’ radical “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God that which is God’s ” (Mt. 22:21) simply remade the world. It is the source of both the separation of church and state, private property, and the idea of limited government. No man should be both Caesar and High Priest, nor should the state have authority over the soul, the conscience, or the fruits of one’s labor.
So much for trying to do Western Civ. in a few paragraphs.
Let me just suggest that each element of this four-part calculus plays a critical role: Old Testament, New Testament, Declaration of Independence, and Constitution. Omit one, and the whole thing breaks down. Fail to understand each precedent, and the consequent hangs in mid air. You’ve got to know where you’ve been to know where you are.
Perhaps I can ask you a question.
Think of what it is conservatives are trying to conserve, what liberals are attempting to liberate from, and what progressives are striving to progress toward. Think of the utopias of each. Would you want to live in that society? If not, why not? What are you doing today to make sure that doesn’t happen? That’s politics. Someone’s vision of the future is being implemented today in the here and now. Whose will it be? That’s why you vote.
American Christians have overcome more evil, promoted more good, and advanced more justice than any people in history. Every American ought to be indebted to the Judeo-Christian value system that is the foundation of our American superstructure. Every Christian, regardless of where they’re from, should admire this wondrous thing called America that has been the best political expression of our Lord’s teachings.
Jesus may never have raised an army, levied a tax, guided a policy debate in a legislature, or administered a government. But He has raised us up to do these things in His name. May we be faithful to His high calling.