[7]        Politics (1): Government & Politics

STORY: The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is the foremost anti-Christian organization with an agenda of radical secularization of all institutions. In the past decade, it has tried to censor Christmas through legal terrorism by suing anyone dare to celebrate Christmas in public (including Christmas carols, Christmas decorations, Christmas trees). Here are some results based on the action of ACLU.

In California, a school district rejected any reference to Christmas yet allowed Halloween celebrations. A principal ordered his teachers never to utter the word “Christmas” in class and not include it in written materials.

The New York City Department of Education prohibits the display of Christian Nativity scenes, while it “expressly permits and encourages” the display of the Jewish Menorah and the Islamic Star and Crescent. What is your reaction?

Background:

Historically, evangelical churches avoid participating in political activities. However, there have been changes in the US where the Christian Coalition began their activities in 1986 trying to mobilize Christians to elect like-minded politicians. The effect was largely felt in the 1994 election when many politicians sympathetic to Christian morality and family values (mostly Republicans) were elected.

In Canada, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada tries to represent Christians before the government. Many pro-life pro-family groups have been organized by Christians to influence the political system.

33.  What is the Biblical view of government?

a.   The Bible explicitly teaches two things about government:

(1)  The main duty of the government is to maintain order in the society; this can be achieved by rewarding the good and punishing the evil (Ro 13:1-7; 1Pe 2:13-15).

(2)  Christians are to submit to the government because all authorities are from God:

o        Mt 17:24-27; 22:15-22  Taxes are legitimate even for a foreign government.

o        Jn 19:8-11  God had given the government authority to rule.

o        Ro 13:1-7; 1Pe 2:13-17  Paul asked Christians to submit to the government which at that time was a foreign government.

b.   Modern governments extend their authority to many more areas than those specified in the Bible. Should Christians support it?

·         Some functions are necessary for all countries, such as defence, diplomacy.

·         Some activities of the government is part of the work of providing justice, including helping the poor, the weak, and the powerless, especially widows and orphans (Am 5:11-12; Isa 10:1-2).

·         Some people argue that such work should be done by the church and voluntary organizations. Yet, social programs administered by the government are in many cases necessary to ensure an acceptable living standard for everyone. Nevertheless, the proliferation of social programs has led to widespread abuse. At the present, there is probably very little need for more social programs.

·         There is always a danger of a power grab by the government. Most western democracies have expanded into all aspects of life (even intervening into family life and religious life). They have too much power which is supported by too much taxes. [In the US, the tax freedom day was April 30 in 2000, meaning that one-third of everyone’s income is used to pay taxes. Since then, it has been moved up (with the many tax cuts of President Bush) to April 19 in 2003, the earliest since 1992.] Such power grab can only be curtailed with a tax cut.

Tax Freedom Day

“Tax freedom day” is the day on which a person finishes paying taxes with all he/she earns since January 1 in each year. One can only keep what one earns from that day to December 31.

In the US in 2003, a typical worker works 74 days to pay federal taxes, 35 days to pay state/local taxes (total 30%).

housing: 61 days, food: 30 days, clothing: 14 days , transportation: 28 days, recreation: 21 days, medical care: 44 days, other expenditure: 46 days, savings: 11 days.

In UK, the tax freedom day is June 2. In Canada, it is around June 15 for a family with average income, even later for higher income families. In other words, almost half of the money we earn goes to the government.

c.   Limit to government power:

·         Private morality of an individual should not be subject to government interference. But it is the proper function of the government to concern with the interests of public morality, that is, once the action of an individual affects other persons. The government must aim at using ordinances and laws to facilitate and advance morally good behaviour in the public. For example, one can abuse one’s own body with all kinds of unhealthy habits. But when one tries to encourage other people to follow his unhealthy lifestyle, the government should stop it.

34.  Should an atheist (such as communist) government be opposed?

a.   The ideal government is a theocracy, one that is ruled directly by God. Since theocracy is not imposed by God in this world, democracy is the next best form of government which shares its power among all citizens. It is based on two Biblical principles:

(1)  Since all are created in God’s image, everyone is equal before God and power should not be totally held by an elite or by a dictator.

(2)  Since man is corrupted by sin, human power needs to be curbed and regulated. (“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”  Lord Acton, 1834-1902)”

b.   Human authority is from God (Jn 19:11; Ro 13:1-2), including all governments. Opposing a legitimate government is opposing God-given authority. Christians are commanded to pray for “all who are in high positions” (1Ti 2:2) and to submit “for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men” (1Pe 2:13).

c.   Paul lived under a foreign authoritative and polytheistic government of the Roman Empire but still asked Christians to submit. Thus Christians should not oppose the government simply because it is atheist.

35.  Should Christians obey the government under all circumstances?

a.   Submission to the government does not force one to ignore God-given tasks or divine principles of morality.

b.   Christians have no obligation to obey the government when:

·         The government commits actions contrary to its duties (such as persecuting the innocent, example: massacre of innocent students by the Chinese government at Tienanmen Square on June 4, 1989).

·         The government writes laws that violate moral principles (such as legalizing same-sex marriage).

·         The government conflicts with the God’s commands (such as forbidding worship).

c.   In these cases, God’s commands take precedence (Ac 5:29) and Christians have the responsibility to engage in social action. Example in the Bible: God rewarded the midwives who disobeyed the evil command of the Pharaoh (Ex 1:15-21).

36.  Is voting in governmental elections a duty for Christians?

a.   Voting in an election is a civic duty of every citizen. A Christian should not neglect his duty.

b.   More importantly, the government is a very powerful institution that affects (and often controls) almost all aspects of our lives. If such power falls into evil people’s hands, everyone will be affected by the evil policies and the society will fall into evil ways. This is surely not what God wants.

c.   The government is a power that controls lives of all citizens because:

(1)  It can allocate resources. It can legitimize activities that would otherwise be regarded as illegal. For example, Robin Hood robbed the rich and gave to the poor. But his action was illegal. But if a government passes laws to redistribute income from the rich to the poor. Such action becomes legal.

(2)  It can allocate values, that is, what is right and what is wrong. Political decision-making is never value-free. The government uses laws to encourage behaviour that it regards as right and to discourage behaviour that it regards as wrong.

(3)  It uses its power through force. Government acts not as an agent of love but a resort to force. It holds institutionally legitimized rights to use the sword to effectively carry out its decisions. It can use brute force to enforce its laws, such as using the police to apprehend and imprison criminals. More often, it uses the threat of force and the financial clout to enforce compliance, sometimes against law-abiding citizens. For example, it can force an organization to terminate its activities by withdrawing the tax-exempt charitable status (thus drastically reduce the income).

(4)  It applies its force to all society. All other associations in the society are voluntary and also limited in scope. The government directs its use of force to every single person and can expand to whatever scope it desires. No one can escape the government, whether one desires it or not.

d.   Christians are told to be salt and light of the world (Mt 5:13-16), that is, to permeate and influence our society. Light is used to offer guidance and direction and to shine into the darkness. As light, we are to uphold a moral way of life in this morally dark world. Salt is used to preserve and to soak into the decaying meat. As salt, we are to preserve the world from moral corruption in this morally declining society. Both goals can be achieved if we use the vote to give power to like-minded politicians.

e.   Christians need to be careful about what choice we make in an election. When we elect an individual to represent us, we are in effect giving power to this person to act on behalf of us. If we elect politicians who use that power to harm our society must share the responsibility of causing this harm.

f.    Christians should cast the vote on the basis of issues, not personalities. Before voting, we should try to understand the economic and social platforms that the political candidates hold.

g.   A government’s social policies often influence the morality of the society and have long-lasting impact on our culture. It is unfortunate that too often Christians, like everyone lese, vote for our pocketbooks. We vote for a government which is more likely to give us economic prosperity. Christians should put greater emphasis on social policies when voting.

37.  Should Christians or the church participate in politics?

a.   In terms of politics, there are 3 different positions that the church can take:

(1)  Imposition or Domination: imposing the Biblical moral standard on the society through legislation or by force. Example: Spanish Inquisition in the 13th century, prohibition of alcohol in the US in the 1920s.

(2)  Laissez-faire or Separation: letting the society run its own course. Example: silence of the church in Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

·         These two positions have been proved to be improper and sometimes disastrous by historical examples.

(3)  Persuasion and Integration: exerting influence to persuade the government to apply moral principles based on rational arguments, and effecting changes through the democratic process.

b.   Politics is an authoritative use of power. Our world and our society will be better if such power is in the hands of Christians.

c.   Participation by the individual is encouraged but God’s guidance has to be sought, especially when facing the problems of “dirty politics” (as it is impossible to be totally honest and non-manipulative as a politician). Christian politicians need to be careful about the temptation of power. Many Christians, once got power, become corrupted and use power in ungodly ways. Others sacrificed their Christian principles to maintain their power.

d.   The church, however, should avoid association with any political party or would risk discord and division within the church. Yet, the church has the responsibility to speak up against ungodly laws and ungodly actions promoted by the government.