Friday, March 30, 2007


There was a Polish movement recently to proclaim Jesus Christ the King of Poland.

Jesus Christ is already the King of Poland, whether or not they acknowledge Him as such. He is also the King of Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, Japan, the United States of America, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, North and South Korea, Pakistan and, especially, He is the King of Israel. He is the King of all nations. He is the King of Kings. But in what sense and to what degree ought states to submit to His Kingship? Is Christian statecraft Christian?

When a Christian thinks or acts – whether religiously, socially, politically, or howsoever – he is beholden to imitate Christ Jesus. As regards politics then, a Christian must examine Christ's political proclamations and actions. There are few. Jesus Christ, though He is most certainly Man, is not a "political animal." Most of His few actions that can be interpreted politically are better interpreted spiritually. "Render unto Caesar," in its context, sounds more like indifference to worldly cares than good citizenship (Matt 22: 21). Many Christian politicos like to quote Jesus' point about Caesar without quoting its counterpoint: "Render unto God the things that are God's," which is the real meaning of the passage. The things of Caesar are inconsequential beside the things of God. "My kingdom is not of this world," He also says (Jn 18: 36).

Clearly, Jesus would passively pay taxes, even to a corrupt state, even without representation1. If you take a Christian's coat, he's obliged to let you have it – just like that – not only his coat, but his shirt as well – because he isn't to have attachments to the things of this world, neither to his coat nor to his taxed income (cf. Lk 6:29). He's not supposed to care. Indifference and dispassion are to characterize a Christian's economic behavior. The Lord will provide as He does for the lilies of the field and the fowls of the air (cf. Matt 6:26-30). Do they own the rain and the sun? Is private property Christian?

In Christ's political indifferentism, there is an argument for anarchy and in His Kingship there is a better argument for monarchy. I am not convinced there is a Christian argument for democracy: Pagan in its origin, relativist in its outcome. Nonetheless, what are Christians, who find themselves in a republic where voting is popularly called a duty, to do? Vote? Vote for what?

Jesus said to Pilate, "You would have no power over Me, unless it had been given you from above" (Jn 19: 10-11). All power, even the power to kill or spare the Son of God, comes from God. Whatever powers we have been given we must use to serve and glorify God. Sin is abuse of power. The power to vote or not vote comes from God. Whether or not I vote, the officials who rise to power do so by God's consent.

Whether they are evil or less evil makes no difference – they have God's judgment to face for their crimes, not mine. I don't vote for them, I pray for them. The day that a candidate represents Christ, I'll vote. I have yet to hear of such a one as this.
1 If the American Revolution indeed hinged on objection to "taxation without representation," as I have been taught, it was neither a Christian revolt nor a just war. Probably it hinged on more than this. Rule by consent of the governed? Democracy? These are not Christian concepts. America is not a Christian nation. What interest ought Christians to have in America?


David said...

Yesterday someone asked me for an example of people overthrowing a theocracy. I couldn't think of any, but the closest I could come was the American Revolution, which removed the colonists from the authority of the Church of England. With all the Deists among the Founding Fathers, I think you are right that there is little reason to think of the American Revolution as a particularly Christian revolution.

But I disagree that there are no Christian arguments for democracy. At the heart of the democratic ideal is the belief that all humans are endowed with equal dignity, solely on the grounds that they are human beings. Neither wealth nor education nor talent make one man better than another. The vote is the instrument by which everyone can do his part to improve the goverance of his nation, and Jesus has told us that he values even the slightest gifts, such as when he praises the woman giving her two small coins at the temple. Non-democratic systems would reject those coins--her metaphoric "two cents"--and allow only the members of some special class to contribute to the community's decision-making.

I'm not saying that democracy is the best political system (though I suspect it is). I just don't think it's any less Christian than monarchy or anarchy, the second of which is in any case impossible.

John R.P. Russell said...

Firstly, I will concede that “the belief that all humans are endowed with equal dignity” is among Christian beliefs. “Dignity,” in the sense of “worth” or “value,” is a well-chosen word. A subject is no less dignified than his king. A baby is no less dignified than his mother. A wife is no less dignified than her husband. No man is worth more than another. Or, anyway, God does not judge worth as we do. Education, wisdom, maturity, and talent do not increase one’s actual worth (though they do increase one’s ability to govern well).

I do not see in this Christian belief an argument for democracy. A good monarchy is based on this belief. A bad democracy is based on this belief’s antithesis – that the majority have a right to afflict the minority. This belief is “at the heart of the democratic ideal,” as Dave writes, but it is also at the heart of the monarchial ideal. It is simply at the heart of the governmental ideal. This belief doesn’t argue for one form of government or another. It simply argues that government ought to recognize the equal dignity of persons.

The United States of America do not recognize this. Neither have many governments in history, whether democratic or otherwise. According to Braveheart (oh, that most infallible of historical resources), William Wallace fought for the recognition of the Scots’ equal dignity – by which he meant the reign of a good Scottish king instead of an evil English king.

Dave writes, “The vote is the instrument by which everyone can do his part to improve the governance of his nation.” It is also an instrument by which anyone can damage the governance of his nation – either by malice, ignorance, foolishness, immaturity, or inability. It is, however, incumbent upon us who live in a republic to do our part to improve the governance of our nation, if we are able, by whatever moral means we are able.

It is not morally permissible to vote for someone who represents evil – and, because the majority of Americans want at least a little bit of evil in their lives, it is generally not permissible to vote for anyone with a chance in hell of winning an election.

David said...

Sure, a bad voter can cause evil, but no more (and actually a lot less) than can a bad king. So we can't argue against a system based on its capacity to go wrong, because every system can go wrong.

You say that every good political system would recognize the dignity of all men, and that for this reason this ideal is not inherently democratic. Okay, but your reasons for preferring certain systems can be similarily unraveled. You see an argument for monarchy in Christ's kingship, but there is no reason why a democracy could not submit to this kingship. Maybe you mean that we should imitate Christ in his kingship, but then we must accept that not many people may imitate him in this way, since monarchy does not allow all good Christians to be king (and so this imitation is not a necessary good for men). And further, we are voluntary subjects to Christ's kingship, by our free will, and voluntary subjectship sounds a lot like democracy.

As far as Christ's indifference as an argument for anarchy, I would say that his indifference is not so complete as an anarchist's. But if it were, it wouldn't be a positive argument for no government; it would imply that all systems are equally unimportant.

If your last point is correct, that it is sinful to support the authority of anyone whose political doctrines are imperfect, then all human government is sinful, because no ruler is without blemish. Do you recognize no increments between good and evil in human affairs, such that a government that outlawed aboriton but allowed contraception would at least be better than one that condoned outright infanticide?

John R.P. Russell said...

We are no more or less voluntary subjects to Christ’s kingship than any subject is to any king. If we do not submit to an earthly king, he kills us for treason. If we do not submit to Christ, He condemns us to eternal hellfire, where the worm never dies and there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. All subjection is voluntary, regardless of the system of government.

I did not write “that it is sinful to support the authority of anyone whose political doctrines are imperfect.” It is sinful to support the authority of someone who represents evil. Evil and political imperfection are not even close to the same thing. All merely human rulers are imperfect, but not all are evil. A ruler may be conscientious. If I can find one whose conscience is compatible with my own, I’ll vote for him.

I do hold that there are grades of evil. One evil government may not be as evil as another. However, I cannot accept the "lesser of two evils." We cannot support evil – no matter how small – so that good may come of it (cf. Rom. 3: 8). My conscience therefore keeps me from voting until I find a candidate that represents Christ.

David said...

I think I understand your position, but I want to be sure. When you say that you will not vote for someone who is evil, what do you mean by evil? Are you referring to the candidate's personal life, or do you mean you would not vote for someone who would work to bring about immoral policies? Would a good candidate have to make illegal everything that is immoral, or is it enough that he not actively create evil laws? What I am trying to find out with these questions is what you think the proper role of government is. If a government can be a just one as long as it does not actively promote evil, then you could vote libertarian. But if you feel that a just government outlaws everything immoral, then we are going to need secret police in addition to a despot. Probably your view is somewhere in between these two extremes, but I am not going to make any assumptions about it.

I also wonder if you find that all local candidates are evil, or are we talking about congressman and presidents?

I think at the root of our disagreement about democracy is that I cling to the (un-Christian?) idea that the consequences of a man's actions are important. If God's will prevails regardless of our deeds, then our actions are only important insofar as they reflect our decision to obey God. Are you saying this? And if you are, why does government matter at all, democratic or not?

John R.P. Russell said...

I did not mean to imply that I can judge whether someone is evil or not. God is the Judge and vengeance is His, not mine. I will not vote for someone who supports evil – this is discernable, both from a person’s statements and his personal choices. I believe a man should be required to keep his own house in order if he wishes to govern others.

For example, I will not vote for a Mormon, not because he is evil – God alone knows whether this is so – but because he represents evil. A member of a deceptive, perverse, and blasphemous religion is not qualified to govern God-fearing, orthodox Christians.

I believe a just government outlaws most immoral acts, bearing in mind that a law against an immoral act can itself be immoral if it is disproportionately severe or is enforced mercilessly. Some sins do not involve outward action – these do not belong to the State to judge in any way. They are between the individual, the priest, and God. One crime outweighs another. Rape, for example, must be more rigorously opposed than pornography. Both must be opposed. I would not vote for someone who willingly permits the publication and distribution of pornography. I am not terribly concerned with the enforceability of such laws (we may be able to do without the secret police).

The enforcement of just laws with mercy is a major argument for monarchy. Law cannot do this, only a wise man can do this. Monarchy transcends the rule of Law, it is the rule of a person. When I go before the courts of Heaven, thanks be to God that I do not go before a court of Law, but a court of Christ.

Our supreme court justices are rather like oligarchs. Were they not still influenced by the vote – appointed and approved by elected officials – we might have hope in them. In fact, they are our only hope. Only they have the power to right wrongs in this country. I wish they would – rather than wronging rights. I love the way they can reinterpret the constitution (an inferior document) with nothing but the human will to do so. However, they do so very badly. I suggest that they would do better were they not appointed by elected officials but rather appointed by God. I should like to run the country on prayer (c.f. A Man for All Seasons).

Law, I believe, acts as an example and teacher of ethics as well as a guarantor of public safety. Adolescents (young and old) often appeal to the legality of their immoral acts as justification. They have been taught by the law. Law deeply influences culture and ethical thought (this works both ways, of course). A law that is not based upon transcendent values teaches incorrect ethics.

By the way, I have never met a libertarian (libertine) who didn’t promote evil. Permissiveness is evil. I love an example Ed Mclean gave: “If your roommate came into the kitchen with a bowl of nails and a spoon and said ‘I’m going to eat these nails,’ you would be obliged to stop him.” A libertarian would just let him eat the nails.

Our actions are only important insofar as they are God-loving, neighbor-loving, and obedient to God. God will sort out the consequences, which are often unforeseeable anyway. Every day, people act as God does not desire. As Jeff Muller taught me, His desire is more important than His will, though, truly, nothing happens but God wills it.

Government matters because God wills it. He also desires it. He has established government and hierarchy even in Heaven. This means that it is part of our true nature – not our fallen nature. As He made us, so should we be.

David said...

If there were an orthodox Christian on the ballot, would you consider voting for him? If so, you should consider Sen. Sam Brownback, a recent convert to Catholicism who stresses the primacy of God and Church over the State. He is anti-abortion, of course, but considers this a "threshold" issue, meaning that it is an easily-identifiable evil, which can be used to introduce people to underlying issues such as contraception and pornography.

Brownback may not have much of a chance of winning (although very popular in Kansas, he's has at best 3% nationally), but that's not the issue, right? If practical arguments should not persuade us to vote for the lesser evil, then they should not sway us against voting for the unpopular good. Further, if it is immoral to vote for the lesser evil, it might also be immoral not to vote for a legitimately good candidate. For better or worse, we are in some sense the rulers of our country and should not neglect our duty.

Read up on Brownback and I think you'll like what you find. In particular, check out the Wikipedia entry, and click on the link at the bottom to the Rolling Stones article. The article is critical in a sort of smugly satirical voice (the same kind which lead me to stop reading the Onion), but sometimes you learn more from the critics than the supporters.

The only question I have about your position on law is whether you think it might be demoralizing to have unenforcable laws on the books. You make a good point that adolescents (and adults of adolescent mind-set) will rationalize their actions by claiming they are not against the law. So there is some reason to enact a generally unenforcable law (against masturbation, for example), but the unintended result of this is that people can break the law easily without consequences. This tends to weaken our respect for the law, and if law and morality have united, loss of respect for the law would be particularly grave. I am not saying this loss of respect is a necessary result, or that the result would be greater than the benefit of making immoral actions illegal, but the effect is something to consider if just government is to have the intended effect of making people better.

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