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Are conservative Christian theology and liberal politics compatible?
Sunday, 1 March 2009
Limitations of Government and Politics and my support of the President

Ten years ago, I posted the following content on the internet under the title "The Radical Rejection of Politics as a means of accomplishing God's redemptive work:"

Modern Christians waste a great deal of time and money attempting to accomplish God's will, promote the Gospel, right wrongs and even bring in the Kingdom through political action. However, this activity is largely futile, since the problems they seek to address through politics are spiritual problems and their solutions are spiritual solutions. Moreover, since Christians often disagree sharply about political issues, the injection of political agendas into the Church tends to sharpen the pre-existing divisions in that Body and create bitterness, limiting further the effectiveness of the Church in accomplishing its true mission.
God generally does not accomplish His work by changing the behavior of the masses through the worldly political system. Instead, He establishes relationships with people one at a time and uses them to influence those around them. God works with and through individuals created in His image, not political entities.
In A.D. 314, Constantine, Emperor of Rome, declared himself to be a Christian and legalized Christianity throughout his empire. Unfortunately, from that day to this, most Christians have been easily distracted by the notion that God's kingdom may be established by law. This has provided at once a substitute for individual spirituality when those in power were friendly to Christian worship and morality and an excuse for lack of progress when the king was opposed to the organized Church. In the modern democracies, this notion has also provided a great distraction for otherwise committed Christians, to the detriment of the real work of the Gospel.
The scriptures are clear, however, that God ordains individual rulers for a very limited purpose. As discussed at greater length in the pages linked below, God does not ordain government organizations although these must necessarily come into existence to permit individuals to rule. No, God, who always works in and through individuals, appoints individuals to rule and holds them responsible for their work. Moreover, he gives these appointed individuals only four functions: 1) to maintain order, 2) to punish evildoers, 3) to do justice between those who bring disputes to them and 4) to praise those who do right. That is all.
When the political system expands its powers over its people by attempting to fulfil other functions, any effectiveness it enjoys will be but partial, incomplete and temporary. There is futility built into its efforts. Politics outside these purposes is futile because it has gone outside its ordained realm to approach spiritual problems with physical force. Its solutions are temporary because political "victories" always generate opposition which ultimately limits their effectiveness. Moreover, it presents only a false hope because the political system must keep problems alive in order to have an excuse to maintain and expand its powers. Unfortunately, in modern democracies leaders can only be re-elected by promising to solve social and economic problems which go far beyond the proper scope of government.

 What I wrote ten years ago may, at first, seem inconsistent with my recent activism and my announced support for President Obama. And I will admit that I have gone somewhat overboard for the last two months or so.  But the approaches really aren't inconsistent.   My approach has simply developed over the last ten years.

First, I should explain my position regarding the President.  Barack Obama is the duly elected President of my country.  I voted for him, believing in my spirit he was the one to whom God was directing me, but that is irrelevant at this point.  Even if I had campaigned and voted against him, he is our elected leader now.  As such, it would be only right for me to support him personally, to pray for him, and to support as much of his program as my conscience would permit.  Regardless of whether I agree with his program, the success of his program is the success of our country right now.  And there can be no question that the country needs a clear direction right now.

Therefore, I will support--actively--every part of President Obama's program that I do not have good reason to find morally objectionable.  At present, I see only two issues on which I find some aspect of the President's program actually or potentially morally objectionable--his support for abortion, the promotion of the gay lifestyle associated with one major bloc in his Democratic party (I have no problem with recognition that gays have equal rights).  Otherwise, I will support the President's whole program.

Now, about my recent activism: I still do not believe that I (or the President, for that matter) will be able to change the behavior of the masses, accomplish great good, or bring in the Kingdom of God through political action. Government and lawscan't cause repentance, and it is only individual repentance, occurring on a mass scale, that will really change things. 

However, one of the legitimate purposes for which God established government is to restrain the growth of evil. I have come to recognize that sometimes restraining evil requires affirmative action.  In situations in which people are regularly being oppressed  by other people, sometimes the task of restraining evil requires affirmative action to eliminate the opportunity  for  oppression.  Where people are systematically taking unfair advantage of others in their power, restraining evil may require affirmative action to change the system to limit the unfair advantage.  This is particularly true in situations in which the oppressor or the taker of unfair advantage is a corporation, an artificial person created by the law, rather than a real human being.  The task of restraining evil may not necessarily always be limited to punisihing the evildoer after the damage is done.

Thus, in a matter like the banking and credit crisis, in which the offenders are almost entirely financial corporations rather than real people, affirmative action is undoubtedly required to correct the system (which was, after all, created by law in the first place!) to limit oppression and unfairness.    Similarly, in the matter of health care delivery, affirmative action is undoubtedly required to correct some of the rapacious behavior of many of the corporate players involved in this already heavily regulated market. 

I have no illusion that great long-term changes will result from anything we can do politically.  Indeed, to expect any large positive change from politics would be to ignore my own "Warning Against Idolatry."  But systemic reforms now may restrain further evil by limiting the opportunities for oppression in our present negative national circumstances.  This is a legitimate thing for government to be doing, and I will fully support our President doing it.   



Posted by ian_j_site2 at 3:21 PM EST

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