Tuesday, August 26, 2008

God and Democracy

With the Democratic National Convention here in Denver this week, and the Republican convention in Minneapolis next week, I've taken some time to reflect on the matter of whether or how much Christians ought to be involved in government. There are as many views on this as there are denominations. Those range from total non-participation to the point of refusing to pay taxes (in clear violation of Romans 13:1-7 and of Jesus' instructions to "pay to Caesar what is Caesar's") all the way to holding public office as a means of serving the will of God and advancing his kingdom in this world -- taken from the same passage in Romans.

Christians hold, in effect, dual citizenship -- both of this world (Paul claimed to be a Roman citizen) and of the kingdom of God (Philippians 3:20). We were born into this world, into whatever nation we came from, but we are also 'born again' into the family and kingdom of God Almighty. In case of a conflict, that heavenly citizenship takes precedence over the earthly one (see for instance Acts 5:29) but by and large, our Christianity helps us be better citizens of our earthly country as well. That includes keeping the laws of our community and, yes, paying taxes.

What about voting? There's no command one way or the other in the Bible, so we have to look at principles and ask if we can gain an idea from them. Since Paul says the governments are from God, then participating in them could be seen as a participation with God.

But there are issues that we may disagree on with one candidate or another -- so how do we handle that? There are three options, I think: vote for the one that's closest to your understandings and values; lobby the one who is closest to your understandings, in order to sway his/her vote on various topics; finally, we can refuse to vote -- which is our right to abstain from the process, and treating our allegiance to God as over-riding all of those other considerations.

Paul gives us one command, though, that is clear: pray for our leaders. 1 Tim. 2:1-2 says this: "I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. 2 Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. 3 This is good and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth." So Paul is even saying that God expects and is pleased by our prayers of intercession (asking for his help) for those rulers -- and ties that comment to God's desire for all to be saved.

Maybe there's another reason to follow the news coverage of the two major conventions: to have more to pray about. Even if some of the speakers irritate us, and we disagree with what they're promoting, we can pray that God will guide and help them do their jobs in ways that further His eternal purpose, even in spite of themselves. That's good enough reason for me. How about you?

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