My Critique of Christian Republicanism

The History of this Article

I began writing this piece shortly after the Primary races began. It started as a piece I hoped would spark dialogue between my Republican friends and I, but because I am slow to marshall thoughts, and even slower to share them, this article quickly lost relevance to the event which first inspired it. I kept it in the queue, thinking I’d roll it out in four years as a timely piece before the next round of circus.

Then I read this article by Wayne Grudem and it suddenly became relevant again. Now, you have to understand, Mr. Grudem has been highly influential in my life. His book, Systematic Theology, has been informative and inspirational and almost convinced me to pursue a Doctorate in Systematic Theology. So my first inclination, after reading an article which sickened and angered me, was to check myself. Was I mistaken? Would Hilary really be as bad as he prophesys? Can we really make the leap to saying that voting for any Democrat in any election is an immoral choice?

I don’t think so. In fact, in his article, Mr. Grudem exemplifies the sort of Nationalistic Christianity that caused me to write this article initially. I’m heartened by the number of responses to Mr. Grudem’s article by people of my generation (Millennials) because they have been kind, considerate and respectfully defiant. We are carving out new ways of understanding how our faith interacts with politics — and I’m thrilled. This will likely put us at odds with older generations of Believers, but that doesn’t mean we love Jesus (or our moms and dads) any less. We are just insisting that loving Jesus does not also mean we need to love Republicanism.

The Purpose of this Article

I wrote this article with the hope of making people think about their faith in God, their understanding of the Bible and how those two things interact with their political inclinations and the issues in our world. I’m troubled at how easily people on either side of the aisle claim to follow Christ and yet their opinions and legislative decisions rarely align with the Christian faith. More troublesome is the commingling of the words Christian and Republican, as though the two were one and the same. Therefore, into the cess pool of political opinion on the Internet, I respectfully submit my thoughts.

The Political Nature of the Gospel

The Gospel is political, there is no getting around it. When Mark the Evangelist first penned the words, “The Gospel of Jesus Christ,” there was already a Gospel in circulation, the Gospel of Tiberius Caesar, son of the gods. Mark’s assertion was that there was a new Emperor who actually was the Son of God and Mark wrote about his exploits. This Good News was a direct threat to the existing government and much of the persecution of early Christians was due to the political nature of their message. If the Gospel no longer threatens, critiques or corrects the worldly political system, then it is no longer the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In many ways we find ourselves in the place of Joshua in Joshua 5. Joshua has just finished praying and he looks up to see an angel standing before him with his sword drawn. Joshua gets up, goes to the angel and says, “Are you for us or our enemies?” The angel replies, “Neither. I am the commander of the armies of the Lord.” In essence, the angel asked Joshua, “Who’s side are YOU on?” Oftentimes we think there are only two sides to an issue and we are relatively certain God sides with us. Yet it is often the case that God has his own side and we must make the choice to align with him.

My goal in this article is to explore that third way of God, the one that is greater and more comprehensive than either the Republicans or Democrats can understand. I will fall far short of doing it proper justice, but if I can start a respectful and thoughtful discussion than all of the labor that went into the writing of this piece will be worth it.

My Background

I was raised in a Republican home. I think I’ve maintained a good portion of my conservative values while still being able to acknowledge that there are important things besides fiscal responsibility and the sanctity of life. Because of my upbringing, I have a fondness for the Republican party that I don’t have for the Democratic one. In an interesting emotional and theological twist, that fondness compels me to be a fierce critic of the GOP, especially the wing that identifies itself as Conservative, Evangelical Christian. Because I am more familiar with the Republican mindset and ideals, the bulk of this article will be addressed to them. It is my hope that a more Democratically aligned Christian will offer a similar critique of that party. I do hope that you will be patient and at least attempt to understand my arguments wherever you fall along the political spectrum. Additionally, I’d love for you to leave your corrections and comments below.

The Issues

  • Abortion – I think the basic thinking on this issue is solid. Life is precious, sacred. According to the Gospel of Luke, John the Baptizer was able to recognize the life of Jesus (who was little more than a zygote at the time) when he was 6 months in the womb. It is amazing that a child, 6 months in utero, would have that kind of discernment. Even more amazing is that he was able to recognize the personhood and divine nature of Jesus who was less than 3 weeks old. To be “Pro Life” is to be “for life” in all of its stages. Republicans need to up their game dramatically when it comes to caring for teenage moms, single parents, foster parents and children, adoptive families and families with lots of kids. It is unethical and immoral to guilt someone into carrying a child full term and then effectively abandon them once the child is born.
  • Death Penalty – Again, to be “Pro Life” is to be “for life” in every regard. State sanctioned murder is still murder. Furthermore, the sentence over some of these people is questionable at best. Can we really claim to represent the One who said, “the Son of Man did not come to destroy life, but to bring life to the earth” (Luke 9:55) and kill the innocent? Isn’t it better to leave that level of judgment in the hands of God? Do we need violent criminals off the streets? Absolutely. But it is best to remember that “an eye for an eye” makes the whole world blind.
  • The Environment – This is also an issue of life – the life of the planet. We claim that God created the air we breath, the water we drink and the ground we stand upon. Doesn’t that make those things sacred? Can we really claim to love God and desire to be good stewards of all he has given us and defile the planet at the same time? I’m not even going to touch the issue of climate change because it is a tertiary issue. I think many of us are living in denial about what really happens to the junk we put in the trash can — where do we think that goes? As we continue to uncover how harmful plastics are to human health, do we not think that those same chemicals will harm the lives of other things on this planet or the planet itself? Yes, we believe in a new creation – a new heaven and new earth – but there is also the principle of being faithful with what you’ve been given so that you can be entrusted with more and better things. After all, doesn’t the Bible say that the Earth waits in eager expectation  for the children of God to be revealed so that it will be liberated from its bondage to decay? (It does, see Romans 8:19-21) That means your status as a child of God will, in part, be measured by the amount of freedom and health you bring to this planet.
  • Guns and the Second Amendment – I get it — guns don’t kill people, people kill people and guns are just a tool. And yet this tool has one intended purpose, to fling a piece of lead at high velocity into flesh, be it human or animal, in order to injure or kill. The purpose of this tool is to kill and the only time it does “good” is when it kills bad people. Killing bad people is still killing. Jesus did command his disciples to arm themselves in Luke 22:36-38, but when they tried to use their swords, Jesus rebuked them and undid the damage they caused. Jesus never taught his disciples when it was appropriate to use violence and we don’t see the Apostles carrying weapons at any other point in the New Testament. In fact, they quite readily offered themselves up to be beaten, even martyred. Throughout the world, unarmed and powerless Christians are changing the world in the face of great persecution and yet the Church thrives. They walk in a level of authority we can’t comprehend in the West and they do it through pacifism. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor committed to pacifism in Nazi Germany. After much internal struggle, Bonhoeffer eventually decided to participate in a plot to assassinate Hitler. He failed, however, and the surge of confidence this failed attempt gave to Hitler had catastrophic results. I do think there are times when bad men need to die, but I’m not certain any of us have the wisdom to know when that is and what the repercussions may be. The best we can do is act on what seems best to us and trust in a Merciful God. On the whole, however, guns seem quite unnecessary for civilians.
  • Sanctity of Marriage – What are we really trying to protect in our legislative efforts to define marriage as “between one man and one woman”? Are we really trying to protect the sanctity of marriage or are we trying to protect our right to file taxes jointly and be privy to our partner’s medical information? If we were really trying to protect the sanctity of marriage, shouldn’t we also limit people to just being married once? We would probably be best served by rewriting our nation’s laws concerning marriage. Marriage is a religious institution with intense spiritual repercussions — it isn’t an issue the government has any jurisdiction over (remember Braveheart?). If two people choose to merge their lives through a governmental procedure so that they can file taxes together and get some other benefits, can we really say no to that? What Christians insist on is a spiritual truth — that marriage is sacred and strictly defined and that anyone who doesn’t treat it that was hurts themselves in the short term and long term, but can we really legislate that? Just as the government should have no say in who can get married in a church, the church should not have a say in who gets married in the government. (Separation of church and state is kind of our big idea in America.)
  • Caring for the hungry, thirsty, immigrants, the poor, the sick and those in prison – Sorry for the giant, run on category, but these things all fit together in God’s Book. Take the case of Matthew 25:31-46, the parable of the Sheep and the Goats. The Sheep are those who will enter into Life in the Kingdom of God and the Goats are those who will be punished for eternity – what distinguishes the two groups? How they treated the people mentioned above. Look, Biblically speaking, to reject immigrants is to reject Christ. To deny the sick access to healthcare is to make Jesus suffer. To refuse to care for the hungry, the thirsty and the poor is to refuse to care for Christ. Not devoting time, energy and resources to rehabilitate and free those in prison means that God won’t do that for you (“forgive us as we forgive…”). As individuals, it is impossible to do all those things, but not for a group. Until the Conservative Evangelical wing of the Republican party pushes for these things to be major agenda items, the Republican party cannot claim to have the moral high ground and cannot claim to represent Christ.
  • Taxes – Flat taxes across the board seem to be the standard Biblical procedure. The Temple Tax was the same fee for every person, no matter their income and the tithe is 10% wether you make $50,000 or $500,000. However, Jesus also says that “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required.” God expects those who have been blessed with wealth will use it to bless others.
  • Military Spending – I get that we, as a nation, need an army. But can we Christians at least acknowledge our hypocrisy? It is hard to justify a national army when Jesus said to turn the other cheek. We spend an enormous amount of money on our military, almost beyond comprehension. Why? The majority of the nations that could potentially pose a threat to us are already allies and we have plenty of guns. Can we cut back on some of that spending and use some of it to help the people that hate us? Then, maybe, they wouldn’t hate us so much and we could cut back some more in a few years. Also, can we redirect that funding to take better care of our soldiers and their families? If someone is going to put their life on the line for me, whether I want them to or not, they deserve to be well taken care of.
  • America is a Christian Nation – Can we please drop this rhetoric? America is not a Christian nation and never has been. At least, I pray to God it isn’t and has never been. The United States was indeed founded by many Christians, but were we representing Christ when we massacred indigenous peoples and stole their land? Or were we living out the command to love our neighbor as ourselves when we forcibly removed hundreds of thousands of people from their countries and forced them into slave labor and subjected them to humiliating forms of abuse and poverty? What about when we repressed and belittled women even though there is clear and compelling Biblical evidence of women in leadership in the Bible? What about when we prohibited the sale of alcohol in this country in clear contradiction of Scripture? Jesus blessed the drinking of wine, he made it a Sacrament for crying out loud. It is our uncomfortable reality that the times of greatest church attendance in our nation have coincided with the greatest amounts of racism, sexism, bigotry, violence and hypocrisy. If that is what it means to be a Christian nation then I want none of it.

The real difficulty is that Christianity was never intended to be a ruling religion. We have always been at our best under the pressure of persecution, exerting our influence and the Kingdom of God as salt, light and leaven. When Constantine made Christianity an official religion in the Roman Empire it was hailed as a major victory by the Church. But only because they were deceived into thinking they could make the kingdom of this world into the Kingdom of Our God by political maneuvering and military might. Until Jesus returns there can and will be no Christian nation. That doesn’t mean we don’t try to make the world better. It just means we do what we can to represent God well and that we shouldn’t overstep our bounds and go beyond what is written in the Word about the Kingdom of God on the Earth. Last time I checked, Israel was the only nation God had covenanted with in the Bible. He agreed to preserve them and he has, but they are the only ones who can claim divine support.

  • Israel – Speaking of Israel, let’s not confuse our support of the Jewish people with the support of the Israeli government – they are not the same. The Israeli government has some real problems they need to answer for. We must creatively support the Jewish people and God’s intentions while also holding the Israeli government to high moral standards, or at least the ones we read in the Bible.
  • Racism –  When I first wrote this article I had thought the tide was turning, that white Christians were beginning to see how racist our systems, structures and institutions were. I no longer think that. Instead I hope and pray that God will soften our hearts and allow us to bear the burden our black brothers and sisters have carried for so long.  As a white male, I could very easily ignore this issue and carry on with my life with no problems. But as a Christian, racism is a forced issue. Jesus is a Jew and the Lamb that was Slain purchased people for God from every nation, tribe and tongue. Our Father has decided that he wants a large, ethnically diverse family and he paid a high price to secure it. Now he commands us to “love one another”. As long as walls of hostility and racism stand we can never represent the heart of God in its fullness.

Closing Thoughts

As long as this article is, it represents just the tip of the iceberg. There is much more to be said on each item I addressed and far more items besides those listed here. My hope is that my thoughts sparked something within you and I would love to know what it is. I hardly believe this is the final word on each of these topics and I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for taking the time to read this. If you felt it was helpful, please consider sharing it with others who might appreciate it.

Ben

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2 thoughts on “My Critique of Christian Republicanism”

  1. I enjoyed your article (especially as someone who will not be voting Republican in this presidential election). However, there are a couple of points on the Pro-Life section I’d like to address.

    You said, “It is unethical and immoral to guilt someone into carrying a child full term and then effectively abandon them once the child is born.”

    This seems to be a line from the pro-abortion community that’s used but isn’t based on facts. I don’t know a single person that believes that simply outlawing abortion is the solution to the problem. Conservatives may not believe that it is the responsibility of the government to fully take care of a woman who is pregnant, but many anti-abortion groups provide excellent services to mothers and children. And the anti-abortion community, especially those that are Christians, are some of the most dedicated adopters in the world.

    As for Pro-Life (horrible term… pro-abortion and anti-abortion are much more accurate but both sides use current terms for P.R. purposes) meaning anti-death penalty… I believe there is sound Biblical reasoning to believe the government should AND should not use the death penalty. Paul in Romans 13 says that the government has the right to use the sword to punish. Individual Christians are NEVER given this right but the State is. So, I think it is a straw man argument to say one must be anti-abortion and anti-death penalty; I believe those are apples and oranges based on the fact that the unborn has broken no law and the felon has. But one can very easily and Biblically be anti-death penalty.

    Overall, very well done, Ben. I appreciate your willingness to shepherd people as a pastor through these huge issues in our society. I can’t wait for the end of politics and the consummation of King Jesus’ reign on earth.

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