By Stephen M. King, Ph.D.
Professor, Taylor University, Upland, IN, USA
Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor men like him,
because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life
to make up for the help you could not give me.
(Part one of a series of five articles)
On September 11, 2001 nearly 400 of New York City’s finest public safety and emergency personnel, and an additional 2,500 individuals, lost their lives. It is a day no one will forget. Lives were changed forever. It forced each of us to reconsider the consequences of freedom and life, two of the most precious rights Americans have. In addition, it unleashed a wave of religious renewal.
Even before the attacks, research suggested that nearly eight in 10 Americans saw religion and religious values gaining influence in their lives, the highest level since the late 1950s.[i] After the attack, scores flocked to churches, parishes, and synagogues, all with the intention of seeking spiritual solace in a time of fear and uncertainty. For nearly two months there was a spike of church attendance and Bible reading. However, within two months the statistics tell another story.
By November 2001, the levels of religious observance and church attendance were back to pre-9-11 levels. Women, the elderly, Catholics, and atheists were the four groups of people most likely to attend religious services two months after the attacks. [ii]
According to experts, six other measures of religious behavior were at identical levels recorded in August 2001, including Bible reading, church volunteerism, prayer, adult Sunday school class attendance, participation in small groups other than Sunday school class, and private devotion time.[iii]
Even numbers for evangelical Christians went unchanged. George Barna found no significant change in the number of people who were identified as evangelical and born again. Additionally, people showed no marked change along various theological claims, such as those who contend the Bible is completely accurate. And 68 percent of adults “strongly affirmed the centrality of their faith,” a number that did not change from pre-9-11 levels.[iv]
So what do these numbers tell us? And what should be our concern as evangelical Christians? First, even though recent surveys claim that more Americans are losing faith and trust in institutional religion, including and especially the so-called “Millennials,” religion and the observance of religious and spiritual values are still important, and perhaps even slightly more important since 9-11, to the average American. [v] Second, religion is becoming more important in the development of public policy.[vi] For example, white evangelicals as opposed to white mainline Protestants are far more likely to support faith-based organizations and the distribution of social services through churches and para-church ministries than through government sources.[vii]
What is disconcerting, though, is that talk often does not equal action. Many observers contend that events like 9-11 and President Bush’s faith-based initiative proposal opened the door for greater community action and social involvement, but that evangelical churches and church leaders, especially, did not respond in kind. Why is this case? A brief review of the biblical role of civil government and governmental authority will establish the foundation for developing several guiding principles of civil government.
Biblical view of government and authority
The authority of God is supreme. All rulers have power, because God granted it to them (Prov. 21:1) and with this authority comes the responsibility to rule justly (Prov. 16:12). As Jesus stood before Pilate in the judgment hall, Pilate was afraid of the angry Jewish mob screaming, “Crucify him.” He was perplexed at Jesus’ calmness and sense of personal authority. After inquiring from where Jesus came and receiving no answer, he uttered his infamous statement, “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus responded, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above” (John 19:10-11). He knew that Pilate’s authority originated from God—regardless of whether or not Pilate affirmed this truth. Further, he knew that Pilate had the responsibility to rule justly and wisely. Pilate failed on both accounts. He failed to recognize the proper origin of his political power, and instead of judiciously ruling that Jesus be released; Pilate abdicated his executive authority and condemned a just man to die.
In Matthew 22, Jesus encounters disciples of the Pharisees and Herodians. Their intention was to “entangle him in his talk,” but what they encountered was a shrewd and careful strategist. They asked him if it was lawful to give tax money to Caesar. Understanding that their intention was wrapped in deceit, he turned to them and asked to see a coin. He asked, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?” After responding it was Caesar’s he authoritatively and confidently replied, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (22:21).
One obvious interpretation is that there are indeed separate jurisdictions of authority for church and state, however, Jesus admonished his detractors, and chastised them through his knowledge and application of Scripture by showing them that both Caesar and God had legitimate authority in their respective spheres of influence and jurisdiction. This separation of jurisdiction of church and state as institutions did not negate the existence of the influence that God has upon government or even upon public morality, i.e. should the state legally sanction actions or behavior that God has deemed immoral? If biblical Christians, though, assume less of a role in influencing government and public policymaking, the public square will be naked, as Catholic philosopher Richard John Neuhaus prophetically declared.[viii]
It is the responsibility of all biblical Christians, then, to be influence (salt) and revelation (light) to the world they live and work in. For we know that, “When the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan” (Prov. 29:2).” Several years ago Charles Colson argued “that historic Christianity may be on the verge of a great breakthrough” with “the process of secularization (having) begun in the Enlightenment” coming to a halt.[ix] Yet with several setbacks, including and most damning, as the recent Supreme Court ruling legitimizing same-sex marriage, Christians are in danger of losing significant ground gained over the last four decades. It is critical, then, that Christians understand how and why to engage the political and policy world, advocating and fighting for religious freedom and just accommodation.
The four remaining essays will describe and explain seven fundamental biblically-inspired principles of government and policy: 1) establishment of self-determination, 2) proper jurisdiction between institutions and powers; 3) written constitution to guide political actions; 4) sovereignty balanced with freedom to rule; 5) application of both justice (i.e. restoration) and judgment (i.e. retribution); 6) protection of inalienable rights of equality, liberty, life and property; and 7) formation of cohesive relationships at lowest level of governance. However, before we examine the various principles we will establish the need for self-government, which is de facto the foundation for each of the several principles.
[i] The Pew Research Center, “Post 9-11 Attitudes: Religion More Prominent, Muslim-Americans More Accepted,” December 6, 2001 report (www.people-press.org/120601rpt.htm).
[ii] “How America’s Faith Has Changed Since 9-11,” Barna Research Online (26 November 2001).
[v] See Alfred Lubrano, “Surveys show more Americans are losing their religion,” The Virginian-Pilot (13 April 2002), p. E2.
[vi] “American Views on Religion, Politics, and Public Policy,” The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life (April 2001 report), pp. 25-28.
[viii] The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in the America (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1984).
[ix] Colson, How Now Shall We Live (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale Publishers, 1999), p. x.