This essay continues the Christian Theology and Public Policy Course by John Cobin, author of the books Bible and Government and Christian Theology of Public Policy.
Considering the spiritual battle raging between God and Satan, it should come as little surprise that the spread of God’s kingdom often does not occur peaceably. Paradoxically, the Lord is both the “God of peace” and the God who assails the kingdom of Satan: “And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly” (Romans 16:20), implying that His judgment will come upon Satan’s kingdom in both the spiritual and temporal realms. The Christian’s civic duty should be similarly directed. Jesus is called the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) and yet He tells us: “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). The reason is simply that even though a battle rages in the spiritual world between principalities and powers (2 Corinthians 10:4-6, Revelation 12:7; Jude 1:9; Daniel 10:13), this battle spills over into time and space, being manifested principally through conflicts between Christians and false religion or the state. However, God’s kingdom has invaded the world, casting out Satan’s kingdom and disrupting the false “peace” that Satan gives (Luke 11:21).
Surely, the preaching of the Gospel and its transformation of hearers brings men peace with God. But the preaching of the Gospel also yields a threat to Satan’s kingdom, resulting in social rancor and violence as Satan seeks to defend his turf. The church is to neither be the initiator of violence nor use force to create converts. Yet the Bible indicates that individual Christians may use force to defend themselves against attacks from criminals—even state criminals. Martyrdom is not their only choice. Indeed, the threat of force is the only deterrent that keeps a state in line and Christians must be ready to use their might to that end. Of course, prudence would direct that using force should only be considered for egregious, ongoing violations of civil liberties. The civil disobedience and resistance doctrine of Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer thus has no quarrel with the Scriptures and rightly concurs with Jefferson’s caution in the Declaration of Independence. (1)
Ironically, Christians must fight for peace, and their greatest achievement and objective should be to promote peace. Conversely, let us recall that the great “achievements” of modern man—unbelief, totalitarianism, secular humanism, Darwinism, and socialism, just to name a few—have brought poverty, misery, hatred, and war to human civilizations. But Christians should have the opposite record. They can promote peace with God by preaching the Gospel and they will promote peace and goodwill among men by advocating limited government and free markets. They may also promote earthly peace by engaging their culture politically: by voting, by signing petitions, by writing to congressmen, and by serving on juries in order to establish and secure fundamental rights for all people equally (and utilizing civil government as a means to defend these rights).
If we remember that the state is humanity’s foe, how can Christians justly use it to be their henchman? The state has wrought the antithesis of peace on earth. It has brought terrestrial hell to millions of people: shortening lives, extorting funds, degrading the environment, and destroying property. Therefore, Christians should not work to recruit the state into God’s service. Instead, they should be active in transforming their culture, reducing the impact of evil and the grief that comes from the state.
For this reason, it is important for American Christians to be informed and vote for candidates who will stand by the principles of liberty. They should not cop out and vote pragmatically, viz. for “the lesser of two evils”. Christians must overcome evil with good and that feat cannot be achieved by pragmatism. A Christian’s vote is never “wasted” when it is cast for someone or some policy backing good principles. But it is always wasted when it is cast for evil—even the lesser of two evils.
Some Christians might go beyond merely voting and even venture to get involved with politics. They may do so when they believe that running for office will allow them to pursue peace by encouraging the recognition of fundamental rights, the maintenance of free markets, and the rule of law. (2) Furthermore, all Christians should be eager to sit on a jury in order to be ready to free any captive of the state who is having his fundamental rights violated. They can do this by nullifying an unjust or stupid decree (i.e., the procedure known as “jury nullification”).
Freedom is neither free nor cheap and Christians who want to enjoy political freedom need to be prepared to pay the price of keeping it. Professor Richard Beeman reminds us: “There is a story, often told, that upon exiting the Constitutional Convention Benjamin Franklin was approached by a group of citizens asking what sort of government the delegates had created. His answer was: ‘A republic, if you can keep it.’ The brevity of that response should not cause us to under-value its essential meaning: democratic republics are not merely founded upon the consent of the people, they are also absolutely dependent upon the active and informed involvement of the people for their continued good health.” (3) Accordingly, American Christians fighting for peace now face the challenge of trying to keep the republican form of government that the Founders entrusted to them.
(1) “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly, all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But, when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.”
(2) Dietrich Bonhoeffer was simply mistaken when he wrote in The Cost of Discipleship that Christians should never aspire to high political office. Some peacemaking Christians might be effective in government office that promotes proactive policy. In remarking on the humility that a disciple must display he did not take into account the role a disciple has in engaging his culture and being a peacemaker. Whether or not they pursue a legitimate political office (i.e., one based in reactive policy) ought to be left to the liberty of each Christian’s conscience.
(3) Richard R. Beeman, “A republic, if you can keep it” (2005), National Constitution Center.
Originally published in The Times Examiner on November 16, 2005.