Christian politics in the 21st century (continued)

 

For a coherent Christian approach to politics to become a characteristic of the Christian community, it is essential for those with the gifts and a political vocation to give themselves to the hard work of public policy research and political writing that can help shape a community of common conviction and understanding.  In order for Christians to keep growing as Christian political leaders, they need to have regular opportunities to sit down with Christians who are working full time on the development of policy proposals and political strategy.  Mature leadership by those officials will then, in turn, encourage ordinary Christian citizens to take more seriously the exercise of their civic responsibilities. 

 

Together, Christian politicians and citizens need to uphold a high, biblical view of government and seek reforms that will overcome corruption and injustice in government.  This also requires the strengthening of political parties and their accountability over against mere personality politics.  The continued growth of a Christian approach to politics can then extend to all fronts as Christian parents and teachers do more to help children see politics through Christian eyes, as Christian journalists learn to do a better job of interpreting events from a Christian point of view, and as church leaders become more capable of teaching about all of life from a biblical perspective.

 

To summarize the first point: Christian politics must concern itself with political life comprehensively and as a matter of principle from top to bottom, from start to finish. 

 

2. Christian politics must reflect the fact that we are living in the time of Christ's mercy and patience between his first and second comings. 

 

God is graciously sending down rain on the just and the unjust alike.  Both wheat and tares are growing up together in this world.  God is not willing that any should perish and is redeeming people from every nation on earth.  God has not asked Christians to pull up the tares or to exercise final judgment on unbelievers.  We are supposed to be like our Father in heaven, and if the Father gives rain and sunshine to believers and unbelievers alike, then our politics should reflect that same love and patience and mercy of God toward all our neighbours.

 

The kind of politics we should pursue, therefore, is one that seeks the same civil rights and the same just treatment for all citizens in our respective countries.  Public law should give all citizens the same religious freedom and not discriminate among them on the basis of their faith.  Secular humanists, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians-all should enjoy the same civil rights.  All should have the same access to public benefits, voting privileges, electoral representation, judicial proceedings, and equal opportunity to express their ways of life in areas such as education and politics.  To the extent that our political systems already embody this principle, we can give thanks that they express God's grace in this way.  We can affirm full Christian support for such laws, even if Christians are not the ones who instituted them.  There is, of course, much more to Christian politics than this principle, but until Christ returns, this is an essential component of Christian politics.

 

Christians should be bold about their commitment to this principle of equal religious freedom for all citizens in public as well as in private life.  It does not represent an accommodation to relativism or secularism.  Christians are not saying that all religions are equally true or that unbelievers should be admitted to membership in their churches.  No, with this principle we are demonstrating the truth that Christ is now ruling the world with mercy and patience, allowing all people to experience God's common grace.  Our politics must be in accord with Christ's mandates to us.  This is God's will, not our choice. The Bible never asks Christians to lord it over others or to use political power to try to establish privileges for Christians over non-Christians.  That is not the way God's kingdom will come, and it does not represent the path to justice.

 

This is not to say that government may never exercise punishment or discipline.  There are punishments appropriate to the political arena where the lives and activities of all citizens are to be protected.  Public law must include criminal statutes.  It should penalize those who violate the rights and properties and freedoms of others.  Law should protect the political order and the environment shared by all.  In every case, however, the laws, which approve good actions and punish evil actions should apply to all citizens equally.  In the application of these laws there should be no discrimination because of a person's religious commitment.

 

3.         Christian politics represents the continual quest for justice to be done to the multiple callings and responsibilities God has given human beings - the image of God.

 

The key political aim for Christians is not democracy. Democracy in itself does not assure thatjustiee will be done. Democratic elections and representative government can serve the highly important purpose of holding government accountable. But more important than the accountability of leaders to the people is accountability of both leaders and people to God’s will for creation. The reason why people ought to have some say in government is not just so they can exercise a degree of self-government. Rather, it is that they can help government shape laws so justice is done to the full range of their diverse responsibilities before God. For most of those callings and responsibilities are not political in nature.

 

From a Christian standpoint, government has been appointed by God to have jurisdiction over all that live within the territory where a government’s authority holds sway. In this sense, government’s jurisdiction encompasses everyone. However, a government’s all-encompassing territorial embrace should not be mistaken for exhaustive, totalitarian authority. God has given human creatures many kinds of jurisdiction many kinds of authority and responsibility that do not belong to governments. Parents in families; teachers in schools; elders, pastors, and deacons in churches; scientists in their laboratories—all of these responsibilities and many more are gifts from God for which accountability

 

Christians should support limited, representative government not simply because authoritarian and totalitarian governments can be dangerous. More than that, we are committed to marking off the boundaries of government’s authority very carefully because we believe justice requires the public

 

What will this mean?  It will likely mean different things in different countries.  In some countries it requires, first of all, the establishment of legitimate governments, legislatures, and courts so that justice can even begin to be done.  In other countries it means breaking the last chains of totalitarianism.  In the United States it means trying to change our publicly supported system of education so that government's discrimination against many religious families and schools is eliminated.  It means working to change our system of electoral representation so that all citizens, including minority groups, may exercise the responsibility of organizing themselves for public debate and electoral campaigns.  In each of our countries it will undoubtedly require reforms touching the economy, family life, schooling, science and the arts, the media, and church life. 

 

Regardless of the differences between and among countries, however, Christians everywhere start from the same point; we stand on the same foundation.  No matter how different our political institutions and no matter how different our cultural contexts, Christian politics will operate with the understanding that God, not government is the ultimate sovereign over all of life.  And the God who rules this world through Jesus Christ is the God who has given human beings many different kinds of authority, responsibility, and accountability.  Public justice means governmental recognition and fair treatment of all the non-governmental callings God has given men and women.  Government's jurisdiction is extensive, but it is not total and exhaustive. 

 

4. My fourth point is the following: Christian politics in all of our countries must increasingly focus attention on international affairs and seek to engage Christians in cooperation across national borders.

 

If the 20th century witnessed the first world wars, the first worldwide depression, the first globally encompassing cold war, and the first steps toward a single worldwide technological, economic, and communications network, then the 21st century will not only continue this trend toward a shrinking globe but will also become the century of worldwide political interdependency.  This is not to say that local politics will dry up.  This is not to say that the diversification of peoples and cultures will not continue.  The world is not only shrinking; it is also expanding in the sense that more and more human beings on earth are engaged in ongoing creative activity, ranging from scientific discoveries and technological inventions to artistic and social achievements.  Political life will continue to diversify and become more complex.  But all of the diversification and expansion will be taking place in a single world that is common to all of us. 

 

Questions of public justice and political responsibility will increasingly require judgments about international actions and institutions.  We are all familiar now with the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Health Organization, United Nations peace-keeping forces, Amnesty International, CNN, and dozens of multinational corporations.  Our cultures, societies, and political systems may remain quite different, but increasingly they will all have to deal with the same international realities.  Also increasingly, the decisions made by international organizations and by leaders at summit meetings will determine the conditions and circumstances in which every country will function.

 

Part of what we must say is that according to the Bible it is not the shrinking globe or movement toward international interdependency that should bother us.  After all, we confess that Jesus Christ is lord of all-the king of all creation.  We confess that God's kingdom encompasses the whole world as a single dominion.  We look forward to, we long for, the coming of God's kingdom in all its fullness.  We want that kind of one-world government.  The evil we want to resist is unjust government, whether at the national or international level.  But international injustice is not avoided simply by trying to hold on to maximum state sovereignty and independence.  If we do not find ways to establish just international laws and organizations, the world will be subject to whatever the most powerful states impose on the world.  We all may be happier that the United States rather than the Soviet Union is now the single most powerful global power.  But, speaking as a Christian, I must say that America's sway in the world does not necessarily mean justice for other countries or for the international order.

 

One of our greatest challenges as Christians in the 21st century will be to learn how to think and work together as citizens of God's kingdom, seeking justice internationally for the benefit of all creatures.  This will not mean ignoring your domestic responsibilities.  Christians will continue to remain citizens with primary responsibility in their own countries.  But we must recognize that our citizenship in different nations is subordinate to our service under Christ, whose authority extends over the whole world.

 

5.  Finally, I want to emphasize that the challenge of Christian politics in the 21st century will be to build a truly international political association of Christians and to nurture a Christian political consciousness through which we can realize our political bond across national borders.

 

Some of the developments to which we have referred make this more possible today than ever before.  Communications and transportation technologies make international communication easier.  The fact that Christians in all countries face many of the same international realities means that Christian political wisdom generated in one corner of the world can be useful to Christians in every other corner.  So the question is not whether it is possible for Christians to build a stronger international network as citizens.  Instead, the question is whether we will commit ourselves to do this with a sense of Christian urgency.  Do we hear God's call to serve one another and all our neighbours in the political arena as witnesses to Christ's lordship over all?  Do we see the urgency of developing a "Christian International" (in contrast to the old "communist international") in order to be able to respond obediently as disciples of Christ? 

 

What might we do together?  What ought Christians around the world to do together, politically speaking, in the 21st century?

 

A.  At the very least, we must look for new ways to link up via international communications networks: through a web site on the Internet, through an international magazine or journal on Christian politics, and even by means of more informal communications. 

 

B.  We should build on some of the means that have been developed over the years by Christian Democrats in Europe and Latin America.  Only a few of the Christian Democratic parties are interested in developing the kind of Christian politics I have proposed today.  However, the experience with Christian party formation is something we can all learn from even if, as in the United States, the electoral system does not make room for the meaningful participation of minority parties.  Moreover, several different kinds of international organizations among Christian Democrats have come into existence since World War II.  They should be studied carefully to see what we can learn and to find out whether organizations like ours might benefit from participation in them.

 

C.  Those of us who work in the political arena should look for opportunities to meet and even hold small conferences when we are drawn together internationally for other purposes.  When we attend international academic or ecclesiastical conferences or travel internationally for other purposes, can we plan ahead and contact our network of Christian political friends and colleagues in order to arrange for workshops or other events?  Perhaps we can encourage institutions such as Christian colleges, seminaries, churches, or international organizations such as Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship, Prison Fellowship, or World Vision to initiate the organization of an international conference on Christian citizenship.

 

D.  Finally, on the basis of the first three kinds of actions just suggested, we should look for opportunities to participate as Christian internationalists in major global forums such as those on the environment, trade, human rights, education, and others.  We may need to organize an international organization or coalition to make it possible to identify and put forward representatives who can participate in such forums.

 

Conclusion

 

It may sound foolish even to many Christians to say what I have said today.  After all, our Center for Public Justice in the United States is still quite small after 20 years of existence.  What is the point of talking about Christian politics in the 21st century, when there is very little evidence that Christians are organising together around the vision and for the purpose I've described?

 

Our response must be that despite Christian weakness, blindness, and deafness, Jesus Christ remains Lord of heaven and earth.  His kingdom is coming, and his charge to his disciples to give up their lives completely to follow him remains the charge we must take seriously.  In the end, God will fulfil justice whether or not we serve him.  He can make stones praise him if those who call themselves Christians will not do so.  It does not matter how large or small we may be in numbers or in organizational strength.  We must simply follow the vision God holds out for us of the coming fulfilment of the divine glory, achieved through the reconciling work of Jesus Christ.  That vision encompasses us in our entirety.  Christian politics in the 21st century ought to march to the beat of that drum; it ought to dance to the beat of that music

 

Christ is king!

Love justice and pursue it.

Do all to the glory of God.

 

Center for Public Justice

PO Box 48368, Washington, DC  20002, USA;

ph. 410 571 63656300

fax 410 571

e-mail inquiries@cpjustice.org

Home Page http://cpjustice.org

 

 

THE BIG PICTURE                       

Volume 1

Lent '99

Page 6

 

 

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