CHRISTIANS AND CITIZENSHIP: WHAT DOES HISTORY AND THE BIBLE SAY?

For many today, it is difficult to appreciate the tremendous role that Christianity played in the lives of Americans during previous generations. Most U.S. citizens cannot grasp the impact that Christianity had on this nation’s founding, nor do they realize that not so many years ago, Christianity as part of the national DNA was simply, a ‘given.’ Let me illustrate just a few of the many historical facts which could be used to document Christianity’s formidable influence over the America of times past:

First president George Washington―praising the courage of colonists who fought superpower Britain to gain U.S. freedom― said, “To the distinguished character of Patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of a Christian.”

In 1907, historian Franklin Jameson noted the role that Biblical values played in the lives of individual citizens: “Of all the means of estimating American character, the pursuit of religious history is the most complete.” In other words, to understand America, one must take into account the religious convictions held by her people.

During the 1800’s, Princeton theologian Charles Hodge noted, “Every man you see is either an Episcopalian, or a Methodist, or an Independent, an Armenian, or a Calvinist. No one is a Christian in general.” The implication was not only that citizenship and Christian belief seemed inseparably linked, but also that citizenship implied involvement somewhere: Americans of that era (and others) were connected― to a denomination, to a church, to a Christian movement. Passivity and a self-centered autonomy did not appear to be options.

As the 20th century began, Army and Navy recruitment posters depicted national hero General John Pershing leading troops to Europe, inviting American young men to join, “Pershing’s Crusaders.” In the background behind Pershing were images of knights, each holding shields that prominently featured a Christian cross. Many today would likely recoil at such an equating of God’s work and the march of democracy. But for Americans of past generations, American citizenship and the work of heaven were assumed to overlap.

Christian and civic duties in our generation Much more could be set forth in documenting the influence that Biblical values and Christianity played in the nation during times past. Documentation could be given regarding what America’s founders saw as the necessary role of religion in public life. But regarding the issues of our day― it is important that we ask, “What might the Bible have to say to me, about citizenship here and now?”

The Bible is clear that the “powers that be” (governments) are permitted/sanctioned/ allowed by God. Despite news reports that appear to the contrary, God is very much in control! In light of this, Christians are not to be insurrectionists. We are to submit to governmental authority: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (Romans 13:1).

Since our government permits registration of voters and the right to cast a ballot, I believe that Christians have an obligation to vote. Ignoring the privilege (and duty) to vote is, I believe, to be less than faithful in the handling of our Christian responsibilities. The precedent of choosing godly, representative leaders goes all the way back to the Old Testament: God told Israel to, “Choose for your tribes wise, understanding, and experienced men, and I will appoint them as your heads” (Deuteronomy 1:13).

It is estimated that over 170 million Americans profess to be Christians.[1] However, it is likely that only about one half of these professed believers were registered to vote (or voted) during the 2008 elections.[2] As I travel and speak, I hear various explanations why Christians do not have a responsibility to vote, or ought not be involved in politics at all. Many a sincere person has gently reprimanded me, a minister, for speaking about political issues! Allow me to respond to six common questions that I hear regarding Christian citizenship and voting:

1. Why should all Christians eligible to vote make the effort to do it? Politicians― whom we elect― legislate and enforce laws. If we elect “non-God-fearing” politicians whose legislation violates God’s moral laws, people will suffer. Those who suffer will be the poor, the widow, and orphans― all of whom God has commanded that His people care for. Ungodly laws have undermined marriage, weakened society by de-valuing the family, enslaved people (literally and figuratively), and have brought persecution upon pastors and missionaries.

In America, churches are being sued and are having to spending millions to defend their right to preach all parts of the Gospel, not just the “politically correct” parts. Christians are now in danger of being silenced because Biblical truth is deemed by some to be “hate speech.” Are these things that we should care about?

It is a Christian’s duty to ensure Godly men and women are elected and are able to make Godly laws that bring liberty to all mankind. As persecution of the church increases, ability to fund and carry out the Gospel mission decreases. Politics has implications for the proclamation of the message of Jesus.

2. Aren’t Christians supposed to keep their faith and politics separate? Since politics has to do with laws and since all laws are based on morals, Christians can no more keep their faith and their politics separate than they can keep their faith and their morality separate. One’s view of mankind and God will determine your view of government.

If you think man is essentially good, you will not see the need for the separation of powers that our Constitution insists on.