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After Eden

February 21, 2018

We were never the same after Eden.

 

Sin’s rift is the eternal barrier, a vulnerability coded into every person’s DNA so that we cannot attain Eden. No one since the fall has even tasted that perfection; in fact, beyond momentary glimpses, no one even knows what perfection is.

 

But we strive onward for it. Eden is the fire at the end of a cascading tunnel, of which we can see only bare flickers cast upon the walls. Those traces of good, like flakes of gold in a muddied world, remind us over, over again: there is good. there is God.

 

Every sliver of good brightens our world, and so we strive to create more, to somehow replicate Eden again, in our churches and charity, in every feverish prayer and every comforting embrace. In our families we seek to care and to love, in ministry we seek to preach and to love, in conflict we seek to mediate, in need we seek to provide, in turmoil we seek to calm.

 

Yet, it seems when we enter the Leviathan of government, our monstrous natures show. Through the law, we no longer give but receive; we begin to believe that a law that promotes the good for anyone but ourselves is a law that promotes evil. 

 

This brings us to the question: what is the appropriate position for a Christian in American policy? How do the factors of faith, compassion, and equality fit in? What framework should Christians outside government use to evaluate politics? And, in all the chaos, where is God?

 

The first step to solving these puzzles is to define and then evaluate objectives. Every Christian must share two goals: faith and love. Faith is individual, the personal plea to God for salvation and hope. Love is social, the individual’s trust of humanity, springing from God’s own love. Together, they form an inexhaustible well from which love, grace, and compassion are drawn.

 

Policies -- and their attendant laws that restrict and enable the choices of individuals and institutions -- are social, and so Christians must treat them as another vehicle through which love is poured. It seems simple, yet policy is a wedge between Christians, most notably seen in the socially liberal-conservative split in America. Liberalism in this context is a movement to provide more individual rights, while conservatism is a reaction against perceived problems created by liberalism.

 

Of course, America is a democracy. Democracy is a form of government that thrives on reform, with tools to respond to oppression built into the system: individuals are granted inalienable rights, and these rights are protected through reformation and representation in government. Like most democracies, America is also a pluralistic society, made up of many different individuals, races, cultures, and religions. What would a model of Christian policy, then, look like?

 

The Christian Policymaker

 

As a thought experiment, imagine if, in 2022, America were a theocracy. The entire government, from the President to every elementary school representative, is a devout Christian who wishes to order society according to the Bible. Would the United States miraculously become a Promised Land for the world’s masses? Would the plagues of sin somehow vanish into thin air- thieves obtaining comfort, murderers revering life? Would the broken and destitute, through the ‘grace’ of the 27 Amendments, heal themselves?

 

No.

 

The law is a human institution; it has no effect on spiritual domains. It cannot justify anyone to the level of God’s acceptance, and it cannot escape the sinful nature of humanity (Genesis 3:11, Romans 3:20, New International Version) Yet, that isn’t to suggest a secular abandonment of ethics and a complete rejection of the Bible. Apart from the salvation track of Christianity, the Bible also offers a valuable social framework from which ethics can be formed. What conclusions could then be drawn from the Bible as a tool for policy-making?

 

The Christian moral framework laid out in the Bible is ordained by God, but it is evident in Creation: the rules of nature and existence, and the notions of human grace and love. Concepts like the equitable treatment of all people (Mark 12:31), the creation of a just system (Proverbs 21:15), and provision for the needy (Proverbs 19:17); though the Bible does command them, they also feel naturally moral, even without any Biblically ascribed meaning. It is no coincidence that the concept of these “natural laws” have popped up in every society around the world, whether Christian or not.

 

For policymakers, the task is to translate this moral framework into law. Law both establishes a standard for good behavior, and punishes and corrects those who deviate. Through these two principles, it works towards what the government deems “justice”. Each law consists of a regulation and a penalty, and collectively they aim to remedy oppression and injustice.

 

Christian policymakers should look to the Bible, not for laws, but for a model of appropriate laws, since unlike human law, Biblical law does not always link regulation and penalty. For example, the Old Testament is full of laws, but many are often advisory rather than punitive- most are either commands or specific pieces of advice, and even when the laws were broken, God offered mercy rather than punishment (1). In the New Testament, the Bible reveals God does not penalize every instance of sin. Rather, the Bible does what humans cannot- it evaluates not the actions of humans, but the inherent condition, or being, of each individual. Under the judgment of God, sin becomes a state of being rather than an action performed by individuals; the “sinner” becomes an identity.

 

Thus, only laws that seek to hold and preserve the natural rights of humans are appropriate, as natural rights are guided by a moral law created by God, though non-unique to Christians. Obviously policy is highly nuanced and there are other ways of conceiving different frameworks, but on an ideological level, there are a few goals that Christianity calls lawmakers to work towards.

 

First, the guarantee of basic needs, such as healthcare or food. A common argument against economically liberal social programs is that the government is inefficient at providing things (a fact). However, human nature is clearly inherently selfish; if the Bible calls upon people to provide for the needy, an inefficient program is still far better than assuming that society’s needs will be met with private generosity. Though Christians should strive to be individually generous, the concept of sin should be sufficient reason why the private sector will never provide properly for those in need. People are naturally greedy and selfish, and so to trust that the collective generosity of society is enough is a blind faith in sin.

 

Second, equality. Equality is a concept that relies on a definition of “human”- it states that certain ‘human’ traits, such as race or gender, should not be factors of discrimination. The debate over what constitutes a human trait is a lengthy one, but a few should be obvious: gender and race should not be grounds for different treatment. In fact, Christians should be more outspoken than non-believers on issues of racial and sexual justice: the fact that these movements often disrupt comfort isn’t a reason for Christians to reject them. Instead, they should embrace them as society progresses towards what the Bible demands- the equal and compassionate treatment of all people (Malachi 2:10), regardless of difference (Leviticus 19:33-34), as everyone is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).

 

In terms of equitability, humans must therefore be granted basic dignities, or natural rights. Primary among these is freedom, something that God has given humans as both a blessing and a curse. Freedom is perhaps the central theme of Christianity, and one of the most unique elements of the religion. Unlike other religions, Christianity focuses on an individual relationship with God, through faith and not through obeying a set of rules. While most religions promise freedom through obedience, Christianity reverses it - humans begin with a freedom bestowed by God, and through that, the desire for obedience flows. Through this choice comes the power of forgiveness and kindness, as they are not done out of fear of God, but out of grace and love.

 

In applying this framework of freedom towards American politics, one element is always overlooked: the freedom to do something necessitates the ability to not do something. Coercion has no place in a free and moral society.  A controversial example is same-sex marriage, where the freedom to accept what one views as a Biblical marriage must also necessitate the freedom for people to reject it. By this logic, therefore, as long as two people are free in their decision, they should legally be allowed to marry. The same goes for religion; the freedom to practice Christianity must involve a similar freedom to reject Christianity, else it becomes a mandate, and humanity takes the throne of God in commanding belief and determining salvation. Issues like these, which have to do with personal choice and ethics, fall under the spiritual realm and God’s jurisdiction, or his power to make judgments, not humans’. Since no human can control the will of another, it is necessary for Christians to recognize that it isn’t their place to judge. Just like how no person can forcefully convert someone else to faith, it is similarly toxic for Christians to step into God’s role in changing the heart.

 

The Private Citizen

 

Though every private citizen is entitled to their own opinion, they may not all be correct; some opinions are more beneficial to society and to the Christian mission than others. The Bible calls upon Christians to attend to their thoughts, and make their opinions as true as possible (Phillipians 4:8), and so Christians should be willing to be open-minded to different ideas, and should seek to critically examine what their faith can say about their politics. The private Christian thus should follow the laws and try to improve society with their position as a democratic citizen (Titus 3:1).

 

Instead of thinking of a vote as a personal and free decision, Christians should view voting as a means to an end, the goal of creating a more free and just society. Any Christian should recognize that on Earth, there is no perfect society that can exist, but that people must still strive towards those twin ideals of equality and fairness. Therefore, given the immense importance of economic equality and social justice, the Democratic party represents more - though not all - of what Christians ought to strive after in the secular realm. In America, the rhetoric of the Christian right-wing has been hijacked by hate, and cannot be a sustainable political movement without reform. A Christian in today’s America should carefully consider what is truly best for society, not what is most consistent with their past loyalties or what most closely aligns with a Christ-less civic religion.

 

If the Republican Party is truly a political manifestation of what Christianity looks like, then who can blame political opponents of Christianity? Current “Christian policy” through this lens is unbiblical, immoral, and unsustainable, as it breaks many of the basic principles set forth earlier in this article and it usurps from God what is only his to decide. Unless that painful truth is confronted, that Christianity can never be couched in a single political party, the political future of Christianity in America is bleak and potentially unviable. Instead, by looking to the Bible as a tool, Christians should aim to both reform and promote ideologies that truly seek the best for all members of society, knowing that this is their chief responsibility in the political world.

 

References

1. Barrier, R. (2014, Oct 21). How do we know which Old Testament laws to still follow? Crosswalk. Re- trieved from https://www.crosswalk.com/church/pas- tors-or-leadership/ask-roger/how-do-we-know-which-

old-testament-laws-to-still-follow.html6 




 

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