What does responsible citizenship look like for Christians when they are called to be a voice at the table discussing public law and policy? Does non-participation (from believers) equal disobedience? More importantly, what does Christian participation look like in attitude, posture, voice, and overall influence?
One of the challenges in answering this question is the fact that the role of Christians in a representative form of democracy has no explicit parallels in Scripture.
Certainly Biblical truths and principles about government reach God’s people in all places with both binding authority and overlapping application (Daniel 4; Acts 17:26-27;Romans 13:1ff; I Peter 2:13-14). We can look to the prophets and learn much about God’s concern for justice and protection of the vulnerable. In Jesus, we find teaching on non-resistance as a personal ethic for His followers (although, we should not make the mistake of the pacifist and force applications of this on how the followers of Jesus function in government — particularly in law enforcement).
The apostle Paul’s appeal to Caesar is one of the more unique examples of leveraging provisions of law for personal reasons. As a Roman Citizen, Paul asked that his case be heard by the emperor as he had done nothing deserving of death (Acts 25:1-12). Of course, we learn many things in the NT about how Christians should respond to authority when living in non-participatory forms of government.
Yet a point that cannot be ignored is that Biblical instruction on these matters is not presented to people who lived in democratic forms of government. We are simply not living in the same political situation as the apostles. And that’s an important point for those committed to proper interpretation and application of Scripture. It’s also what makes our function more complicated as we navigate a course of participation in the formation of law and policy.
We cannot draw a direct parallel from the NT to our political circumstances. But as we pursue a common good with others and each one brings his or her beliefs, morals and values to the table. Robust and respectful debate is necessary and we should not shy from it or allow others to marginalize our voice. We should not approach this as a matter of “winning culture wars.” Such language (and the demeanor that often accompanies it) is not fitting to responsible Christian engagement in a representative form of democracy. But neither should we become passive when called to engage.
As Christians, we should try to be as informed as possible and work hard to be examples of those who are considerate and kind toward opponents. At the end of the day (or process), we also must recognize that some of the laws will conflict with our beliefs, morals and values. If those laws force us to violate our beliefs, we will find more explicit application of Scripture for how to respond.
I appreciated how Mark Coppenger (professor of Christian apologetics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) summarized Christian engagement: “As we make our case for liberty, we need to show our logic, expose the illogicality of our foes, link arms with co-belligerents, exhibit dignity in the face of indignities, and make it very clear that there are limits to our flexibility.”
But it’s equally helpful to remember that, ”Politics is a field in which the consequences of culture play out; it is not the field in which the culture itself is formed” (David Bahnsen). And, this being the case, what other means of influence should we be committed to that are prior to political engagements.
Abraham Lincoln’s words are worth pondering: “In this country, public sentiment is everything. With it, nothing can fail; against it, nothing can succeed. Whoever molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes, or pronounces judicial decisions.”