God, Government and my place in democracy
God, government and my place in democracy
What is the role of government? What should we insist be given to God? What should we give to Caesar? (ie. the government)
When it comes to the discussion around same sex marriage, there are a number of questions that we as believers need to ask. As an individual voting ‘when’ should I vote my conscience and impose my will upon Government? Should Christians ‘force their views’ onto other people, especially a vulnerable minority like LGBTI? Is opposing the redefinition of marriage contrary to what Jesus would do? Is it unloving?
FOUNDATIONAL THOUGHTS THAT LEAD INTO THIS BLOG
We belong firstly to the Kingdom of God rather than the kingdom of this world. As believers in Jesus we recognise that the world is broken and by present nature sinful and deserving of wrath outside of Christ. As such our first place of submission is Jesus, as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (a provocative politically oriented statement). Within such a belief we find security knowing that whatever the political climate, party or philosophy our identity and hope is centred on Jesus. He alone will ultimately restore all things. In him, the kingdom ‘has come’ through the Spirit working in us and beyond us the kingdom is ‘continually coming’ and ultimately will ‘come’ in a final revolution (1 Cor 15). Our role as believers is not to succumb to our brokenness but rather submit it to the Lordship of Jesus. Anything other, is idolatry. See blog one to engage with this issue
Marriage is clearly defined in scripture by God himself in Gen 2:22 – 24 and reaffirmed by Jesus (God in flesh) in Matthew 19. Marriage was created by God, defined by God and is as such owned by God. Though governments may recognise it and people may corrupt it, it is nonetheless God’s to define. See blog two to engage with this issue
3. As Christians in a democratic country we are given an opportunity to express our opinion on what is ‘best’ for our nation.
The Kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world
Under the Old Covenant, God established the nation of Israel, a ethnic people born of his agreement with Abraham. This kingdom was to express God’s light and truth to the nations. The proper context to encounter God, his will and his way was within this nation. As such the law of God and the law of the land was synonymous. The ‘people of God’ was both an national and spiritual identity. This expectation was still clear in the Apostles question in Acts 1:4…
“Then they gathered round him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel? Jesus response, however, frames the way we should see our primary role as believers.
“He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’” (Acts 1:7 - 8)
It has been this conviction that our primary purpose as believers is to be “…witnesses…to the ends of the earth” rather than those that seek the establishment of theocratic government that has led me to be very wary of Politics. Christian’s campaigning or getting too political in regard to nearly any subject always makes me a little touchy. For those specifically called to that arena I thank God. As a Church leader I am wary, especially in a city like Canberra.
In no sense would I say that believers should not be engaged in these areas for the good of society but we should walk very carefully. Often, people walk two extremes, dominionism and the politicisation of faith. This is very evident both in social justice and moral issues ranging from those who tend to identify from ‘left’ to ‘right’. The other, absolute disengagement, leaving society without a people driven by God’s good will for all people
There are difficult questions that need be engaged to make better decisions.
What is the role of government? (from a biblical perspective).
Governments are God’s servants
Romans 13:4 tells us governments ‘…are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.’ (Romans 13:4)
In 1 Peter 2:13 – 17 we again see this idea reiterated.
“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king” (1 Peter 2:13–17).
What is crucial here is that Caesar was not in any way democratically elected, he was not a nice or righteous leader but Paul still clearly sees such a governing authority as having the role of ‘punishing the wrong doer’.
For believers, particularly from a strong democratic tradition this can be hard to swallow when we think that democracy is nearly part of the gospel.
Functionally a great many people (including far too many Christians) believe that truth is determined by majority.
There are however limitations to the extent to which the role of governing authorities are recognised.
When authorities go beyond their edict, command evil, we then see in scripture direct and holy civil disobedience. In Exodus, midwives disobeyed Pharaoh and “feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them, but let the boys live” (Exodus 1:17). In 1 Kings 18, we see a man named Obadiah who “feared the Lord greatly.” In defiance, against the wishes of the monarch, Obadiah took a hundred of the prophets and hid them.
We also see Daniel defy King Darius’ decree to not pray to anyone other than the king. In both cases, God rescued His people from the death penalty that was imposed, signalling His approval of their actions.
In Acts 4:19 – 20, religious authorities determined to stop the Apostles from preaching. Peter makes it clear, that our authority to preach and live out the Gospel comes from an authority, God, that is above all other authorities.
“Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19–20).
In later civil disobedience, Peter again insists “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Keep in mind though, that we should always be praying for those in authority even when we do not recognise their position as holy and their decisions as just. “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:1–2).
Democracy gives you a voice but we are citizens of two domains (maybe more 😉 )
Australian politics has recently given us the scandal of ‘dual citizenship’. In such, I actually found out that I am a New Zealand citizen. Having dual citizenship disqualifies one under Australian constitutional law from holding political power because the individual is seen as holding a duty to a foreign power. This is where it gets weird for the believer, we, in a sense have dual citizenship. We are citizens of the Kingdom of God, we recognise that ultimately there is only one source of authority and power, yet, legally speaking I am an Australian citizen thus I have a democratic responsibility. Democracy gives me a voice. This does not mean I will always (or even ever) get my way but rather it does empower the individual with the responsibility to speak what is true, just and compassionate.
Here is the reality for a believer though, true, just and compassionate are not terms we can allow to be defined by cultural norms but by God’s authority.
Some people, including Christians, have adopted a functional position in which ‘the people’ can’t be wrong. In actual fact, I think scripture shows us that the opposite is quite often the case.
‘Legal’ and ‘ethical’ or ‘moral’ are in no way always synonymous. There is a clear potential in any system of government, including democracy, that the rule of law be unjust or wrong. Slavery, for instance, was very much legal but nonetheless immoral.
Everything in us as believers must be committed to seeing the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Some have historically tried to legislate that in some ways, others have entirely withdrawn but we must exert some level of wise and considered influence as believers for what is ‘true’, ‘just’ and ‘compassionate’. When and how we should do this is another question.
All law is moral on some level
Some come to the specific issue of same sex marriage and insist that no one has the right to ‘enforce morality’ upon someone else. It sounds like a nice argument but it is foundation less. ALL LAW IS MORAL on some level. The reason we limit speeding is because life is valuable. The reason we have legislation around welfare, maternity leave, rights to education are all because of moral values. The reason (IMO) that government regulation and legislation is actually incorrect and should change in regard to our treatment of refugees is because it is immoral to treat any human being like they are a caged animal. My motivation is not some humanistic altruism, it is the conviction that all people are made in the image of God that drives this. If you agree that refugees should not be treated like this and law should change, then you are for enforcing moral value upon someone else. If you don’t think morals should be enforced than stop campaigning for change in these areas.
Every time I vote I am involved in giving people authority to legally coerce others. The simple reality is that the government has never asked my personal permission to tax me yet if I don’t pay tax I can be fined or ultimately jailed. Some would argue that is immoral, even theft but right now it is what it is and the government has such an ability. As a Christian, I am bound to pay tax because scripture tells me I must (Matt 22:17 – 21, Rom 13:6 – 7). God has clearly given the government the right to tax. That does not mean we should submit to coercion or corruption beyond legal authority though. Jesus makes it clear to soldiers when collecting tax that they should not “…collect more than you are authorized” (Luke 3:13)
‘Forcing morality’ is actually the centre piece of all legislation.
The actual issue is not if but when and what morality should be enforced.
This is why we must slowly and carefully consider our positions. Is it true? Is it just? Is it compassionate?
Part of the issue one must wrestle with is when government ‘owns’ something.
When dealing with a question designed to entrap Jesus into either a rebellion against Caesar or a denial of the peoples national aspirations as Jews, Jesus responded with the famous response...
‘‘So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.’” (Matt 22:21)
It is this statement, a recognition of different delegated domains of authority that is central to the undergirding idea behind historical secularism. Later in scripture, we see the affirmation of the governments right to punish the wrongdoer and tax people. However, I do not see any evidence God ever gave government any right to ‘own’ marriage of any definition.
Allow me to diverge into the practicalities of Kingdom law and national law for a moment. I am convinced the definition of marriage is ultimately God’s alone. It is founded in creation mandate (read blog two if you wish to engage with this assertion). The original 1961 Marriage Act only recognised what was at the time a clear religious cultural institution in Australia. The need to define it specifically did not happen until 2004 because marriage had never been in dispute, the government simply recognised a religious institution. The purpose in doing so was not the affirmation of love but the legal protection of women and children.
It was never an act of ownership of marriage itself but rather a recognition of a cultural institution. It is akin to the government recognising ‘Christmas’ day. Its recognition does not mean it is suddenly ‘owned’ by the government, it merely recognises a cultural institution. People may culturally practice it differently but if the government tried to formally shift it from its historical meaning to something else we would have issues. Society has certainly changed since 1961 and now my neighbour will not always agree that the original cultural assumption should remain. The wrestle over marriage now most certainly is about who will ‘own’ and ‘define’ marriage moving forward.
LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOUR
In the social argument around the legislative change of definition of marriage is the idea of love. Love is a powerful motivator, it is love that should motivate each one of us.
A phrase that has so often, and rightly been brought up in this discussion among Christians is the second element of the great commandment, “Love your neighbour as yourself”. (Matt 22:39)
What is crucial however is also the first element of this commandment without which the second is meaningless. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” 38 This is the first and greatest commandment." The conclusion about these two elements? “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’” (Matt 22:40)
Many Christians who argue that the present definition is ‘unloving’ or should be changed because we should ‘love our neighbour’ seem to ignore the fact that love for God and neighbour is actually the central pivot of all the law. This is the same law that prohibits all sexual activity outside of marriage and we need see is birthed from the love of God and neighbour. It must be considered whether, a believer, in affirming the notion that legal marriage is the stamp of approval in regard to ‘love’ is actually enabling a false authority over relationships. The affirmation of a person’s identity is not in any form of marriage but in Jesus. The tone that concerns me is that it presents a false Gospel by replacing the one true ‘affirming authority’ (God) with that of another ‘affirming authority’ (government). This also applies to the notion being promoted and accepted by many Christians that the goal of marriage and life is ‘happiness’ as if ‘happiness’ is actually the goal for a Christian in living out the Kingdom of God. It is not.
Is it ‘loving’ to approve that which God disapproves of? Can I honestly say God is unloving to define marriage in the first place? I certainly can’t. It is a dangerous direction in terms of thought and attitude.
To love someone is not to approve of their actions or beliefs but it is to meet them where they are at, provide for their needs, see them as fellow humans rather than enemies to be conquered.
SO ARE YOU SAYING THAT I SHOULD ENFORCE CHRISTIAN BELIEF ABOUT MARRIAGE ON UNBELIEVERS?
Maybe (but probably not), I think marriage is a societal good. I believe that God defined it and he said it was good. It is good for believers, good for unbelievers, it is good for those that are married and good for those that are not. Good because it is part of his creative design. It is a very dangerous road for a believer to think that marriage, as defined by God, is somehow ‘unloving’, ‘bad’ or ‘discriminatory’. It places you in opposition to God Himself. I believe it has been good for society, in the same way as introducing and caring for refugees in our society is good despite objection. Primarily good because God loves the refugee, the poor and oppressed. Many of the same Christians that are opposed to the Bible being used to define marriage in secular law are also the same Christians quoting the Bible to emphasise care for the orphan, the widow, the refugee (by the government). We must be consistent. I believe that marriage as defined in classical society and in Biblical terms is good for everyone in society. Ancient society had times where it recognised gay relationships, even legally but did not see them as the same as marriage. I believe that marriage is supposed to be the central pivot around the welfare of children, the modelling of good behaviour generation to generation. Outside of biological heterosexual relationship, there are no children. As Christians, we make a serious error when we consider these outworkings of the marriage relationship as optional or incidental rather than inherent I believe that those who argue for the protection of marriage due to concerns around children, gender identity, freedom of religious conviction, have a case that need be considered (and I may address these in a separate post).
There is a strong case that these functional concerns should at least slow down moving ‘the fence’. Gk. Chesterton in his book, ‘The Thing’, chapter “The Drift from Domesticity” says…
“In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”
HOWEVER… Our society has already rebelled so badly against God’s moral definition in this area (and many others) I feel we are at an impasse.
The discussion in society has functionally moved far past the discussion of ‘why’ the fence was put there.
The screaming of #marriageequality and #loveislove are sloganised over slow careful consideration. To question the slogan is to question the humanity of a person. I will be a little brutal, it is childish, and yes both so named ‘left’ and ‘right’ have used this tone. As there is no push for the removal of all discriminatory elements within the definition, the slogan #equality is merely a marketing term. I have directly challenged Christian friends over the use of this term without its consistent application and time and time again they have refused to engage the hypocrisy of the statement. The social legislative issue is actually ‘same sex marriage’ not marriage equality. Additionally, the slogan #loveislove is also a redundant and pointless slogan. I have never seen anyone argue (from left or right) that #loveisonlylovewhenthegovernmentsaysitis I have not yet seen an argument for the YES position that I find particularly engaging from a Christian perspective (due to earlier theological convictions about God, humanity, sin, grace and marriage itself). I will try and post some of the posts I have read in regard to a ‘Christian YES’ in the notes below.
In my perfect outcome, marriage would be removed from legislation. I, as a present legal celebrant, would become redundant (which I am ok with) and this discussion would not be about ‘civil’ rights but rather different ‘cultural’ perspectives. That is not what anyone wants to lead us to in this moment though (and I have presented this option to more than one Parliamentary member). I feel we are left with a difficult situation. I believe marriage is absolutely good for society yet I must recognise that our society is largely unconcerned with truth, cultural consistency, with classical reasoning and more focused on feelings in this area.
It is not my business to bring down final judgement on those outside the Church (1 Cor 5:12). I must, on some level leave society to its own devices, knowing that “…God will judge those outside…” (1 Cor 5:13). That God will judge though does not make me comfortable but rather more focused on seeing the Gospel of grace and truth spread.
This, however, does not lead me to a ‘YES’ vote. To do so, I believe would be to acknowledge the ownership of marriage by our secular government. For me, it is to say God is ‘unloving’ for defining marriage as he has done so. I believe it is to say he is the reason behind supposed ‘inequality’ (as these are the primary arguments of the YES vote). I believe I am left with only two options. One is to abstain from the vote. I respect those who do so if that is what they feel to do. Most I know that are doing this qualify it as helping remove the heat in our society. I am unconvinced it will but respect such a position. The other option is to vote no, which I will be doing. Why no rather than abstain?
The underlying reason for NO rather than abstaining is firstly because I believe marriage as historically and biblically understood is good for society, both Christian and not. At the heart of all legislation is a question of societal good. We are being asked whether I believe the legalisation of same sex marriage will benefit society, I don’t. Secondarily, I hope that in the possible extension of this issue for even a while we might actually come back to a more workable situation of removing marriage (I have good friends who have always felt opposed to government control around marriage). Will this work, I doubt it but this issue is in no way about a ‘win’. For me it is about standing on what I believe is true, is good and is beneficial for all society. LOOKING FORWARD I suspect, that either this year or in the future we may well see change nonetheless. I also suspect that concerns around freedom of religious expression, extreme ideological ideas being forced in schooling will all show themselves to be true. I suspect, that in time the eroding of freedom of speech will also continue to encroach upon the free and legal declaration of the exclusive claims of the Gospel. What I do know for sure, is that even when an empire crumbles, even when it leaves good arguably biblical foundations, God is still on the throne. My expectations in God’s kingdom are not dampened. As Christians, we must get use to living on the fringes of society rather than assuming the hallways of power. We must serve our way to influencing people for the kingdom of God not believe that legislation gives us such a platform. We must get use to being hated (John 18:15) but ensure we are hated for the right reasons, not the wrong. Don’t worry though, Jesus did pretty well when he worked from the fringes. I pray that the day will come, that we will, like the early Church be charged with having “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6) because we are a people of truth, grace and mercy.