Having examined, in our first installment, how things are with respect to the Christian religion in relation to the United States, in “Christian Citizenship Part 2…” we looked at what might have been. In this post we’ll look at some of the difficulties the Christian faces in connection with the rights and duties of his citizenship. These matters may need to be taken into consideration as one wrestles with the questions that Shane Vander Hart raised in his February 16th post on this subject.
As we’ve already noted, the basis for claiming that the United States was or is a Christian nation is not completely without merit, but it must be conceded that any formal connection with the Christian religion at the Federal level was intentionally avoided. And although the nation, in large measure, enjoyed a consensus with regard to the Christian religion, it must also be conceded that this consensus has gradually disappeared over the last half century. Not the religion, mind you, but the consensus as it once existed.
What is left, informally, is a religious diversity which, we are told, is a delightful thing. It allegedly makes us stronger, and better. No matter about the confusion it brings, or the inevitable secularization it leads to in public life. We are still told that religious diversity is a wonderful thing. But it seems to the author that precious little in our society is better now than it was fifty years ago.
Formally, Pluralism is really what we’ve had all along. It simply took time for the Christian consensus to decline.
It is this formal and intentional lack of religious identity as a nation that troubled many Christians even when the consensus was still very much present. Most notable in this regard were the Reformed Presbyterians, the so called “Covenanters”, who would neither vote nor hold office in the United States until it recognized the “crown rights of Jesus Christ”. For them, a nation should be constitutionally in contract with the Triune God: He will be their God, they will be His people. Anything short of that is considered more or less pagan.
This idea of a “covenanted nation” may be confused with notions of a theocracy. But there are many distinctions to be made between them, primarily the nature of rule. In a theocracy God directly and immediately rules a people, or the people are ruled by a person or persons who are supposed to be directly guided by God. A covenanted nation, on the other hand, could be a monarchy or a republic, but in any case formally recognizes the Triune God and establishes the Christian religion.
Sadly, our nation never did this.
So where do we go from here? What are the rights and duties of the Christian citizen in these present circumstances? The Covenanters themselves have been divided on this question for years, and as a denomination have moderated their position somewhat. Matters related to political activity are, certainly to some extent, matters of conscience. Not everyone is going to have the same view on even some very basic questions. For example, assuming a Christian may vote, must he vote? Is it his duty? Another more basic question arises: What, exactly, is the nature of a vote?
This latter question is one that rarely receives much attention but is critical nonetheless. If one views the vote as a highly principled endorsement of sorts, then the candidate one votes for must meet a high bar indeed. His religious beliefs, his political views, and his lifestyle must match one’s own to a very high degree. Perhaps in a covenanted nation, one where the Christian religion is established, this view of the nature of a vote would be the correct one to take. However, given our present circumstances, is it necessary to take such a view? The Christian may see voting as nearly impossible if such a rigorous standard is applied. And the Christian may well believe that it is not in his best interest to simply disengage from political activity.
Isn’t it possible that a Christian may, in good conscience, vote for people and legislation that will do him the least amount of harm? Some people may call this a “lesser of two evils” approach, but it really is nothing more than utilizing a civil mechanism in an attempt to keep evil at bay.
Shane Vander Hart mentioned the Martin Luther quote: “I would rather be governed by a wise turk (non-Christian) than a foolish Christian.” In our case, we may well be governed by both. Determining who we can support and in what way isn’t an easy thing to sort out. The easy answers to those questions don’t exist in a nation that has heartily embraced its Pluralism.